For at least the better part of the twenty years after my father died, it was David who had stepped in to try to help Ma the most in terms of “taking care of things.” I left for the Air Force when I was eighteen and he was only twelve, but he was eighteen in 1981 when I was reassigned back near Boston during the final months of Dad’s terminal illness. I was sent back to Germany a short time later, and David was left as the one to “take care of her,” and the one my mother turned to with Mighty Mike on the lam in Europe. If her car needed a battery or the electricity was about to be cut off at her apartment, Dave would find a way to pay for it. He remembered her every birthday and lent her twenty dollars or more here and there knowing he’d never get it back. He looked after her always, in spite of the relentless demands on his time and wallet, never seeming to hold a grudge for her part in not protecting him from Georgie over the years, and it wasn’t until later that he realized just how much she’d actually had come between he and my father.
David was always a mischievous, but good kid growing up. Our age difference was a bit too wide for us to hang around the neighborhoods together but we’d toss a football or play some street hockey in the driveway now and again. Sometimes he’d start a fight with an older kid that I’d have to finish but I didn’t mind. He was always smart and had a quick tongue, so for that my father seemed to single him out for extra derision and verbal and physical abuse. Even though I’d left home at fifteen and on lousy terms, once I went into the Air Force and almost at once earned my new found status as Mighty Mike, it was David who was left behind to continue to demonstrate to my parents just how much he could never measure up to me.
A popular kid, he’d spend his time hanging out under the hood of one of his buddies’ father’s car or helping them and their dad put up a deck in a backyard or to wallpaper and paint a room. They’d all treat David like a father or big brother, and along the way he developed and honed impressive skills from plumbing to construction of which I’ve always been envious. He was an amazing hustler, in a likable way, street smart and daring with a great sense of humor, and he always found ways to make a few bucks.
Other than negative attention, my father never gave him much at all. And of course it didn’t help that my mother was right there to provide a constant wedge between them as well by looking to David to be her protector. By making Dad his obvious foil, she cleverly put him in an inherently adversarial relationship with his own father, Oedipus style.
Dave ended up playing hooky more and more, finding easy mischief here and there, and then quitting school without graduating although he was among the brightest students. I could only imagine that he had to have been drifting inside and couldn’t see what meaning school could even have for him when no one seemed to care whether he even went or not, or what his future beyond might be. He did a short stint in the Army, then came back home, married and had children while managing a few small businesses of his own in Hyde Park.
Everyone in town knew my brother. I used to joke and call him “the mayor” because he was so well-known and well-connected. If you needed a lawyer, he’d make a quick call for you. Can’t get a plumber on the weekend? No problem, he’d get someone there right away. He’d do anything for anybody and was well liked by everyone.
But even his patience with Ma and her relentless neediness had run out. As she always had since we were teenagers, she’d criticize and demean our girlfriends and boyfriends and later our spouses for those of us that married, and she was always harsh towards David’s wife with her mean gossip and constant snide comments. That, coupled with the endless phone calls he’d receive from her begging for orange juice, or in a panic over running out of diabetic test strips, were causing too much of a strain on him and his family so he just checked out one day. He just had no more to give her and I couldn’t blame him.
He called me after he’d made up his mind. “Fuck it Mighty Mike. I’m done” he said flatly, and that was that. In truth I couldn’t believe he’d hung on as long as he had. We ourselves didn’t talk much with him involved in his businesses and doing a lot of volunteering assisting veterans across the state and me living an hour away or so from Boston. I glanced over to the bookcase where Ma kept a cluttered arrangement of family photographs in cheap frames to see if his portrait taken while at Fort Dix, New Jersey, during boot camp in the Army was still there next to mine taken during my basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas back in 1975. Our features were hard to see through the thick layer of nicotine that coated the glass, but there we were, him in his green service cap and me in my dark blue one.
“Oh would you?” Ma said trying to sound hopeful. “I really miss him.”
That’s funny, I mused. She hasn’t mentioned his name in months. But, I wanted to catch up with him anyway so I would give him a call and maybe grab lunch in Cleary square before the month was out, Mighty Mike’s treat