Thirty

Published February 10, 2019 by Lynda Christine Rodriguez

I’ve been watching my brother die since I was nineteen years old.  

That’s putting too fine a point on it; I’ve been in the audience watching my brother die.  

My brother and I used to be very close, especially when we were children

Even when I was kind of an embarrassment, like when we were new at All Saints and I peeked into the Seventh Grade class window and everyone laughed. He looked out for me when we were the only Hispanic kids at Casa Manana.  Seriously, we took acting classes and I think we were the only Mexicans some of these kids had seen outside of the garden.   He looked out for me when we went to high school.

My brother was the best big brother.

And then he wasn’t.

Sometime between my sophomore and junior year in high school, my brother started drinking.  

I’m not going to waste time explaining how easy it is for underage kids to get alcohol. (It is.  It is very easy. In fact during my junior year of high school, one of my classmates died while driving drunk.)

I do not know when my brother’s drinking became a problem.  I do know that when my homecoming date was walking me to the door, my brother was also being dropped off. My brother was drunk and had a concussion after leaning out of the car to throw up.  

We were slightly less close after that.

We went to the same college and had the same major.  My brother threw parties that were legendary because of the happy chaos.   

It was still fun to watch him be the life of the party.

He was an incredibly gifted actor. He won several awards and the respect of his peers. As our school competed in American College Theatre Festival, everyone was eager to see what he would do.  The roles he played ranged from the Mayor of Tobiki  to a guitar playing snake handle.  He played a depressed suicidal outcast, the devil himself and one of the  most overlooked underdogs in Shakespeare’s  Much Ado about Nothing.   

That last role took all the way to the stage of the Kennedy Center.   

From there he went on to a conservatory program where he wasn’t allowed to smoke or drink, just train and perform.  Even though I didn’t see him for that whole summer, I think this is the happiest he was. 

But he came home. Things started up again. He worked, drank and went from one toxic relationship to another.  (I don’t blame any of the women in his life, except possibly the first one.)

His acting career continued to be impressive. He drank, but when he had a role to focus on, it didn’t seem as bad.   

And then it was.  There was a long stretch of time where he would go to rehab, go home, be ok and then it would fall apart.  The time I remember his sobriety.  The best was  a three year stretch where he was sober and we able to work together.  I produced and directed him in Of Mice and Men and in the Grapes of Wrath.  I think this was the finest directorial work I have ever done or possibly will do. He was sober the whole time.  

I remember when he started drinking again.  We were watching a band. I saw him go to the bar and order a drink. Then he gave me his wallet because he didn’t want to spend too much money.  I then left because I just couldn’t watch this happen again. 

After that it was up and down. I kept hoping he would sober up and be my brother again.  Then my grandfather died. 

My grandfather was a saint on this earth. My brother was the first grandchild and only grandson. He and my grandfather were very close.  My grandfather’s death is where we started to lose my brother.

This talented, hard working actor and artist began to unravel. It started with him sleeping on my mom’s couch because he didn’t want to go home. Then it got to where he couldn’t really take care of himself, so he lost his home. Then he stayed in my mother’s spare room. He kept drinking.

This was sixteen years ago. In that time, he has been to detox innumerable times. He was in court ordered rehab once. He’s been on probation twice.  He is now a diabetic and dependent on insulin. He is also diagnosed as bi-polar.  He has had numerous warnings and health scares and has been on life support.

Yet he still drinks. I have spent every weekend for the last six months waiting for my mother or father to call me and say that he’s in the hospital again. The last time gave him a permanent scar on his face. I hear that he as a black eye now.  I know my mother is weary. I know my father is heartbroken.  My soul feels like someone kicked it in the stomach  (Yes, my soul has a stomach.)  There’s nothing I can do but wait. In five days it will be the sixteen years since we lost my grandfather. I’m feeling tense and sad. I’m waiting.  But I won’t be surprised.

Because I’ve been watching my brother die since I was nineteen years old.

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