I was living. Helping the kids with their homework. Dinner with the kids and the old lady. Cleaning up the dump. Getting the kids to bed. Listening to the old lady’s grievances. I was living. Doing the same things I do day after day after day. Living. This is life.
I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. . .
I had about an hour to kill before I had to go to work. I look forward to that hour each day. Sixty minutes rest for my ears. I usually read for fifty minutes, then imagine a different life the last ten.
The phone rings. I hear the old lady clomping up the stairs. She always wears her shoes in the house. I hear her clomping all over the place all day long. It’s one of those *little things* that could drive a person insane. I hear the old lady clomping up the stairs after the phone rings. The call must be for me. I almost never get a phone call. No good can come of it. My sixty minutes of ear rest will be ruined.
“It’s for you,” the old lady says in a solemn tone, with a solemn look. Even she knows the call is no good.
I go downstairs.
“Hello,” I say into the telephone.
“Hello, sir. I’m Detective Ted Wilson of the Eau Claire, Wisconsin police department. . .”
Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Eight years ago I saw my brother off on a Greyhound bus headed for Eau Claire. He had two huge, almost-unliftable cartons of books, a backpack filled with a few items of clothing and some toiletries--everything he had to show for forty-five years on this earth. That, and a check for a hundred-fifty-thousand dollars, folded in half and stuffed in his shirt pocket. That was the last time I saw my brother. He had blown into town after I hadn’t seen him for twenty years. He stayed a few memorable weeks, then I drove him to the Greyhound bus station in Toledo, Ohio, the town we were born in, and there I said goodbye to him--the only white man in a waiting room full of broke-looking coloreds.
This Detective Ted Wilson says he is sorry to tell me they found my brother dead in his small Eau Claire, Wisconsin apartment. He made a point of saying it was a small apartment.
“Your brother appears to have lived a very spartan lifestyle,” the Detective says.
“Yes. But he always had a lot of books. Were there no books in his room?”
“No, I didn’t see anything like that,” the Detective answers.
Then the Detective, almost in a complaining fashion, tells me how difficult it was to locate me. There were no papers in my brother’s apartment identifying any friends or family.
“The other tenants said he was an extremely private person.”
The Detective tells me he was only able to find me after doing a search on my brother in their *system,* and finding an old record indicating my brother was incarcerated in a County Jail for ninety days in 1980, and my name was the only name on his Visitor List. That’s how he *discovered* me, the Detective says. I almost tell the Detective I am now employed at that very same County Jail--but realize that would only needlessly prolong the uncomfortable conversation. Instead, I ask:
“What did he die of?”
“We don’t know. An autopsy will be performed tomorrow morning.”
I give the Detective the few basic bits of information he requests, and he tells me the Medical Examiner will call me tomorrow afternoon with the autopsy results. I hang up the telephone. Fifty-three minutes until I have to go to work.
“Why don’t you take the night off?” the old lady says.
I shake my head.
“Why?” she asks.
“There’s no point.”
“There’s no point?”
“The time for that has passed.”
“The time for that has passed?”
“That’s right. The time for that has passed. I should have taken the night off last night. Or a week ago. Or a month ago. The time for that has passed.”
The old lady looks like she doesn’t understand. It could be an act, but that is OK--it’s not her problem. My brother’s death is not her problem.
I go back upstairs. I pick up my book, Bernhard’s Gathering Evidence--really, I couldn’t have a much better selection, considering the circumstances.
My brother died at age fifty-three. He lived the last thirty years of his life as a *bum*--homeless for all of those years until he pocketed his check for 150k, then I assume he lived his last eight years as a comfortable bum in his small apartment in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I’ll have to visit that city, someday. . .
In reality, my brother was homeless all of his fifty-three years. . .
He never *held* a job. Never.
Now, for me, there is nobody left on this earth who knows what it was like. . .
At some point I will tell my kids, my two sons, the great value of brotherhood: that as long as both of them remain alive, they will each have one person who will know what it was like. . .the whole rest of the God damned world can contradict them, but as long as they both remain alive, they will each have one faithful witness.
My brother and I could not stand each other, until we were teenagers. But by then, we only had a few years left before he began his decades-long wandering. . .
He went from college town to college town, stealing books from the great university libraries of AmerICKa. As far as I know, he was only caught the one time, for which he did his ninety days at the County Jail, the very same County Jail at which I now *earn my livelihood.*
My brother needed those books for his independent studies. He was a true autodidact.
He was kicked out of school, permanently, in the tenth grade.
[He was then shipped off to the Jobs Corp in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was dismissed after two or three months as a result of a *racial altercation.* When no one in the family would take him in, he was forced to join the AmerICKan Navy at age seventeen. Imagine! Within a few weeks I received from my brother in the mail a photograph of himself in his Navy costume. This remains the only photo I have of my brother. If one did not know my brother, and saw only the front picture side of the photograph, one would likely conceive a completely FALSE IMPRESSION of my brother. But upon turning the photograph over, and reading my brother’s brief note, one would begin to have a clearer understanding, as he printed in his customary neat block letters: THIS IS MORE RETARDED THAN JOBS CORP. SEE YOU SOON. He was given a General Discharge and back in *civilian life* before his nineteenth birthday.]
He would become fixated on certain semi-arcane fields of knowledge, and study them like a mad scholastic monk for six months or year. Then a new avenue of inquiry would take root in his mind, and a whole new set of books would have to be stolen. . .
Thirty years ago my brother was investigating the Book of Revelation, producing indecipherable charts plotting the End.
Eight years ago, he was in the middle of a dual study of the theory of economic inflation and the validity of mental illness. As I recall, he was reading Schumpeter and Szasz simultaneously, and saw some esoteric link between the two. He had come to Ann Arbor to pilfer a book from the University of Michigan library, and I happened across him one spring day on the University Diag. As I mentioned earlier, he left town with a check for 150k in his shirt pocket, and the knowledge he could now purchase a computer and find or buy almost any book he needed on the internet. His criminal career hop-scotching across AmerICKa’s college campuses came to an end, and he apparently stayed put in Eau Claire, Wisconsin for the last law-abiding eight years of his life.
[Now that I think of it, the reason Detective Ted Wilson may not have seen any books in my brother’s room is because my brother may have went over to the *Kindle*. . .]
I have hated them that regard lying vanities. . .
My brother had no patience, no tolerance, no connection to other people or their institutions or groups.
He suspected everybody of dishonesty and ill intentions. . .
Over the long, long years, with various girlfriends, wives, in-laws, etc., in trying to explain my brother’s absence, none could ever understand when I told them, given my brother’s genesis, it was impossible for him to *fit in.*
“But you have always managed,” they would all essentially reply.
And that would be the end of the conversation, for it would be pointless for me to continue.
To the others in my life, even though many of them were far more *successful,* my being able to maintain a family and scrape by for the last twenty-five years paycheck-to-paycheck *holding* a series of ever-more-increasingly-ridiculous jobs, was *proof* of having the ability to *fit in.* And so, they reasoned, my brother also should have been equipped with the ability to *fit in.*
Their error has always been the failure to see I am living an artificial existence. . .
To them, this *fitting in,* this everyday life of work, family, country, is genuine existence.
My brother instinctively rejected it, as a fish would instinctively reject the moon. . .
It is good for me, it is psychologically healthy for me, to work at the jail on the night of my brother’s death. The environment *in custody* helps clarify *things.*
My brother, in contrast to the vast majority of the sad-sacks I book in, ended up in jail, once, long ago, briefly, because of a QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE. He wanted certain texts at his disposal for his studies. He could not conform to, nor accept, the University library’s hours of operation. He could not *fit in*--nor did he ever desire to *fit in.* He rejected the *life* of the masses as artificial, and sought, through his studies, to expose this *life’s* END and its MENDACITY. Thus, my brother was LARGER than *life.*
[I must imagine the reaction of the little persons who dwelled in the same building as my brother, when my brother, a GIANT of this century and the last century, died in their midst. They must have commented on this wise: “What’s going on?” “I think the bum in number three died.” “Oh.” And then they quickly return to their small apartments, no doubt to blaring televisions--never aware a GIANT had roamed amongst them. This is the way of the world.]
In contrast, the little persons I book into jail desperately desire to *fit in.* They believe the artificial life of the masses is genuine life--but they fail miserably at it. All the beasts that come in on Domestic Assault charges--they want a *family.* Yet all their effort produces is antagonism--and the inevitable result is violence.
Nearly all crimes fit the pattern: the crime is the inevitable result of the little person’s failure to *fit in* the artificial life of the masses he/she desperately desires to imitate.
It is true over the course of the long, hard fifty-three years, my brother’s mind deteriorated into paranoia--yet he stayed true to his original and uncorrupted view that what we call *living* is artificial. Thus I believe, his mind now healed by our Lord Jesus Christ, my brother must smile from Heaven at the ironic sight of his brother: the counterfeiter passing as jailer.
Tomorrow will be the same. Helping the kids with their homework. Dinner with the kids and the old lady. Cleaning up the dump. Getting the kids to bed. Listening to the old lady’s grievances. Living. Yes, the time has passed. I should have taken a night off a month ago. Now there is no one left who knows what it was like. . .
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