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“What can you ever really know of other people’s souls – of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands.” – C.S. Lewis

Journeys: Remembering My Youngest Brother

This piece of drawer sculpture I discovered at the St. Louis Museum of Art fascinated me. I think we humans are like these drawers, each different and each filled with different aspirations, dreams, prejudices, needs and likes and dislikes. -- Photo by Pat Bean,

Richard, my youngest brother, was born when I was 12 years old. It was a difficult time for our family, which consisted of an angry mother, a jovial father who spent and gambled his paycheck away before he came home on Friday nights, the newborn infant, six and seven-year-old brothers, and me.

We three oldest siblings had learned how to survive. We stayed out of the way and we were each straight A students. I married at 16 to escape, and my two oldest brothers became self-supporting at very young ages.

Richard, meanwhile, brought home a lot of Fs and barely got through school. He was a pretty boy with blond curls who never grew as tall as my 5-foot-five-inch frame.

Live oak trees toggle my imagination. Their trunks and limbs lean and curve all over the place, yet each tree, in its own special way, is perfect. -- Photo by Pat Bean

He always had to look up to me, and he did it in more than a physical way. As a youth, he spent summers with my family, fitting in quite nicely with my own children who were just a few years younger than him.

After high school, Richard joined the Air Force, but didn’t complete his years of committed duty. I don’t know the circumstances, but at some point I recognized that Richard was gay, and that he was an alcoholic. It wasn’t a good time to be gay, and the alcoholism made him foolish and put him in places where he often got beat up.

I picked him up from a hospital a couple of times, and once from jail, where he had been taken for public intoxication. He had been beaten up that time, too. Yet Richard was always pleasant and grateful to everyone who came his way.

He would often disappear, sometimes for a year at a time , before turning back up on my mother’s doorstep. By this time our father had died, and my mother was less angry, although she never failed to give Richard a good tongue-lashing for his failings. .

My brother never defended himself, or retaliated. I, a feisty child from birth, wondered how he stood it. Those tongue lashings had been the reason I had left home at such a young age.

After one final disappearance, Richard moved in with Mother, who at this point was living in a senior-citizen complex. The two of them actually lived a peaceful life for a couple of years, during which Richard kept a job at a fast-food place for longer than he had kept any job, and dutifully paid his portion of the rent.

No one, not even my mother, knew at this point that her son and my brother had contracted AIDS. Richard would never even admit to himself, I think, that he wasn’t heterosexual like the rest of us.

I didn’t find out that my brother had this devastating disease — which was before medical advances took AIDS from being a death-degree sentence — until he lay dying in a hospital. I wasn’t even in time to see him one last time. He was only 35 when he died.

So why, I was asked, do I believe  he was the best of us four siblings?

It’s simple. I never heard him say a single bad thing against anyone. And I never heard him make a single judgment against anyone. I know no other person of which I can say the same.

Bean’s Pat: The Laughing Housewife: I Hope Bella Remembered to Shave. http://tinyurl.com/89oaqhm I have never watched a “Twilight” TV episode or movie, but this blog had me laughing so loudly that I got a disdainful shushing look from my canine traveling companion, Maggie

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