My brother died from a bullshit skin cancer that nobody dies from but which he didn’t treat for years. Or he used royal bee jelly and meditation. Perhaps he thought he could levitate the cancer.
He also tried to cure it, and everything else, with dreams. His constant writing down of his dreams and buttonholing you to tell you his dreams got so that anything you said, even about the weather, he’d listen attentively and then say, I had a dream about that, and tell it to you. For a long time. Also, he’d be drinking at the bar doing this, but they didn’t know he was a drunk at the bar—they thought he was Socrates.
Plus, he’d designed and built the bar and got paid, rumor had it, in drinks and food.
His girlfriend also hung out at the bar, herself.
When he was sick he wouldn’t let them, the guys at the bar, the girlfriend, tell us, his family, wouldn’t let us know. He had no insurance nor belief in doctors, despite, or because, pretty much everyone in his family was a doctor. Our father, for sure.
He himself had cut loose from the family and ditched school, boarding school, and one day back in the day went off to protest the bombing of Cambodia. One way you can protest the bombing of Cambodia is to go to Provincetown and get high and watch the ocean thinking, Wow. Cambodia. That’s fucked.
So the school was in an uproar, plus there was an all-points bulletin out for him, was he dead or what?
Anyway, he turned up eventually and everyone understood he didn’t want to stay in school and become, for instance, a surgeon.
He gave his sisters a wide berth. Each of us at one point or another made a splash at least for a while and was the apple of our father’s eye, as the saying goes, though not for long. Still, for a time.
He got nothing.
Meantime, he was very smart. Very. Not without wit. At all. But he didn’t want to do anything sensible, like my parents wanted, although especially he disdained medicine, although he had his interest in bee cures, and of course the dreams.
His borrowing money and wanting to repay it all in one grand gesture weighed on him, too. Because he could never get the money together to pay it all at once like he wanted. But when he died, the house he’d bought and fixed—that repaid his debts. So he’d accomplished his wish.
He hadn’t sought treatment.
He did become a bit of an urban legend, in our town. Nobody could really figure him out. He went against my father terribly. Rage and anger. There was a shoving incident, too, once—yelling at the front door, him pushing my father, fleeing the house. It was snowing. He may have been wearing a cape, or his coat billowed out like a cape. He fled into the night.
But he took care of my father before he died. He came to see him, all the way back home from the West Coast, Mexico, and so on. He came back to see my father in the hospital. That old flash came back, his wit. He came in the room, my father looked up, saw him, this smile came over his face, he's lifting up his wasted arms to him, my brother bends down to him, into his arms, glances down at those scarecrow arms, and says, “Hi, Dad—been working out?”
He is the only one insisting we bring our father home, to die. No one listens, who is he to tell us what to do, anyway, where’s he been—of course he was right. We were all cowards and didn’t do it. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Nobody listened to him. Ever, really. Till he got his nightly audience at the bar.
Still, it was something to see when he came home to my father, and my father looked up from his hospital bed and saw him, reaching out to him, looking at him with love.
Elizabeth Albrecht is a playwright and fiction writer. Her plays, including Jazz, have been performed in the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s One Act Play Marathon and Octoberfest. She is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, has held a residency at Yaddo, and has given readings at Park Slope’s The Shed and at Sarah Lawrence College’s Writers Night, held at Poets House.