Brothers In Distress

The explosion was imminent. We didn’t know who or what would set it off. The decision was mutual and final. Everybody would later say absurd, too. I expected to be painless. I hated pain. Physical or mental.

We’re three brothers separated by six years each. We all were born in September. My brother Ralph was thirty, I was twenty-four and my little brother Anthony was eighteen. Our house was a gathering place for all kids from the neighborhood. I don’t remember having had any serious fights with my brothers. We were always very close to each other.

My dad had worked all his life for the Ford Motor Company. He was proud of it. At one point we had four Ford vehicles in our driveway. Three cars and a pickup truck. Anthony broke the tradition the day he came home in a brand new Honda Accord. My dad didn’t pretend to hide his disappointment. Dad didn’t let Anthony park his car near the house. At first, my brother thought dad was kidding.

My mom was a strict catholic, maybe on the verge of fanaticism. She wanted Ralph to be a priest, but that profession didn’t interest him at all. When she realized that her attempts would be futile, she continued her efforts with me. She insisted so much I almost accepted just to please her. I’m glad I didn’t. In the end, she succeeded with Anthony.

I’ve always found amazing how three brothers, raised by the same parents, in the same house, and the same environment could have so disparaging personalities, desires, and goals.

My brother Ralph had always been materialistic. He was ambitious, and a little vain too. Making money was his primary goal. He preferred the administrative side of all jobs. Being the boss was what he liked the most.

I always loved sports. I practiced baseball, soccer, and basketball. I considered the possibility of becoming a professional trainer or a doctor in sports medicine because the active life of most professional athletes lasted only a few short years.

My brother Anthony (thanks to my mom) became a priest. He had a true vocation for it. He had many virtues and qualities required for the priesthood. He was patient and understanding. His personality was passive and sedated. Anthony was gay, but I’m not implying a connection between priesthood and being gay.

We would do anything to help and protect each other.

We knew Anthony was gay since he was in middle school. My mom and dad knew about it too. We all accepted his sexual preference. “Accept” was not the right word, it wasn’t a matter of acceptance or rejection. It was  a matter of understanding. The subject never attracted any problems. He was never bullied or bothered by anyone. Maybe because he had two big brothers or maybe because he was quiet and smart and everybody enjoyed his company.

He never had the urge to come out of the closet. He never felt the need to disclose it or to hide it from anybody. To us, it was just a normal situation, no one was affected negatively by it.

We were born six years apart in September. Since Anthony was born, we celebrated our birthdays the same day. A single party for the three of us. 

One time, Ralph invited us to celebrate our birthday at his house. Just the three of us. We had enough tequila to last the whole week. Ralph explained to us that the mortgage on his fancy house was ‘upside down’. Meaning, he owed more than what the house was worth. It had negative equity. He had several active loans on it.

His wife Lauren had left him recently. They had a seven-year-old daughter. Everything was fine until he began to spend more time spending his money and not enough time making it. He loved expensive toys, cars, and boats. He used to take long vacations all over the world, sometimes without his family. Until he was broke and alone.

I saw it coming a long time ago. I knew he would have to file for bankruptcy and start all over. I didn’t know why he had to be so greedy.  Anthony always admired Ralph. He was his idol and his favorite person in the world.

After Ralph shared his economic situation with us, Anthony offered his help. “I could lend you . . .  no, I could give you ten thousand dollars, no, fifteen thousand dollars. I know I can get a loan for that much from my Church.” he said.

Ralph kissed him on the cheek.

“I love you, Anthony, you’re my favorite brother,” Ralph said, then he turned to me and said, “You’re my favorite brother too,” and he continued “but I’m beyond normal help, not even bankruptcy could save my ass.” He said this with a sad smile on his face. He took another sip of tequila, which was now drinking from the bottle.

“How bad is it?” I asked him.

“Bad,” he answered.

“Well, you can sell the house our parents left us, and you can also sell the shares my dad had with Ford. I’m sure Anthony wouldn’t mind,” I said. (Our parents had died in a dreadful car crash three years before.)

“I’m sorry, I already did. I don’t deserve to be your brother. I knew you wouldn’t mind because you’re not greedy like me. My problem is beyond solution. I’m facing real heavy shit. You see, I’ve been taking money from new clients to pay back old clients. And the bubble is about to burst. I’m talking about years of jail time. It’s not just because I’d lose my freedom. I’d be too ashamed to confront my friends and people that had trusted me. I’d rather die. I’m glad we’re together today, this is my farewell. I’m taking my life, no one can change my mind. It would be useless if you tried.”

Then, he opened a cabinet door where a handgun and a single bullet appeared on the bottom shelf.

He continued, “A few months ago I bought a life insurance policy for two million dollars. Lauren is the beneficiary, the only problem I have now is that she can collect it only if my death is accidental, but if I kill myself, she gets zero.”

To my amazement, neither Anthony nor I were shocked to hear about his abhorrent plans. I had the same strange feeling that I felt when I learned about the death of our parents. A vast emptiness inside my body. Like my soul wanted to disconnect from my body.


*****

On the day my dad celebrated twenty-five years of employment for the Ford Motor Co., they delivered a one-inch thick piece of beveled glass with the Ford logo. It seemed like it belonged in a car dealer’s showroom. I thought it was a large dining tabletop, but it turned out to be a front door.

When they installed it, it looked fancy and expensive, and I bet it was. My dad said jokingly, “Remember boys in case of an emergency, like an earthquake, a fire or something like that the first thing we’ll do is remove the door and put it in a safe place, after that, we can look for your mother.” I also remember that he used to clean it with a special cloth and glass cleaner every night, very ceremoniously.

Well, it lasted only two weeks because one day, we were kicking the soccer ball, practicing penalty kicks and using the garage door as our goal posts. Ralph was the goalie and I kicked the soccer ball very hard, I missed the huge garage door and hit my dad’s pride instead.

That afternoon, we waited for my dad sitting on the curve by the driveway. When he got home, we all stood up and Anthony said with the saddest face I’ve seen my whole life, “Dad, I broke your door.” He said this while hugging him around his waist and sobbing quietly. He was probably eight years old.

Then Ralph said, “No, dad, it was me. I’m sorry, I’ll pay for it as soon as I start working, I swear.” By then my dad was looking at me, knowing that it had been me the one who broke it.

As we stood in front of the house looking at the huge space where the door was supposed to be, my dad said,

“Don’t worry boys, it was just a door, a door is easily replaced. I want nothing bad to happen to you, because you are irreplaceable. You just showed me how much you care for each other and that makes me a happy father,” my dad proudly said. But we felt sad for him because we knew he wouldn’t last another twenty-five years of loyal work to get another door from Henry Ford.

Then we brought a piece of plywood from the garage and covered the space temporarily.

But to fill the space my dad had in his heart, I couldn’t find anything to say but, “I’m so sorry dad.”

I was very proud to belong to that family. I felt my brothers and I were indestructible. We were a powerful unit. I knew I would do anything for them, anything.



*****


Ralph grabbed the gun in one hand and the bullet in the other and said, “I have only one bullet. I just need to make it look like an accident, any suggestions?”

“Come on Ralph! Don’t joke about it, we can’t let you do that. There has to be another way out. We should put our minds to work and come out with a more reasonable plan. There must be another solution.” Anthony said firmly.

“I thought about other solutions, like running away like a coward to another city, another state or country. Disappear anywhere in the world and start all over, but I can’t do that. What I’ve done is punished with prison, and I know I wouldn’t last a week in jail. Even if I did, after many years of imprisonment, I wouldn’t be able to face my friends or my clients. I’d be too ashamed to look into my daughter’s eyes. I know I’m right when I say that I don’t deserve to be your brother. Please, don’t make it harder on me. My decision is final, I just couldn’t do it without letting you know first.”

“Well, if you do it; I’d do it too, I swear I would do it too. I’ve been thinking about it. I have strong motives. I’ll tell you what real suffering is.” Anthony said.

“I was deeply in love for the first time in my life, but in my case, it was wrong. I met a young boy, he was gay too, nothing shameful or illegal happened between us. We became good friends right away. He was sixteen years old. Some people say that priesthood is a refuge for repressed homosexuals and that we join the seminary to keep functioning in society and to hide our devious sexuality. My case is not like that at all, I love being a priest and I’d be a priest even if I weren’t gay. I was never trying to hide anything, and you know that. We fell in love and promised ourselves to wait until he turned eighteen. Celibacy and abstinence were tough choices for me, but for him, I could return to civilian life.” he paused and took a long sip of tequila, and continued.

“When he told his mom about us, he thought she would approve. Instead, she moved her family to another city and reported me to our diocese. He committed suicide two weeks ago. I couldn’t even go to his funeral. I felt like I betrayed God, like my vocation wasn’t sincere anymore. I just wanted to die too. My decision is final too, and nobody can change it either, not even you two. What hurts me the most is that God will never absolve me because suicide is a transgression against the sanctity of life.”

The three of us were quietly sobbing, each one of us had a bottle of tequila, drinking, and sharing our problems and individual pain. I’m sure we couldn’t even have these suicidal thoughts if our parents were alive. But at that moment we were just three grown-up orphans.

It never crossed my mind that any of my brothers could ever consider committing suicide.

I thought that if you were serious about it you would keep it to yourself. That was something nobody would announce to the world. In any case, I thought I was the only one with a legitimate excuse, the only one with an obvious motive.


*****


I had relived the entire episode many times. It was hard to understand life and the many tricks it plays on you. I knew how a simple decision could alter your future. I knew how a minor modification in your routine can vary (and bury) your future. It was amazing how fate, or God or whatever could change your future. For instance, let’s say my father had a toothache the day he was supposed to have met my mom and he didn’t get out of the house that day because of the discomfort and pain. I wouldn’t have existed, right?

I had just returned home from San Francisco for the long Labor Day weekend. My friend Mike from my high school days called me to joined him to shoot some pool and of course, to have a few beers. We called a few more friends and met at a bar about thirty miles from home.

I should have declined the invitation.

When we got out of the bar, we were completely wasted. Someone suggested buying more beer before the liquor stores closed. I was driving on my own, Mike and the other two friends were with him. While driving on the freeway, from the other car, they offered me a beer. Mike and I matched our speed, got our cars close together, and I extended my arm to reach for the beer.

That’s the last thing I remember from the accident. How reckless and irrational you become with some alcohol in your blood. And I thought I was a mature person.

A week later, I regained consciousness and came out of a coma. Only to learn that my able body had turned into a useless piece of meat. Condemned to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Mike and the other two guys died at the scene. As I said, I should have declined the invitation.

I broke up with my beautiful girlfriend while still in the hospital, right after she offered to give me a blowjob.

For months, I had entertained the possibility to commit suicide. The first thought came up in the hospital. I knew then, that I had to do it. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, probably for the right moment, although the right moment was at any time. I had no hope. I had no goals. Nothing I would achieve could bring happiness to my life. I was only half a man, a fake. I was destined to be an eternal failure.

Some people said I was lucky that I survived. Lucky?

My plans to become a professional soccer player, a coach, or a doctor vanished with a careless decision. No more sports, no social life, no regular job, no career. At least not at its full potential, as I would have wished. Oh, and I couldn’t have sex or kids of my own. What a pitiful life!

After Anthony exposed his motives for wishing to end his life he looked at me, like expecting me to burst out my reasons to kill myself, after all, I was in a wheelchair. I was the only one with obvious reasons. One time Ralph asked me if I had suicidal thoughts. Before I could answer, Anthony said that I shouldn’t consider it.  

We all had reasons.

I’m sure we all felt like the day I broke down my dad’s door. Three brothers eternally united. We just sealed a silent pact. A mutual consent to end our lives.

Life didn’t matter to us anymore. We were just three adult orphans with no real close ties to anybody, other than to ourselves.

Neither one of us were optimistic about a bright future anymore. Although I wasn’t sure about Ralph and Anthony. After all, they were complete, I mean they didn’t have any physical disabilities, but they were disappointed with their lives and sometimes that could be worse than any disability.

Their dilemma seemed less drastic than mine did. Their predicament appeared to be only temporary and mine was permanent, there was no solution to my problem. Acceptance was my only option, but I was too bitter for that.

I felt tempted to convince them to retract. Instead, I just kept quiet.

A sudden thought came to my mind. If I ended my life, I couldn’t regret it. I’d be dead already. But if I didn’t end it, things could improve. Maybe I could postpone it one day at a time until the desire to kill myself went away. For a moment, I wished my brothers would reconsider it. I could go either way, but I joined the majority, and once again, I kept quiet.

“So, how are we gonna do this?” Anthony asked, trying to sound as casual as possible. “We could get drunk out of our minds and burn the place down. Or better yet, we could turn the gas range on, and blow out the flames until we pass out from breathing the gas fumes, or someone can shoot the oven and . . .”

“Our baby brother’s always the one with the best ideas,” Ralph said, looking at me as he took another sip of tequila. “I was going to ask any of you to shoot me, but I know that’s not possible, you wouldn’t dare. Besides, I only have one bullet.”

“Well, if we do it with gas, we’ll need some masking tape to seal all doors and windows,” I said.

In a few seconds, Ralph showed up with two rolls.

“I know many people were commenting behind my back that Lauren was my trophy wife, and they were right. I bet she can find someone better than me before my body turns cold.” Ralph said as he sealed the front door. Anthony was handling the gas range; while I taped the living room windows. We were always an excellent team. Fast and efficient, happy to do our chores together, and to talk nonstop.

It felt weird, working so happily together while preparing for our deaths, it didn’t seem right. It must have been the effects of the alcohol, but I hadn’t been happier in a long time. I wished we could do that every week.

We sat back again in the kitchen and kept drinking. We needed to pass out before we got sick from the gas smell. Anthony had turned off all pilot flames from the stove and then opened all gas valves. The odor was powerful already. We were drunk for sure, Anthony appeared to be more intoxicated than we were. I felt like throwing up. I got the lighter out of my pocket and raised my arm and asked, “who wants to do the honors?”

“Not yet, we’re not drunk enough, and besides, I don’t think there’s enough gas in the air,” Ralph said.

We were sitting down, facing the gas range, Ralph raised his bottle of tequila inviting us to do the same, and we all took a big gulp.

“We can still back out,” Anthony said, swaying his body involuntarily and added, “No, no, let’s do it. I’ve always been curious about the other side. I’d be disappointed if God didn’t exist, but wait, if we kill ourselves, He won’t be receiving us with a welcoming party, but I guess it’s still all right. I also wanted to meet Satan.” my little brother was sure drunk.

The gun was on the countertop and the bullet with its beautiful shape, standing next to it. We still hadn’t discussed who or what would set off the explosion, or if we were just going to die from the fumes. I thought I could just fire a shot to the stove.

The feeling of vomiting invaded me once more, and I turned my wheelchair around doing a ‘wheelie’ and hurried to the bathroom. I was good at maneuvering my wheelchair even while drunk. I needed to throw up. From the hallway, I heard my brothers laughing behind me.

I barely made it to the toilet. I got off from my chair and hugged the toilet, the way you hug a good old friend, and vomited.

When I regained consciousness, it took me a few seconds to realize I wasn’t dreaming.

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the toilet. I smelled an awful stink, my vomit. I climbed back to the wheelchair and hurried back to the kitchen. My mouth was dry, and so was my brain. I didn’t know what to expect.

I had no idea how long I had passed out. I was hoping to find my brothers still laughing, still talking, still breathing. Instead, they were lying motionless on the floor. Oh God, they were dead!

While vomiting in the bathroom with the door shut, I fell asleep while they were dying. Fuck! They were dead, and I was alive!

Slowly, I turned my head and looked for the gun. I took it and placed the bullet inside. Then I put the gun against my temple. Feeling the ridges of the trigger with my index finger, I began to pull it. Then I saw Ralph resurrecting on the floor. He sat up, looked around the kitchen and said,

“Oh shit, I know what happened. I forgot to pay the gas bill!”

The sun was up when Anthony woke up. We all agreed that this ‘mass suicide’ wasn’t supposed to happen.

Things got better.

The government came out with a bailout plan for crooked investment companies and saved Ralph’s ass. He could make some documents disappear, altered some numbers, and promised himself to be an honest investor for the rest of his life. We believed him.

Anthony moved to West Hollywood and found happiness in every single way.

I returned to school and later became a successful sportswriter.

We continued with our annual ritual. We still get together each September to celebrate our birthdays. And every year Anthony would repeat the same comment:

“Hey Ralph, have you paid your gas bill this time?”



Edmundo Barraza
Visalia, Ca. Nov-24-2011

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