There are so many things that happened when we were kids that I would love to forget. Instead, I remember the night we drove out into the country roads to sit in the car and drink (Bud for him, cheap wine for me) and talk about our future. I wanted out: out of Flushing, out of Michigan, as far away as I could get. I thought I would go to Manhattan, get a tiny apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, and find a job writing for some magazine or newspaper.
Allen couldn’t imagine any escape. He was still in high school, waiting to turn 18 so he could move into his first apartment. He’d been in trouble with the law already. My parents considered sending him to military school. They were taking a tough love approach, giving him strict curfews and forbidding him to see his friends. It only made him more desperate to get out on his own.
Once he moved out, Allen lived with a guy who owned pit bulls. They went to dog fights. They started fights in bars. I kept telling my brother that his roommate was an asshole, that things would go too far, that someone was really going to get hurt. But by then I’d abandoned him by moving to Ann Arbor to pursue my journalism degree. Allen was his own man and wouldn’t listen to any voices of reason.
He was an alcoholic for decades, starting before those beers in our parents’ car. I wonder if there is anything I could have done to save him. I wonder if there is anything anyone could have done to get him to stop drinking. He was so used to taking care of himself, standing on his own two feet, never asking anyone for anything…
I believe we all choose our deaths. I know he pursued his single-mindedly. But, god, I miss him. This year he has been gone 13 years.
Today would have been his 51st birthday. I’m not sure he would have lived to see it, even if alcoholism hadn’t killed him. He liked to eat and snowmobile all alone in the depths of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He liked to camp and fish and run around on jet skis. He didn’t like to exercise or see doctors and he didn’t want to stop smoking. He tried to self-medicate his depression with drugs, legal and not, and lots of fresh air. Sooner or later, though, depression would have dragged him down.
I miss him so much. Usually, when I’m in Michigan and I visit his grave, I leave him a Bud, for old times’ sake. I have a sip or two, then leave the rest for him. After all, the damage is done now. The dead must get powerful thirsty.