Being in love is like getting run over. Sometimes it kills you and sometimes it don't. --Tony Earley, The Blue Star
S. is a thin, sharp-eyed young man with bright red hair. He wears Carhartts dungarees and dark baseball caps pulled low over his brow, a thin attempt at covering some of that bursting red. He steps inside slowly, affecting nonchalance, absently picking at pens and loose papers on the desk, staring at old calendars.
We get to talking about weather, news, cars, weather, coffee. There's an undertow of sounding-each-other-out, of gruff-good-humor, the kind of thing two kids wanting to look and sound like grownups will look and sound like. After a good piece of this, we're both satisfied that the other is true and means well. We kick up our feet, we lean back, we come clean. We're two kids in the early morning, talking things out, talking in circles and back again, likely as not just to hear the sound of another voice.
He recently completed the program, meeting a baseline of requirements set by the Oregon Youth Authority: a couple thousand in the bank, a place lined up to move into, a wage job that he's been holding down for a period of time, no parole violations, paperwork and education completions.
S. is twenty years old. He's worked hard, he's paid his debts, he's struggled and succeeded, he's corralled his legendary temper, he's gotten a fair job in a tough hiring sector. He moved into his place, and his girlfriend of six months moved in with him. She's nineteen years old.
After three weeks, his bank account was empty, his parole officer was unhappy with him, the girlfriend's parents were pissed, and he was being ordered by the program to have his girlfriend move out until she could get a job and save enough money to split expenses before moving in again. She moved out and went back to her parents yesterday.
There's no way around it, S. is heartbroken, lonely, misses her terribly. He'd be pissed with the program, except that he sees the sense of it, which is more than a great many men many times his age can say. He loves her the way a litter of puppies loves their mother. Without her, he's all tangled and floppy, hungry and panicky. If he smoked, he'd be burning up whole cartons. As it is, he's twirling capless pens in his fingers, he's thumbing the brim of his cap, he's laughing nervously and talking a lot.
My half-brother's girlfriend of four years left him about two months ago. My brother has four kids from a previous marriage; all four of them are less than 12 years old. The last four years have been important ones for each of them; she was a mother in all but name to them. That their relationship ended abruptly and sadly is tearing my brother apart. The fact that he still loves her isn't easy, either.
My half-brother is 34, pale, with bags under his eyes, a thin shadowy bristle of a beard, and a tired, forced smile that doesn't hide much.
Because I was dropping off his car that I'd borrowed, we met in a parking lot today, like mobsters avoiding tapped phones, keeping an eye out on whomever might be following us. Under a clear, cold blue sky we tilled over the same territory S. ploughed up the night before:
What is it with women?
Why are we so helpless with them?
How do I figure out how to survive this?
How can I make it better?
S. is a bright guy. He picks up on things quickly. He's affectionate, resourceful, he doesn't give up.
My brother is a good man. He's a loving, capable father. His kids love him to bits. In the broader story of my Family, my brother is ten times the son and grandson I can ever be, and that's not to denigrate my abilities.
Myself, I don't pretend to have any more answers than either of these two. Strange to say it, but, for different reasons, both came to me looking for guidance and comfort, whenas I have as much cause to seek as much. I've been asking those questions since high school, and look where it's got me.
The three of us are living very different lives, heading for very different places. But then again, S. dresses like me, my brother looks like my Dad, and I share a house with dustbunnies and drifts of junk mail. We had very different relationships; they're recovering from something immediate, while mine, I'm only now realizing, comes from awhile ago and isn't quite something I know how to articulate here. But all three of us can talk long, meandering circles around this thing, and feel better about it for now, but that doesn't change what it is. Wisdom comes only after much tiresome rambling, and more false starts than I care to remember, and even then, wisdom won't necessarily mend anything.
After a while, my brother and I sagely nodded to each other, to our shared loneliness, to the great blooming clouds overhead. S. drummed his fingers, yawned widely and turned for home. I waited for the sun to come up again. Then I saddled up my bike, wrote this blogpost, and went to bed.