Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

My Brother, Myself She Was a Harvard Law Student; He Was Nothing but Trouble. or So She Once Thought

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

My Brother, Myself She Was a Harvard Law Student; He Was Nothing but Trouble. or So She Once Thought

Article excerpt

MY BROTHER got in trouble at work again. There's nothing unusual about that, though. Management finds him very unsettling, partly for the same reasons that most people would: He's large, easily angered, and black. But also because, even though he's poorly educated, he has a startling ability to home in on the truth and reduce "educated" people to a resentful silence.

Bobby is 32. I honestly never thought he'd live to see 20, and I used to tell him so.

Once, I'd come home carrying a newly cleaned black dress. I found that, as usual, he'd made a mess and eaten most of the food I'd cooked for the family's dinner. He called me a bitch, as usual, when I chastised him.

I thrust the black dress at him like a subpoena or a tarot card signifying his imminent demise.

"I think I'll wear this one to your funeral," I informed him calmly. "I may be a bitch, but you're no good."

For about five years, I would not speak to my brother beyond what was necessary to convey my vast disdain for him. Only our mother treated him like a relative. Or tried to. The rest of us, his five older sisters, pretty much hated him.

He spent those years getting expelled and arrested. Hanging with gold-toothed, gutter-mouthed crotch-clutchers named like Spike Lee characters: Doo-man, Cool Rob, Packy, Manky. He would disappear for days at a time, then reappear bruised and bloody-faced just in time to ruin holiday dinners and make everyone miserable with his self-absorbed animality. He disgusted me.

Then, about 10 years ago, when he was about 21, I invited him to live with me. He'd calmed down but was still living off Mama and not letting sporadic, dead-end employment keep him from his true calling as a professional dope smoker. He was less a pig but, still, I had no respect for him. I invited him to Maryland, where I worked for the National Security Agency.

I'll bet he was surprised. But I had a plan. I took him in to prove to our mother that no amount of support and investment in him would pay off. I did it to get him away from her. To keep her away from him, bail bondsmen and emergency rooms. I was undertaking an unpleasant duty, throwing myself on the grenade. I had no intention of learning to love him. But it happened. Two Former Strangers

When I think of my plan now, I can't help thinking back to Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church in north St. Louis, where the old folks would cackle when we sang:

Dig one ditch

you better dig two

Cause the trap you set

just might be for you.

When my brother came to Maryland, I greeted him with a long list of rules and "things I would not tolerate." It was basically the same spiel I used when my nephew, then 7 years old, visited. Bobby just nodded and looked away.

He'd driven in at about 4:30 a.m. By 8 a.m., he was out job-hunting, and by the end of the day had not one but two.

I waited for him to fail. I waited for him to steal from my purse or pawn my TV set so I could pass him on to the next sister in line. I waited for him to get arrested so I could pointedly not bail him out as efficiently specified in my house rules. But somehow he never acknowledged or reacted to my disapproving scrutiny. He wouldn't play the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Game with me. He just took it.

Magically, somehow, we ended up sitting at my kitchen table drinking beer and eating popcorn into the small hours. Talking, talking, talking, as my long-lost brother told me the story of his life.

We might have been two strangers chatting in a waiting room for all we'd known of each other.

He told me screamingly funny stories of taunting the cops, his misadventures with women, street-corner hoops. I was mesmerized. I was a good girl. I had never, ever hung out on the streets, and this was a window onto a whole new world for me.

Bobby made me laugh until I thought I'd hyperventilate, but what I most remember are the heartbreaking stories he told, completely devoid of self-pity or rationalization. …

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