When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

January 28, 2010

From Oldest to Youngest: Lee, Mike (tallest), Patty, Mark & me (May 15, 1967)

January 28, 2010.  My earliest childhood friend Joy, and still the person I consider my closest friend, asked me why I hadn’t spoken about my brother Mike in this book, which she reads faithfully as I continue to write.  It’s a difficult question, certainly.  Mike is my second oldest brother, 14 years my senior, and though different from Peter, extremely troubled in his own right.  My parents arranged for his long-term care through diligent estate planning and our oldest brother Lee, now that Mom and Dad are gone, is his legal guardian.  He currently lives in a nursing home in St. Petersburg even though he’s not yet sixty.  I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with him, my parents never told us, at least not me, but I suspect he suffers from schizophrenia, or at least something that manifests similarly.  He was already attending a boarding school by the time I was born and I rarely even remember him coming home for summers or holidays, though I’m sure he did.  So the truth is, I don’t really know him.  When I say how close I am to my brothers and sister, I’m leaving Mike out.  It’s a sad truth and one about which I’m not proud, but there’s no way to change it.  Like so many people with mental illness, Mike is a challenge.  It’s not his fault.  Why the four of us received more or less the best of our parents’ genes and Mike seemed to get the very worst, I’ll never know.  Given our age difference, I never knew Mike as a child the way I know Peter.  As an adult, Mike has lost his protective childhood charm.  But our brother can and often does have a kind heart, I know because I’ve seen it.  He’s not a bad person, just an unhappy one, with poor physical and mental health.  He hurt my parents however, over and over, in ways large and small, and probably not unlike the ways Peter has already begun hurting us.  Believe me, the irony is not lost.  Mike sued their friends, destroyed their property, told outrageous, public lies, and generally caused them unspeakable grief.  Many think Mike could get himself together if he cared enough, or was forced.  I suppose anyone whose lives are directly affected by people like Mike and Peter constantly battle in their minds the can’t vs. won’t paradigm.  As for me, the few memories I have of Mike just make me sad.  I work to love my brother because I should, and because I want to.  Even though I barely know him, he’s part of our family, and for that alone he deserves recognition.  Lee grew up with Mike and remembers the child, the promise, no doubt, that their boyhoods offered, and I think because of this he has always exhibited a tender, if not at times exasperated, patience with our brother that the rest of us can’t seem to shoulder.  I admire Lee tremendously for the compassion he’s shown our troubled brother, time and again.  As Peter ages, I hope I can remain focused on the good, the promise every life holds, and the fact that none of his problems were of his own causing.  Like Mike, he is an innocent but a nonetheless potentially destructive force.  But also like Mike, he’ll one day find himself living in a world that doesn’t view or treat mentally and emotionally challenged adults with the same kindness and latitude that it offers children.  Mike is lucky in that his needs are met, and at a higher standard of care than most others in his circumstance, but I’m sad that his not a happier, more fulfilling life.  It seems life has assigned Mike to Lee and Peter to me, as though the two of us, oldest and youngest, are the bookends meant to contain our family’s most floundering members.  In this regard, Lee has set an admirably high standard for me to follow.  For Peter’s sake, I hope I can live up to my eldest brother’s loving, generous example.


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