Where Memories Live

I sat where I sit right now, night after night, at the dining room table that once belonged to our grandmother.

We talked. I thought he listened. My words must have sounded hollow.

I once again teetered on the brink of losing myself—withdrawing from what I knew I needed in favor of what I thought he needed.

Months before, my family and I asked him to move out of the house my son and I were sharing with him. He started drinking again and I told him I couldn’t live with him while he was drinking. Honestly, living with him sucked the air out of the house and drained me of my happiness.

I started my life over following a failed marriage. I picked up broken pieces. Why couldn’t he do the same? I fought my instinct to send him job offerings, invite him to stay for a night, cook him a meal, tell him I could make it better.


I didn’t want to lose myself in him, in his problems.


And, I didn’t.


I lost him.




Think of it, his younger sister offering him advice. I must’ve made him feel so defeated. I thought I could relate, and apart from picking up the pieces for him, I thought the least I could do was sympathize.

I remember the fear of the creditors’ calls. I remember hating the mailbox and avoiding the look in others’ eyes. I remember blaming myself. I thought by sharing these things, I could give him hope. I wanted to give him my hope. He never found it.

He found more misery, more pain than I can imagine. He feared more than creditors and the impressions of others. He feared failure. He feared being himself.

I used to say he had to find a way to be happy with himself and to find something to wake up for everyday. That must have scared him more than anything.

I worried about losing myself in his problems. I practiced my new-found skills of setting boundaries on my brother. He was the classic “problem.” Forget that I consistently ask for responsibility I can’t handle at work and make excuses for my ex-husband’s irresponsible behavior. It was my brother who I practiced telling “no.”

It was easy to see his dysfunction, how his drinking played negatively on my son and my life. It was clear he was not an healthy influence.

I stopped short of completely cutting him out of my life. I never told him to stop using the key to my house or change his address so I didn’t receive his mail.

On the last day of his life, I didn’t see him or speak to him.

Perhaps he thought he knew what I would say—be positive, David, things will get better if you just believe in you.

Perhaps he had read my body language and unspoken inferences too many times—you’re not welcome here, David, you have too many problems and you’re bringing me down.

Perhaps he just couldn’t look me in the face because he knew how much I loved him.

He used the key I never asked him to return, and picked up the mail I never asked him to stop having delivered. He took his life that day, and though I know there is nothing I could do or say to change his actions, I am glad that there were boundaries I didn’t set, that there were places he could come into my life. I kept myself in, without completely shutting him out.

So, I will continue to remember him sitting at this table—the eccentric teenager in a chilly West Virginia dining room over butter rolls and honey ham, or the grave man 20 years later sharing popcorn and misery.

2 Responses to “Where Memories Live”
  1. juliatomiak says:

    Oh Ruth, this is so sad. I appreciate why you feel guilty, but please don’t take responsibility for your brother’s choices. It’s so easy when we grieve to say “I could have” and “I should have”. You did what you thought was best at the time.

    • Thank you for those words of encouragement Julia. I tell my mom the same thing, but sometimes it’s difficult to listen to your own words of advice.

      Thanks for reading. It’s been tough for me to get past this post and get to writing again. I’m a little stalled, but I’ll keep working at it.


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