In normal times my brother Mike and I lead almost entirely separate lives. O, we manage to meet for Menudo most Sunday mornings, in lieu of Church. He has the run of my tool shed, and I of his. But my average pleasant day would probably drive him up the wall. He's not that much of a reader. And his enthusiasms leave me cold as well, since they often involve active interaction with a large group. I mean... bowling, for chrissakes? In a league? Even his idea of motorcycling was primarily social as well, like forming part of an "honor guard" with fifty or a hundred other bikers at various funerals. The racket was enough to raise the dead.
He was even involved with a "Biker Church". Holy Harley, Batman! Give me a break.
Mike hale and hearty? He has his life, and I have mine.
But Mike helpless? Mike lying up unconscious in a narrow room, surrounded by the casual brutality of a teaching hospital, with a tube down his throat? The sight of that Mike just knocked me right out of myself. My usual egotism was swept aside, forgotten, drowned. What was left was a fierce protectiveness.
It seems I am not quite the independent asshole that I thought I was. Imagine that.
It's only happened a few times, over the years. It always surprises me. I remember once in the seventh grade I picked up a kid my age by the throat and pinned him to the wall at the skating rink because he pushed my brother down. I didn't plan on doing that. I didn't even think about doing it. It just happened. Scared the crap out of me, when I came to my senses. I really could have hurt that kid.
It seems ridiculous to have that sort of reaction now. Not that I'm throwing anybody around. I'm an old guy. But I do have a completely automatic and unreasoning desire to stand guard over Mike. To keep him from harm. To make things better for him.
And as part of that I suddenly found it really hard to say no to him.
If he wanted to get out of his wheel chair, I'd scour the halls and round up nurses and such to get it done. I was polite, I think, but remorseless. If he wanted to get out of bed to take a leak, I'd do the same. It infuriated me that they would let him go in a diaper rather than show up instantly to help him to the pot. I would just commandeer help and refuse to take no for an answer. But then when he got in there, he often couldn't go, and then he wanted immediately back into bed. And then, half the time, he'd no sooner get his head back on the pillow than some therapist would show up to put him back in the wheel chair to take him down the hall.
I came to realize I was wearing out my welcome. There was a reason why they wanted him up in that wheel chair, whether he was comfortable or not. There was even a reason for the visiting hours I was ignoring. I was actually interfering with his recovery by indulging his every inconstant whim.
These people are professionals. They have a plan. And he has to get with the plan if he is going to get better. Whether he likes it or not.
There's a sign on the front door of the rehab hospital that says "Sometimes Caring Means Not Visiting". They are talking about staying away if you are sick, so you don't spread whatever you've got to the patients. But I think it applies to obsessively protective and indulgent brothers as well.
So now I've finally gotten to where I only go up there every other day. Mostly. I stay an hour, find out how he's doing, and what he's been doing, bring him his laundry and such, and then I leave him to it.
And he is getting better.
"Sometimes Caring Means Not Visiting". Sometimes it means getting out of the way. Letting go. It is the hardest part of love.