1965. Maybe. Thereabouts. Add or subtract a year or two maybe. Don’t add more than two though. There’s my life before my stepmom, and my life after she showed up, and she wasn’t around yet. My parents were divorced, and after my mother tried, unsuccessfully, to take care of my younger brother and I, we went to live with my dad and my older half-sister from his first marriage. The four of us lived in a 2 bedroom duplex, my dad in one bedroom, the other three jammed into the other bedroom. My stepsister was 8 years older and mostly just wanted to be away out having fun.
There was a time when my half-brother, also from my dad’s first marriage, came to stay with us. I don’t know why he was there. He was about 6 years older than I was, something like that, younger than his older sister. I hadn’t known him before he came to live with us, and so it was like living with a stranger.
A mean stranger. My brother and I were often on our own at home, especially during the summer. My dad was at work. My sister was out doing whatever teenagers did. And then there was Steve, my half-brother, suddenly a part of the surroundings. I’m not even sure where he would have slept. There was barely enough room as it was. Sometimes our grandmother would come over, an irritable Spanish/Mexican immigrant. But mostly we were alone.
There are big gaps in my memory from that time. But isn’t that normal? It was so long ago. I do remember sitting in the living room, in front of the television, not watching, just listening to what Steve was telling my younger brother in the other room, wondering if he was going to come out and do to me some of the things he was telling my brother about. Bad things. I heard him talk about rape. I heard him tell my younger brother things I didn’t entirely understand, but I understood enough to know that Steve was to be avoided, if at all possible.
Not so easy to do in a house that size. He’d hide in the bathroom to watch me undress, he’d sneak around to catch me when no one else was around. And there are things I just don’t remember. Maybe I don’t want to. I was terrified he’d come after me again and again.
And then suddenly he was gone, back to his mother’s. I don’t know why. I don’t know why he came, and I don’t know why he left.
We saw him very rarely after that. Occasionally, every year or two perhaps, he’d come by the house, and my father would go outside to talk to him, and then he’d leave again. What did they talk about? I suspected my dad gave him money, but I knew nothing else. We didn’t talk about him, even his sister, who always lived with us, her mother having decided that her oldest daughter didn’t even exist.
He was an outsider. My father had remarried and my stepmother brought her three children to live with us, and Steve was never a part of the family, just a guy who came by once in a while to see my dad. I was still scared of him though. Once, when I was about 13, he came in to the house and walked past me, and he was tall, like my dad, and I shrank back against the wall hoping he couldn’t even see me. Perhaps he didn’t. Few people did.
When I was a senior in high school the call came. Steve was in the hospital. He’d been dropped off by unknown persons who’d then taken off, and he’d overdosed on drugs and alcohol. My father drove down to see him, a 45-minute drive from where we lived, but by the time he got there, Steve had gotten up and walked out, against the doctor’s advice. No one knew where he went. He was married, they said, but his wife didn’t know where he’d gone, and neither did his mother. He was missing.
A week later the hospital called again. Steve was back, again dropped off by unknown persons who’d then taken off, and this time he was in a coma. This time he’d done it right. Several days later he died, having never come out of the coma.
I remember being told that Steve had died and feeling unbelievable relief. I didn’t jump up and down and shout “yay!” because that would have been in poor taste, and I did feel bad for my dad, after all. His oldest son, suddenly gone. And no one knew why.
I knew why. To me, it made sense. He couldn’t live with himself. How could he?
They called it an accident to appease his mother, who wanted a proper Catholic burial for her son. We all went, my stepmother, my half-sister, and I sitting together in the Catholic pews, none of us knowing what we were supposed to do, or how we were supposed to behave. We did what everyone else did. Afterwards, my stepmother invited Steve’s widow to come live with us. Why she’d invite a stranger, someone we hadn’t even known existed (or did we?) to live with us is one of my stepmother’s mysteries – always putting on a show. On our way home, after the widow declined, my stepmother said, “I’m so glad she’s not coming! I wouldn’t know what to do!”
Steve. I never really knew him. We just shared a roof for a time, and some experiences I’d rather not remember. But I don’t want to forget that I had another brother.