Yes, the title of this story is both ominous and obvious at the same time.
Schizophrenia, drugs, and death are a chapter of my life I’d pushed aside for a long time because after my mother passed from Alzheimer’s and dementia, I didn’t want to deal with my mentally ill older brother anymore. When she was alive, I only tolerated his presence in my life because of the love she bore him. I had so many emotions about him and how his mental illness, drug abuse, criminal behavior, years and years of institutionalization, and absolute refusal of any help had torn my family apart since I was eleven years old.
When you have a close family member who has any mental illness, it puts a strain on your relationships with everyone in that family. Your parents, one or both, gravitate towards the child in need, often neglecting the rest of the family, which causes resentment, feelings of isolation, and high emotions. My brother was six years older than me and practically a legal adult when he tripped out on PCP one fateful night, which triggered his schizophrenia. He was behaving erratically in our neighborhood and was being chased by the police. They brought him to our house in a patrol car and said he was acting like a wild animal with super-human abilities. My parents assumed he was high, which was true but beneath the drugs was his now unraveling psyche.
As a small child, he’d contracted spinal meningitis and received an incorrect diagnosis from a doctor in the neighborhood. For days my mother struggled to bring down his fever, believing he had the flu when in fact, it was much worse. Our regular family doctor was out of town and when he returned, he rushed to check on my brother as my mother called for him. He took one look at my brother and rushed him to the hospital. My mother said Scott was never the same after that. The doctor believed he’d suffered mild brain damage due to the high fevers. His grades in school dropped but otherwise, he was the same happy go lucky kid. My mother blamed herself for not trusting her gut instincts and taking him to the emergency room the day she couldn’t break his fever. She blamed herself for everything I think.
At seventeen, my brother was at the prime age for schizophrenia to strike.
Later we learned that drugs are a trigger, especially hallucinogenic drugs that he enjoyed. He was placed in psychiatric care until the drugs wore off and then released and sent home. That’s when things slowly and steadily spiraled downward.
At first, my parents were in denial. They believed he was still using drugs when he would behave strangely. He would go through long stretches of high creativity and then crash into bizarre behaviors that made no sense. He was a band musician and was at his peak, on the level of some of the greatest guitar players anywhere, according to everyone who heard him play. He could sing too. He had a rock’n roll singing voice which made him a popular and handsome frontman in several local bands. They’d rehearse in our large shed out back, and lots of local kids would come and listen. He was sweet, a nice guy, and good-looking too. We had incredible parents and a great life. Those were the good times, I think my parents, especially my mother clung to.
He had a loyal and pretty girlfriend. She got pregnant, and they got married. My parents helped them get an apartment, which turned into a filthy, unhealthy, and dysfunctional mess because my brother was sick. He was ill, high all the time, and couldn’t hold a job. His wife left and moved back in with her parents to raise their son. No one blamed her. Ultimately, my brother came home too. That was the beginning of a nightmarish, upending experience that left our entire family sick with the fallout of mental illness that wasn’t handled properly by my parents, the doctors, the psychiatrists, and the mental health system. The rest of us were tossed in the whirlwind, and some of us landed on our feet. Others did not.
Our lives revolved around him.
To have a relationship with our parents, we had to accept their lives revolved around him. He would spend months in psychiatric hospitals where he was on medication to stop the voices that plagued him. When they believed him stable, they’d release him back to my mother…and the rest of us. I don’t mean to sound cruel or resentful, but I have to tell the truth. I was a child, now a teenager living with a schizophrenic older brother. I was doing everything I could to live a normal life outside of my home and praying he wouldn’t go off again. It was scary and even terrifying at times. I was afraid of him. My friends were afraid of him, and I never wanted to come home.
He had sexual behaviors as well that my mother seemed to ignore or be in denial of. When he was at his sickest, he would masturbate anywhere at any time. He was arrested for indecent exposure. My other brother and I were the only ones living at home at the time. To say the least, I tried to lean on him, but he was struggling as much as I was with all of this and fighting his own demons.
My sick brother regressed into catatonia at times and did not speak for months. He’d walk around the house completely naked, carrying a bible mumbling under his breath and his eyes…again, I was terrified and begged my mother to get him out and back into the hospital. He refused to take his medication every time he was released. God knows she tried. She really did. She had to get him committed, which was no easy task. My father still seemed to be in denial and thought he was still taking drugs.
I retreated to my own world.
I couldn’t sleep at night until I finally put a lock on my bedroom door because his wanderings included my bedroom on occasion. I would yell and shout at him to get out, but it was easier just to lock the door. My room became my sanctuary and my safe place. I immersed myself in books, painting, writing, and anything else I could to avoid facing this day after day. I could write a book about this, but that would mean dredging it all back up. Even writing this is too much in so many ways.
My older sisters helped. They confronted my parents and pleaded with them angrily to do something with him. My mother took this as an insult to her struggles to help him and would repeatedly say, “What if this was your child?” My sisters eventually backed off, and since they were grown and on their own with their own lives, they simply stayed away. Thankfully, they were still near enough to be there for me when I needed them.
He was still using drugs. He stole from my parents and me constantly. He stole televisions, radios, window fans, money, jewelry, and anything else he could get his hands on or sell. I would pray he would get arrested so they would have to put him away, and they did, time after time. The cycle would begin again.
Once I grew up and got away from it, my own circumstances were pretty crappy for a while, but at least I was away from all the dysfunction living at home. I survived and stayed away from it all physically but not emotionally. I loved my parents and wanted them in my life, but I avoided visiting and stuck to telephone interactions when I knew he was home with them. Until one day, my older sister called me and told me my brother had attacked my now elderly father and broken his neck.
I believed this was the end for my brother.
There was no way they were letting him out after this. He was tried and convicted of assault and placed in a prison for the criminally insane. I always knew he’d end up seriously hurting or killing one of my parents. Thankfully, my father survived, but it was a long journey, and he was left partially paralyzed on half his body. They said he’d never walk again, but my dad proved them wrong, and he walked. He lived several more years until complications from type 2 diabetes claimed him at the young age of 72. I still believe had he not suffered that broken neck, he would have been able to stave off the effects of diabetes much longer.
I can’t remember how long my brother was incarcerated, but eventually, they let him go. He bounced from group home to group home. He still did drugs. He caused havoc everywhere he went. Even when he was in a group home, he’d still stay with my mother, who now lived in senior housing and was not allowed to have overnight guests. She still could not tell him no, even when the building manager called me and asked me to please tell my mother he had to go or she would be evicted.
My children were very young at the time, and I began having my mother come and stay with us on the weekends to get her away from him and his sickness and into a more wholesome, normal atmosphere. She doted on my children and helped me so much as I worked six days a week. She had a purpose outside of taking care of my brother, but she was always anxious to get home on Sunday nights to take care of him. I had to accept this was the life she chose, and he was her son, and nothing I could do or say was ever going to change it.
Over these years, two of my older sisters, the ones I adored and who I leaned on and confided in and was extremely close to, died of colon cancer. They were 49 and 53 years young. I was left with only my other brother, as of eleven children, there were only six of us left and I was only close to three of them. Sadly at the start of this journey, my other brother who I was closest to was deep in the depths of drug use himself and thankfully, I had the best and most supportive friends to help me. However, now caring for my mother fell to me and I was open and willing to handle whatever I had to. Around this time, that closest brother got clean and stepped up to be there for me.
One night, my mother’s building manager called to say he was worried about her.
She was calling him, saying someone was peeking in her windows. She was on the second floor with no balcony. It was impossible. I took her to several doctors, and the diagnosis came back Alzheimer’s with dementia. I had to move her out of her apartment and in with me. I didn’t care where my brother was, what happened to him or what the outcome would be of him no longer having my mother to depend on. All I cared about was keeping her safe, making sure she was taken care of, and planning for the inevitable, which came quickly over the next three years.
Without any support from anyone other than my husband and my children and a few of my mother’s friends and occasionally my older brother, I managed to care for her until I couldn’t any longer and had to place her in a full time care nursing facility. I spent as much time with her as possible, usually three to four times a week. I fed her, watched over her care closely, and made sure everyone at the facility knew who I was and that I had my eyes on her and them. I didn’t give my brother a second thought unless he would call me asking about my mother in one breath and then asking me for money the next, at which point I’d hang up on him.
My mother passed away with my head on her chest in that facility on July 17, 2009.
Only my husband and I were with her. She’d been in a coma for over a week. It was a blessing that we were able to be there with her and hold her and tell her we loved her as she transitioned. She awoke from the coma for several seconds. I had been saying to my husband as I laid my head on her chest one last time that I hoped I had been a good daughter and done right by her to the best of my ability. She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling, then raised her head and said softly, “I’m okay. It’s all right.” That was the last thing she said in her final breath.
On Friday, April 23, 2021, my brother Billy texted me just as I was about to leave work. “Did you hear anything about Scott dying?”
Someone had posted in a Facebook group that my brother Scott and another man were found dead in a room they were renting in South Baltimore. Some people are disgusting and have no couth to post something like that without finding out if the family had been notified! They had died from an apparent drug overdose. The fact that they both died leads me to believe they got a bad batch of drugs, but we won’t know anything until the toxicology report is final. The detective I spoke with said they had no identification, so the bodies were sent to the medical examiner for fingerprinting. However, he did not deny that it was my brother.
Naturally, I have very mixed emotions. To be honest, he lived a lot longer than I ever imagined he would. I pitied him, and yet I hated him for everything he had put our family through. I know mental illness isn’t a choice. I know he never meant to do all the things he did. However, I let it all go so long ago that I just feel indifferent to everything related to his death right now. My anger turned towards the mental health system and the legal system. It turned towards drugs and a dozen other things that set this all into motion 45 years ago.
So here we are.
Tomorrow I will find out for sure if my brother died of a drug overdose, although I’m 99% certain he did. What happens to him should be decided by his son, but who knows? His son isn’t much better off than he was. Of course, if this somehow falls back on me, I’ll handle it. For now, I’ve chosen to remember when we were children and life was good.
Once, we were children.
We had a great life. We had wonderful parents. We were blessed in so many ways. Life is so uncertain and often cruel, but when we hold onto some of the innocence and joy of the good times, it helps us learn to ride the waves and not get pulled under by the currents.
Today, I’m choosing childhood and times before things fell apart and crumbled within my family. That’s what helps. That’s what heals. I will tell you that before drugs and schizophrenia, my brother was a gifted, exceptional musician. Many can attest to his natural, God-given talent with a guitar. He always dreamed of living his life as an accomplished musician until mental illness combined with drugs stole his dream, family, and eventually his life.
I don’t hate him anymore.
I honestly did for a long time. Now I understand it wasn’t him I hated, it was schizophrenia and drugs. I hated what the disease did to my family and my once happy childhood. I hated that I loved my big brother and admired his talent and when he’d carry me on his shoulders and his smile and how this fucking disease stole all of that from me. I hated how it made me afraid of him and what it did to my parents’ marriage and their life.
I’m so sorry, Scott. I’m so sorry that your life was stolen by schizophrenia. I’m sorry the system failed you. I’m sorry you never got to live your dreams. Rest in peace with Mom, Dad, Sheila, Barbara, Butch, Ray, Pat, Edna, and Marie. If religion and spirituality is correct, you are free now of this curse and hopefully playing your guitar and singing again.
And then there were three…