The day I left for Howard University my brother Wade was there. I remember vividly him running up to the taxi that had come to collect me curbside from our tiny house in Salt Lake City, Utah. Momma could not collect herself long enough to see me walk to the taxi. She was overcome with a balance of pride and sadness that I was leaving her. But Wade was there. He had always been there. As I sat seated in the back of the taxi he says, "Hey wait a minute, get out! Do you know how... to fight?" I sat half stunned but not completely. That was his way, always looking out for me. He made me get out of the taxi long enough to learn how to get in the first punches and to protect my face. That poor taxi driver sitting there stunned, maybe even wowed by my older brother who dropped out of high school, preparing me for college. The last thing he said to me as I pulled away from the curb was, "Here take this wooden nickel, and make damn sure it is the last one you ever take." Little did I know, the next 35 years would be filled with me saving him not him saving me.
My brother had a challenging upbringing. Though we all drank from the same Kool-Aid somehow the environment we grew up in affected him most harshly. He seemed to feel things more deeply. He was and is what I will call super sensitive, quite compassionate. Never ever met a stranger. A friend to the world around him. Naïve but street smart rolled in one. Just 21 months older than me he was my mother's favorite. She used to always say he needed her more, likely he did.
I remember him being held back a year which put the two of us in the same second grade class. This happening almost killed him. He was humiliated. It was tough. And over the years we would grow apart. I would go right and he would take the road left. What brought us back together was a call from my sister saying he was in the hospital and the doctors were not sure they could save his life. After being angry yet again over what I thought was preventable behavior, I jumped on a plane. He was after all my brother, my family. I had already buried my only other brother to cancer when he was just 45, and my mother when she was 55. As the oldest living child, I had to go see about him and what I found killed me inside.
As I entered the hospital where he had already spent the better part of two months the first thing I noticed was his emaciation. What I remembered as this strong handsome twin of my mother was gone, long lost to the streets. He appeared frail, desperate, sad and most of all weak. This brother who so many years ago taught me to fight, looked as though all of his fight was gone. He looked up at me through his methadone haze and managed a weak smile. I refused to cry, but inside I wailed. Seeing my brother lying there in a million little pieces broke me. Where on earth was I going to begin to help? I hoped just by being there was a mighty first step.
Over the next several days I got his version of the story of how it had come to this. He had been homeless, that I knew. He had been in and out of prison for twenty plus years, that I knew. That he had collapsed in a friend's back yard from pain in his spine was somewhat of a surprise to me. It was rainy and windy and cool when his friend lifted him into his car and dropped him at the hospital. That was how he was found. And the doctors were about to apply their finest technology to save his life.
He has a staph infection that has not responded to any antibiotics. The bacteria attacking his bones and organs with a vengeance. If the final antibiotic does not work he will surely die. Of the last 23 patients the hospital has seen with similar symptoms they all died. When I dropped off my rental car to return home I told my story to the rental agent. She started crying. She says I lost my brother to staph at the same hospital just six months ago.
So now I do the only thing I know how. I put my story in God's unchanging hands. And with my brother's consent, I tell the truth so others will pray alongside me. There are a lot of Wades out there. I am not alone. I talk about it not to sensationalize it but to crack the door to healing for others like me.
When I left my brother he asked me to buy him a pack of cigarettes. I said no. I said l love you too much. Someone else will but I can't. I remember a few, not many, people stopping by to visit him while I was with him. I would not allow any negative talk targeting him. My brother knows better than anyone the hole he has dug for himself. He does not need to be reminded. I said not today, not around me will you criticize him. I could not allow it.
So time will tell. I left him with the $25 I gave him, a smile, a hug, and choked back tears. I said I am family and I will never leave you. His last statement to me as I walked away was, "You promise?"
I promise. I am not ready to bury my brother. God willing.