A boy’s life


You probably don’t know that there are two of us Myers boys. Well, three, actually, but the youngest is like 8 years different in age, and belongs in the “kid brother” category, so I’m not writing about him this time. Also, my mother went into labor with him while we were out at the El Rancho drive-in theater, and I never have seen the end of that movie. The movie: Children of the Damned. My parents named him Michael Myers. There were omens galore which he never managed to fulfill, a good thing I guess, and he grew up to be a decent human being and father.
My other brother is Jim, James Clayton Myers Jr. in full, and he was born a little over a year after me. I have no memories of a time without Jim around, and since we weren’t particularly rich, I shared a room with him throughout my entire childhood and youth. Jim and I were buddies, pals, partners in crime, an inseparable team, and we did almost everything together. It’s not like we were twins, though, we were clearly different: I was the morose bookworm, Jim was the redhead with the goony grin. I was the one with the black sense of humor, Jim was more the wry and dry wit, taking after our father.
We were “the boys”. My sisters were “the girls”. We were package deals; when we were farmed out to visit relatives, Jim and I were always one pair, Caryn and Tomi were another, and I can’t recall a time when I spent the night with my grandparents alone. I didn’t mind, Jim and I had a blissfully comfortable relationship. While I sometimes (often?) bickered with my sisters, never with Jim. We were collaborators, an interessengemeinschaft working our way through childhood together.
It was a good childhood, too. Some of my happiest moments have Jim at my side. There were those Friday nights we’d stay with my Uncle Ed and grandmother, Ed taking us out to buy a stack of comic books, and we’d sprawl out on the living room, swapping issues back and forth, waiting for the late night Creature Features to start. Grandma would work quietly on her crossword puzzles and bail out long before the good shows started, and while Ed professed a desire to stay up late, too, he always passed out on the sofa early. What I remember of Vincent Price and Boris Karloff was that they always shared their dialog with loud snores from the couch.
We weren’t always lounging about lazily. We had bikes. We had parents who let us roam freely. Our kingdom stretched from Southcenter to Auburn, and Federal Way to Covington. On a whim, on a Saturday or Sunday, or all summer long, we’d mount up and decide to, say, pedal to Auburn 6 miles away to get a can of cream soda. Or charge laboriously up to East Hill (we lived at the bottom of a narrow valley, so everything east and west was basically bicycle mountaineering) so we could see how fast we could go coming down. We were idiots.
Our most common trip would be going out Green River Road, which naturally enough parallels the Green River, and we’d find a likely spot and go wading. We’d collect hellgrammites, which we’d winkle out of their shell and use for bait, or we’d gather crawdads — buckets of crawdads — to bring home for a boil. Our father was appreciative of that.
We went fishing with our dad, both in the Green and on charter boats on the coast. Oddly enough, a difference between the two of us was that I always loved seafood, but Jim is a picky eater, and never touched the stuff. He also had a wobbly stomach, and would get seasick on the boats, and couldn’t bear the sight of blood. I teased him for years about the time we caught a beautiful 15 pound steelhead, Dad let me carry it back to the car, fish blood was running from the gills all over my hand, and Jim puked all over Dad’s tackle box. I didn’t appreciate then that it was really just a symptom of a gentle and empathetic soul, and that maybe I was being callous about an animal’s death.
Our last grand adventure was the summer after I graduated from high school. My parents’ present to me was to loan me the family station wagon for a week, and let me drive off and explore. Of course Jim and I went together. Why wouldn’t I want my brother to come along?
We circumnavigated one of my favorite places on Earth, the Olympic Peninsula. It was raining and gray the whole time, which was delightful. We car-camped along the Hoh River, long cool nights with fat water drops rolling off the cedar trees and smacking hard onto the car roof. 
We made the long hike from Ozette to Cape Alava and down along the coast to Sand Point and back again. It rained the whole time. The archaeological excavation was a damp gray mud pit. There was a threat of bears all along the forest walk. The coastal hike was treacherous, requiring that you keep track of the time and tides to avoid getting caught. It was exhausting for a couple of casual day-trippers. It was great! I wish we could do it again, but no, nevermore.
That trip was a hard punctuation mark on our youth. That Fall, I flew off to college. A year later, Jim joined the army for a brief stint. The fellowship was broken.
We weren’t saddened by it — I think there has been and always will be a deep trust in each other. I’m his brother. He’s my brother. I’ve always felt like we could embark on another adventure together, any time. We just put it off and put it off, and now we’re a couple of old geezers who’d probably be wheezing if we tried to ride a bike around the block, let alone do a 9 mile hike through a soggy wilderness. We were just doing some solo side quests with our life for a little while…like 40 or 50 years.
I did the predictable thing and went off on a peripatetic academic journey, married my high school sweetheart, had a few lovely children. Jim also met a girl, Karen, who was bashful and sweet as peach pie, and reminded me so much of Jim. They were a perfect match, doted on each other, and married and had 3 sweet kids, Rachael, Charlie, and Evan. They settled in Southwestern Washington state, making me jealous, living near the ocean and the legendary PNW forests.
He had to be the surprising one, though: he became a commercial fisherman! Now I feel silly for teasing him. He still doesn’t like seafood, but he was out there in the North Pacific, braving the ferocious storms, all to bring home crab for the rest of us. There’s a strength there I wasn’t aware of even after living cheek by jowl with him for almost 20 years.
He needed that strength, though. Karen acquired a nasty melanoma, requiring years of cancer treatment and surgeries. She had an arm amputated. It was a long slow struggle, but when I saw her in those last years, she was still able to laugh and she and Jim were still in a loving relationship. And then she died.
Jim was devastated. I can’t even imagine coping if I were in a similar situation.
And then, another surprise. A few years later, he found Julie, and he remarried. She was another delightful person, outgoing and full of laughter, active in her church, and devoted to Jim, and he was so grateful for her.
She had her own needs, though. She suffered from depression, and was also terrified that anything would happen to Jim. One terrible day, Jim hadn’t been feeling well, and went to the doctor to get checked out, leaving Julie at home alone. The doctor found the worst: he had prostate cancer. Before he could get home, Julie, frightened by the news and not wanting to face the loss of her husband, killed herself.
No. Not my brother. Not the people he loved. He is a good man, he lived a good life, and now, in our twilight years, he is struck by tragedy after tragedy. If I believed in a god, I would think that god has been bargaining with the devil again and is afflicting a modern day Job.
I saw Jim last year. We stayed at his house for a day, and it is a lovely place, nestled in a bit of isolated forest near Grays Harbor. His obsession is tractors, probably a bit of a more popular choice than spiders, and his hobby was clearing trails through the overgrown woods to make his plot of land more accessible. He let my granddaughter drive the tractor for a bit, and she was thrilled. He was quiet and still had his muted sense of humor about it all.
He sent me a hat, to show that we still had a lot in common.

He is the stronger of the two of us.
He is in decline from the cancer right now. He can’t walk. He’s in pain, and is receiving palliative care. His kids are taking turns taking care of him — they are good people, too — but we heard from his daughter this week that he’s too exhausted to receive visitors or answer the phone.
We had our last conversation last week. His voice was reedy and strained, but he still has all his wits about him. He said he had regrets, that he worried that he may have hurt people’s feelings with his sense of humor. I assured him that no, he was not an unkind person, and everyone knew it, witness the wonderful women who had been his partners. They knew a good man, a kind and respectful man, when they met him.
He laughed and said he was just the luckiest person in the world.
We’re reduced to texting now and then, when he feels energetic enough. I wrote to him in my formal, stilted, academic style, and I feel terrible that I can’t just say what I feel, the appreciation and regard that I have for him.

I am not demonstrative in my affections, and I’m sitting here feeling guilty because I don’t think that I ever said that I love you, not once in my entire life. I want you to know that I do, that you’ve been an important part of my life, and I can’t imagine a world without you. It’s too late to tell you how if feel, I know.
You are my oldest friend, my good brother. I wish I could see you again.

He replied this morning.

Not everything needs to be said but it’s understood

I really must stop crying now.

Comments

  1. birgerjohansson says

    When my father got cancer 1983 I eventually had a break down I think they would call it PTSD and it took more than a decade to get back up.

    I mention this because so many people share similar experiences and understand what you are going through.

  2. whheydt says

    I have a recent experience that gives me tremendous sympathy for what you are going through. Take it one day at a time.

  3. Tethys says

    I’m going to cry right along with you, because there are times life is simply cruel. Tears are the only way to fully express this feeling.

    At least you get to say goodbye, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    Beautiful words.

    I know it’s much more, but sometimes love seems like a waiting room for an appointment with grief. All my best to you, Jim, and your family.

  5. hillaryrettig1 says

    Oh PZ, I wish Jim and you and your whole family the best; you have had such a terrible year.
    And you are still an amazing writer.

  6. silvrhalide says

    You have a brother whom you loved and who loved you. And you had it for decades. Not everybody gets that kind of family relationship. Or longevity.
    There’s a world of difference between “someday this will end” and “today’s the day”.
    I’m so sorry for your imminent loss. Take care.

  7. bsr0 says

    A sad end to a good life, as many are. I hope his passing is easy.

    The writing of your childhood and friendship together was beautiful, and a fitting tribute!

  8. Oggie: Mathom says

    Many hugs, PZ.

    My wife’s father died about a year ago, no surprise. Prostate cancer and a major stroke. Who he was died long before he did.

    Treasure the relationship you have had, and continue to have, with your brother.

    And thank you for who you are. And thanks to your family for you.

  9. crivitz says

    A lovely story of a lovely relationship. Your writing about it on this forum benefits the readers and writers alike.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    Here in Sweden we introduced the concept of “hospice” from England/USA in the 1980s, where people at the end of life would be kept as comfortable as possible, with all the painkillers they needed.
    This should be a human right, without the need for health insurance to cover it.

  11. bmatchick says

    So sorry for what you’re going through, PZ. There are times when you have to hope (or maybe know) that things are just understood even if they aren’t said. My dad wouldn’t get vaccinated and died of covid in January after 6 weeks on a vent. Once they moved him from a tube down his throat to a trach they were able to take him off the sedatives and he had some very lucid periods, though he was miserable. One thing that made it harder was the he couldn’t speak at all and was too weak to write, etc. We could talk to him, but he could only smile and nod. We know he wanted to die because the nurse asked him that directly. Otherwise we really don’t know what was going through his head. He did have a few things to say right before going on the vent because he knew it was probably hopeless, but at the end I hope he didn’t feel he needed to say he loved us. The one thing I didn’t say was how fucking pissed I was that he wouldn’t listen to his kids and spend 5 minutes at CVS in order to prevent all this.

  12. tacitus says

    Wishing you and your family all the best in this difficult time. I’m glad you shared a close bond with your brother that few siblings ever experience. Sorry it’s almost over.

    Growing old is really tough. My parents are in their early 90s. They have led a long happy life together (66 years married) but my dad now has dementia and mum’s health is declining so they moved to be close to my sister earlier this year. Dad is in a care home though he doesn’t really understand why, mum is in assisted living across the parking lot, struggling to come to terms with living on her own for the very first time in her life. She visits dad several times a week. He still recognizes her and misses her when she goes home, but the man she once shared everything with is mostly gone now, with only the occasional flickers of humor and memories of times past.

    All that to say that it’s easy and right to say something like “at least you have had a long and happy life together” but while rationally you know this to be true, it can be small comfort when you’re in the midst of the struggle that comes when it’s ending.

  13. zygoptera says

    Thanks for sharing, PZ. That was a very moving post. Tear-jerking. You’re in my thoughts. Best wishes to you and the family.

  14. Andrew MacPherson says

    I’ve been reading here for years and have never felt the need to comment, but this was incredibly moving and I wanted to thank you for sharing and to wish you all the best. Our family will soon be losing someone to cancer and nothing makes it easy. Thank you for everything.

  15. brightmoon says

    You’re brother sounds like a wonderful person. I’m so sorry that you and he are going through this.

  16. StonedRanger says

    The love is evident and obvious. I envy you for that. Some people never get the chance to know that level of love. Peace.

  17. opposablethumbs says

    Oh PZ, I’m so sorry. I’m glad he and you shared what sounds like a wonderful relationship for so many years, and I’m so sorry for the pain you’re going through now. Wishing you as much peace as possible.

  18. VolcanoMan says

    I feel your pain PZ. I have an uncle, my mother’s brother, in a similar situation. Stage IV lung cancer, metastasized to the brain and bone (pelvis mainly). He never smoked or really drank alcohol (the odd social situation excepting…maybe a couple times a year), and he successfully recovered from Stage III colon cancer about 9 years ago (after a whole bunch of his colon was removed – the present-day non-small cell lung carcinoma appears to be unrelated to the colon cancer, at least as far as the doctors know). He’s always been a “favourite uncle” of sorts, effusive and generous, but it’s hard to see him in this position, fighting a fight he almost certainly can’t win, and still (though he can barely walk) in denial about it all, putting on a brave face and trying to go on with life as normal (if “normal” is having to call emergency responders every couple days because he fell down and couldn’t get up). I took him for a CT scan yesterday, and the radiologist took one look at that thing and called his doctor to report that he now has many of those little blood clots in his lungs that are so common for lung cancer patients (so he’s on a blood thinner now to hopefully prevent the clots’ enlargement, and formation of new clots). He’s a college teacher (electrical), and is extremely devoted to his job and his students – he still refuses to be admitted to hospital (despite his condition) because it would mean stopping teaching (it’s all online now, so he can do at least some teaching, despite his condition). But it’s only a matter of time before the decision is made for him, either by the college (because he can’t do the job well enough anymore) or by his condition itself.

    With the greatest respect to Caine (RIP) Fuck cancer.

  19. says

    I had a sister two years older than me. She and I didn’t get along when we were young but it got a lot better when we grew up. I moved away first and then she moved to the other side of the world but we kept in contact that whole time. A little over two months ago she was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma, and less than two months later she was gone.
    I know my parents will likely not outlive me but I always expected that I would have her around in my life until we were both old and grey. I got to fly over to see her while she was still moving around and upbeat thinking she could fight and hold on for a few years. I hoped that as well but it wasn’t to be.
    I’m sorry that your brother will be soon gone but he won’t be forgotten. My sister stays alive in my memories and the memories of those that she knew and loved. I’m sure you will keep your brother alive in your mind and the memories of him you share with your family and us readers.

    Thank you for sharing your memories of him.

  20. fishy says

    Brothers.
    I have hurt them and helped them.
    If they call upon me I cannot say no.
    They are beloved.

  21. StevoR says

    I have three brothers. I can only begin to imagine. I am so sorry to hear this and for what very little it may be worth my deepest condolences and sympathies.

  22. KG says

    I can’t find any adequate words, but will be thinking of you, your brother, and the rest of your family.

  23. kestrel says

    I’m so sorry for what you are going through, so sad for your brother. Cry all you need to. I’ll join in.

  24. submoron says

    A horrible situation. I can only offer sincere sympathy. I lost my mother in 2008 and my father in 2017 and as we never separated and we weren’t very sociable otherwise, it dug deep. I am sure that your close friends and remaining relatives will do all that they can.

  25. Paul K says

    I had eight brothers, and have lost two. One to suicide, more than half a lifetime ago. Cancer is so awful, but suicide never stops raising questions, at least for me. The biggest starting with ‘If only…’

    I ache with your brother, and with your pain for him. At the same time, I know you both have people that love you, and that you know it. You may not say the words, but we all know that you care so much about all of the right things. Take care!

  26. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    You’re in a horrible situation, with conflicting feelings. But you have a support group with the regulars. We’ll listen sympathetically.

  27. grandolddeity says

    How fortunate that you have monopolized such an important and lengthy part of Jim’s life. You filled your heart with him. What a truly fortunate fellow you are.

  28. springa73 says

    I am very sorry that your brother, yourself, and the rest of your family have taken so many blows. It is good that in a painful time you have so many memories of good times spent together, and that you and your brother are such good people who have led good lives.

  29. DLC says

    I’m not crying. It’s just an allergy attack. My sympathies for you and your brother, PZ. I lost my older brother back in February. We were never as close as you and your brother, but the loss was no less real. I wish I had comforting words. I cannot and will not spew any nonsense about how it’s all in God’s plan. Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people, for no reason other than random chance. It sucks. Cancer sucks. It does not matter whether someone’s imaginary friend approves of how we lived our lives– it matters how our friends and family remember us. Your brother sounds like a man of estimable character. He will be well remembered by all. I wish these words could be comforting. Stout Hearts.

  30. PaulBC says

    What did Kate Bush say? “Just being alive. It can really hurt.”

    Sorry to hear what you and your brother are going through. One of my brothers died a little over a year ago. First of a large group of siblings, and he should have had many years to go. We weren’t as close, but I miss him and in hindsight should have visited him a lot more often.

    I appreciate your recollections, circumstances aside. My childhood came a few years later, but I remember drive-in movies and watching UHF on the couch late into the night (fishing not so much). A boy’s life indeed.

  31. magistramarla says

    What a wonderful, eloquent tribute to your brother! I’m so glad that you put your feelings into words and shared them with us.
    His was a life well-lived, and you two were lucky to have had such a close relationship.
    I’m sorry for your family’s impending loss.

  32. Jazzlet says

    Lovely if heartbreaking words for a lovely brother, thank you for sharing them PZ, and I am so sorry that the cancer is taking him from you.

  33. says

    Dear PZ,
    Thank you for sharing this important story. At times like this our words seem so inadequate. Many comments above mine have said so many meaningful and caring things.

    Feel the sorrow. But, more importantly, remember the joys.

    And, know that we all treasure your gifts of thoughts and words to us.

    I somewhat understand. My brother had a stroke and is in the hospital. Prognosis: unknown.

  34. rrutis1 says

    PZ, cry now, wail now, and don’t hold it in. Letting out helped you create this post and now we know what a great person your brother was. We need reminders like this, so we remember that there are still good people in the world.

  35. Louis says

    PZ,

    I can’t put it any better than Crip Dyke did at #26. I’ll just add my best wishes for you all.

    Louis

  36. makarman says

    A beautiful tribute to your brother. I certainly hope that he is able to read it.

    Take care of you and yours!.

  37. DanDare says

    Village of the Damned was based on The Midwich Cuckoos and is a reasonably cool sci fi.
    Children of the Damned, cheesy sequel, not so much.
    As a gift of time saving I will tell the ending after the spoiler alert (you may want to watch it, who knows).

    Spoiler Alert
    .
    .
    .

    The kids are good this time and hold hands for world peace.

    The millitary kill them all.

    The End.

  38. larryrsmith says

    Hi Paul
    I started crying the first sentence as I have just heard the news earlier today.
    You are one heck of a writer. Especially knowing everything you described about our town and the Green River. Also the times at grandma’s house and Uncle Ed.
    It took me a half hour to read everything. Every sentence I would cry and couldn’t see. Also pause to reminisce.
    I’m so sorry. I will miss him badly. We both have lost a lot of siblings. I am here for you. I would like to see everyone and you when you come up. I’m sure I will get info and details soon.
    Take care.
    Larry

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