Wendy Staley Colbert: Releasing My Brother
Colbert recalls a life before the sinking chaos of mental illness @ This Great Society.
My parents and I were returning to Australia with my brother, Greg—this time not as the gregarious 13-year-old of 1977, but as gray powder that filled two transparent, plastic jugs. My dad hand-carried the jugs aboard in Seattle in a royal blue, canvas tote bag and placed the bag in the overhead bin above his seat. Our destination was the Great Barrier Reef—a place where my brother had been healthy, whole and free of fear, a place where I’d been free of guilt. As the plane strained to lift off the ground, I glanced over at my son in the window seat and reached to hold my husband’s hand. I closed my eyes, remembering the weeks leading up to my brother’s death and silently pleaded with him to grant me his forgiveness. I wanted closure. I wanted to feel at peace.
My brother developed schizophrenia in 1983 when he was 18 and I was 17. I grew into a wife, mother, and career woman; his illness narrowed his growth until his daily routine consisted of a five-mile drive in his pick-up truck to visit my parents’ house, drink coffee, shoot the breeze with my mom, mow a few rows of their acre-size backyard, pet his dog and watch TV. He often called me to talk about the hardships of his day. One night in 2007, he called just after I had tucked my six-year-old son into bed. I was in my bedroom, packing an overnight bag to go spend the night at my mom’s, as she was sick and my dad was out of town. Greg told me he felt anxious because he’d bumped a car in his apartment parking lot, the cops were notified and had threatened to cuff him and take him to jail if he didn’t stop talking.
“Are the cops going to come back?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Greg. I’m sure everything’s fine. I’m sorry. I can’t talk now. I’m on my way to mom’s. I’m exhausted.” I kept my voice low, as I didn’t want to wake my son. I tilted my head to hold the phone between my ear and shoulder, shoved my pajamas into the duffle bag and bent down to zip up my laptop case. I was planning to work from mom’s house the next day.
“You never have time for me.”
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