by A.E. Cox
I didn't care if his chest was moving. And I always cared if someone's chest was moving; I went out of my way to check people's chests while they were sleeping. I couldn't tell if it was moving up and then down, and I didn't care.
He's been an alcoholic for as long as I can remember. Even when I was young and didn't know what an alcoholic was, he was one. I remember it seeming like one day my family cared, and the next they didn't. As I became more exposed to his self-torture and horrible habits, I understood. I understood, finally, what it meant to be disgusted by someone. To be completely embarrassed of someone. To want to disown someone. To want someone dead.
I never really believed in the word 'hate' until that year. That year he moved in with us because he had been evicted from his home and was on parole. He was on welfare. His 'home' was a dump; broken down, dirty, infested. I never understood how someone could go 'home' to a place like that. His fingers were yellowed from tobacco. He had few teeth left. He was going blind. He weighed barely a hundred pounds. A few years earlier he had become a diabetic due to his drinking, and even that didn't stop him. He didn't even try to buy diabetic-friendly foods; he just ate what he wanted and ended up in the hospital over and over because of his blood sugar. And, of course, alcohol poisoning. The hospital eventually stopped allowing him in. It was his own fault.
That year I experienced the sheer anger of having someone disrespect me, my home, my father. I cannot, even to this day, understand why my father let him stay so long. I told him. I told him I wanted him out and I never wanted to see him again, but my father just said, 'He's my brother.' All I could think was, 'But I'm your daughter.' He continued to sleep on our couch, eat food he never paid for, steal packs of my father's cigarettes. I heard him continuously puking in the sink. Do you know what it's like to have your entire house smell like puke?
I remember an evening my father had company. He brought out a beer for his guest. The beers we kept in the fridge for such an occasion because my father didn't drink. His guest took a drink and made a face. It was water. The beer bottles had been filled up with water, placed them back into the fridge with their caps replaced to remove any evidence. I just shook my head. I got tired crying, yelling.
Throughout the time he stayed with us, I had to put up with abuse. The kind of abuse an outsider may think "could be worse." But when he got drunk, he was cruel. He was cruel, brutal and disgusting. He would sit down and lecture me, telling me I was worthless, telling me I had no future, telling me I was a horrible person. It hurt me but I laughed, too. To hear these things coming from someone whose eyes were glazed over, words slurred and body frail, humoured me. He broke things. He threw things. He lunged at me a few times. He got into fights with my boyfriend at the time. He would make scenes in front of my friends. He even showed up at one of my parties (he was told to find some place else to sleep that night) pissed out of his mind, wearing nothing but an open vest and jean shorts, exposing his sickly body. The mortification was indescribable.
The breakdowns were frequent. He was depressed. Who wouldn't be? The only person who had not disowned him by this time was my father, and even now I cannot fathom why that was. He would call once a month from phonebooths saying he wouldn't be coming home. He told me to tell the rest of the family 'goodbye,' and that he was never going to see me again. I always hung up because I knew he'd be back.
Sometimes I wished he would have just jumped off the Bloor Viaduct.
The yelling was just as unbearable as the twenty-four-hour puking. He brought a side out of my father I never, ever wanted to see. I called him The Monster. It would get so bad that I wouldn't even go out there to get food or water when I was hungry. I would stay locked in my room and only leave it to go to the washroom, take showers and go to school. The second I got in the door, I would go straight to my room without even looking at him or saying hello. Every time he got drunk my dad would scream at him, telling him he couldn't get drunk if he wanted to stay at our place. Ironic considering the problem never stopped and neither did yelling. He would yell back. I heard him cry sometimes. I even remember them getting into a fist fight. This was the dumbest thing he could have done since he was in absolutely no condition to even throw a punch, forget defend himself. The night he got violent, my father literally dragged him out of the door and into the hallway, slamming the door on his face. Never in my life will I forget the gagging noises.
My father let him back in after that night, of course. Again and again for an entire year. There was a two-month break when he went into rehab, but that was short lived. He was back here again for six months until my father kicked him out again.
And now here we were. Five years later and déja vu. He was on our couch again. Evicted, again. Even more sickly. Even thinner. He was going to die. I refused to look at his chest.
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.