My brother but finally, my burden

2011-06-11 16:58

“You ain’t heavy, you’re my brother”, I wrote to him when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on top of his alcoholism.

I was wrong.

He was my dad’s pride and joy, the only son among five sisters – a naughty, freckled, red-haired imp until Magnus Malan’s defence force got him.

He returned from years of national service with a thirst for beer and rum; and a dose of depression, sullenness and lethargy.

He was often drunk.

He bought a monster bike and joined a hard-drinking biker gang.

And he was far more interested in the contents of a bottle with a red heart on the label than girls. He neither dated nor married.

After our parents died in the 80s, his sisters had to make peace with the fact that this smelly guy who stumbled over our coffee tables was unlikely to change. We all live on the same block, on both sides of a river.

He and I jointly bought the piece of land on our side of the river, built semi-detached houses and moved in. It was a time of hope.

And he tried, he truly tried.

He battled his addiction from institution to institution, from Staanvas to Denmar – but in vain. He continued to lose jobs and, after he was told that he had multiple sclerosis, he also lost his will to live. He was 37 years old.

I finally learnt what families and friends of alcoholics know: you cannot carry them, they are too heavy.

My brother spent his evenings on the couch drinking and playing with his 9mm gun, often trying to shoot himself.

I spent my nights listening for gun shots, terrified of what I’d find when I opened his front door.

He broke into my house looking for money.

And looking at the shattered door after returning home too late to have it fixed, I resolved to kill him.

I walked around his house shattering windows with my five-pound hammer. And then I attacked him. He was saved by my sister’s arrival.

He ended up as a resident of the Paul Jungnickel Home for the physically and mentally impaired in Pretoria East. He spent his days in a wheelchair, often refusing to get out of bed.

His short term-memory was completely gone as a result of the drinking.

He had forgotten that he was an alcoholic. He no longer remembered that we built a home next to a river. He resembled an Aids patient.

When I visited, his eyes would light up not at the sight of me, but of the custard slice in my hands.

After he died in 2003 at the age of 45, we scattered his ashes in the veld. He is now blowing in the wind in my garden. But even in memory, he remains unbearably heavy.

» For help, call Alcoholics Anonymous on 0861 435 722

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