When the sheriffs let me out of county, it was my brother who came to pick me up. Doug. 18 years, fresh out of high school, skinny, short, spoke with a speech impediment and under-bit jaw. Soft spoken, sensitive, shy and loyal. Douglas. My brother. Braces and retainers throughout the most exciting years of his life. Instead of smoking pot and shop lifting, he spent his time by himself in record shops finding heavy metal records. Doug Funny everyone called him. When I was a senior then, he was only a freshmen.
"Did you tell mom and dad?" I said.
"Thanks. I'll tell them myself."
"What happened?" he said.
"They said I was drunk driving."
"I don't know."
"Where's the car?"
"At the tow yard. It's totaled."
"You should be glad you're fucking alive and that you didn't kill anyone."
"Fuck you John."
"I know. Sorry."
He wasn't about his car. He was mad about me. As his brother, I was always causing shit for everyone. So rarely mad. Never cursed at me like that before. Ever. My baby brother. My only brother. I knew he wanted to say: Why do you keep doing this to yourself John?
Me: a young twenty one at the time, coming from a party at four in the morning. Hit a guard rail and did a 360 in the middle of the freeway a few miles past the Golden Gate Bridge. Car was smashed in from the front. Axle twisted enough so that wheel was parallel to the ground. I guessed this is what kept the car from flipping over too. A few miles earlier and I would not be here. I would be in San Francisco Bay with the car. Or could have been worse. Could have hit a tree. Funny. There are a lot of trees on that part of the highway 101. But none for me.
Doug. My brother. My sweet brother. Was pissed but didn't say anything else. I was grateful that he came to get me. They put me in the cell for 18 hours. Took my tie and shoe laces. The floor of the detox is not concrete but a funny plastic texture. Cold, and like a rubber mallet. "Where's my phone call?" I said to the deputy.
"If you have coins."
Fuck, I thought. They were laughing at me. The sheriffs. People only get phone calls on TV cop shows.
I called Doug collect and left a message. It was 5:30 in the morning.
He drove two hours, all the way to Marin County Jail in San Rafael to pick me up. Didn't say anything when we drove up to the tow-yard. We actually bought McDonald's on the way there. Didn’t say anything when he saw the car he had spent the last year and a half trying to pay off. A red Nissan Fairlady Z with twin turbos, aftermarket intake, exhaust and racing rims. Now sat like a broken red nail. Doug, my brother who did not know how to be angry at family could not say anything else while looking at his car.
Parents didn't cry. Mom asked me to go to the hospital ER to get my head checked out. I thought she meant it so I went. Doug drove me to Kaiser. When I came back, she asked me, “Where did you guys go?” My dad locked himself in his room. Something I would do.
DUI Laywers. Court cases. Community service. Fines. Accident fees. Hiked up car insurance. Unable to get to work. Lost work. No license to work. No legs. No mobility. Lost year. "Fuck it!"
During this year, two months after the accident, Doug joined the marines. Hoo-rah. Went to Camp Pendleton for a bit. Got buff. Got tanned. Came home with a crew cut. Sweet brother Doug no more. But still shy, still soft spoken, still loyal. Still spoke with a speech impediment and underbit jaw. Would have surgery on it later, one of the many surgeries he would have. "I just shut up and shoot," he said.
“What the hell?” I said.
My mom caressed his shaved head. Jar-head now. My dad came outside and we had a barbecue. Drank Heineken's in the backyard and had bulgogi style beef and Chinese short ribs. No hamburgers and hot dogs here. What are we, white?
We never talked about the car. I never paid him back for it either. But he was joining the marines during wartime. Who would had ever thought? How could you talk about anything else?
Doug invited his girlfriend with him. Dougy, she called him. She had a kid too but we did not this until after he left.
Very cliche. Soldier warrior leaves for battle. Proposes before he gets sent off. Child birthed while he was overseas. My brother couldn’t have reenacted it better. My brother. The one who kept Captain America and Batman comics under his bed.
He got on one knee and proposed to Connie. Right there on the backyard lawn. There was only for of us. Mom gasped and cried. Dad didn't know what the hell was going on and was flipping meat over the Weber grill. Me: I yelled at him, "Fuck you Doug!" but in a happy way. "Hoo-fuckin'-rah! You're bitch made now." I kept laughing. Boyz II Men start playing in my head.
"Watch your mouth boy. Don't talk to him like that," my dad said.
Dougy and I looked at him. It's alright, Dougy was saying. We're family. He's happy for me too.
Weeks later, they sent him to Iraq. His humvee column hit an IED on the way back to base. He lost a leg. Another cliche. Mom cried. Dad locked himself in his room for the second time. Connie, I could never forget her face that day. We couldn’t have written it any better.
They sent him to San Antonio first, Brooks Army Medical Center, before he came home. When he came back, he only stayed a few days. He was going to move in with Connie, who was in Santa Barbara with her family. He leave the day after. When I brought him from the airport, my dad came out to look at his sons.
Me, standing there. The one always causing shit. The one who went to college but was wasting away. Doug, the good one. The soft spoken shy sweet son. The sensitive and loyal one. The one who barely made it through school and made mom cry in all kinds of way, but never through his own fault.
Me: standing on two legs next to Doug. Doug: next to me with only one. The other half was his Navy colored uniform pants tucked underneath him. No wonder the first thing my dad did was punch me in the face. I didn't say anything.
“Fuck you shit John!” he said. "Get out of my house! Get out! Get out!"
"See you later man," I said to Doug and left.
But I knew it wasn’t me he was really mad at. He didn’t mean to say that to me.
At night, we went out to the bar and he got smashed. He cried in the car while I drove him home. After that, I didn't see Doug for a while. When I did, we were "grown ass men" by then who didn't talk about feelings and memories.
A hot dog, a soda, a churro. A drive down to Pismo Beach. I realized that Santa Barbara was not that far from Pismo. It had been three years already. Junior should be almost ten now.
After calling Louis, I called Doug and told him I was coming down to Santa Barbara.
"What?" he said. He didn't believe me.
"I said I'll be there in six hours."
"Why all of a sudden?"
"A friend told me that when a person is busy being sad about them self, they forget about the rest of the world. I missed my brother. Is that not a reason."
I could hear something crash in the background.
"Alright alright. I'll see you then."
"Call me when you get here."