I was glued to Twitter for most of last Friday searching for the latest news and perhaps in a way for some answers to the horror of it all. But between the rush to poor reportage and the urgent need for many to rudely push their anti-gun ideology I decided to finally unplug for the weekend. It hit me hard on Sunday when the latest picture of the shooter appeared on my screen. The gaunt face, those sunken eye sockets, the hollow wide-eyed stare, that rigid posture... I'd never met the shooter but I definitely knew him. I refuse to include the photo in this post. But you know the one I'm talking about.
"Something big was going down" in the early 1990s and no matter how my brother, "Jack", tried to explain it I just didn't understand. He had it all figured out however and he seemed to know just what to do about it. One of his first acts was take the dog for a long walk only to fall asleep in a ditch, almost losing the poor pup. A motorist spotted him and called the authorities and within an hour Jack was sitting in the back of an ambulance in our driveway, completely catatonic. It was around this time he was initially diagnosed as just bipolar and our family would never be the same.
He eventually snapped out of his stupor and after a brief stay at the ER was prescribed a pretty wicked cocktail that was supposed to help out. That cocktail would change numerous times over the years with varying degrees of success. His second act against this world-wide conspiracy was to abscond with a neighbor's 13 year old kid. Commenter/cob-logger stuiec triggered this memory with his post here. I was certain at the time that Jack hadn't a violent bone in his body. I'd known him all of his 19 years and aside from the normal brotherly scuffles he never once showed violent tendencies. He simply took the kid to "save him" from the end of the world or the boogeyman or demons or whatever. They were quickly found, safe. This ushered in the era of the hospitalization & halfway house circuit.
The halfway houses & hospitalizations led to frequent disappearances in-between. One month Jack would drop off the face of the planet only to turn up in New Mexico. Next time it was Oregon or Kansas City. Wiring him money for bus fare became a part of my budget, and contacting local law enforcement if his mental state obstructed my talking him home became routine. And so it went for over a decade. I watched helplessly as a brilliant musician, student, loving son & brother slowly changed into another person but with still enough of a flicker of the little brother I knew and loved. I knew for certain he was not violent. No way.
Jack was remarkably intelligent. More than I'll probably ever be. He once escaped from a locked down psych ward on the 7th floor, stunning the nurses there.
Frequently the pharmaceuticals would do their job and the old Jack would return. But they made him lethargic and raised his blood pressure to dangerous levels. These moments of lucidity and discomfort also convinced him he didn't need all that so back to square one he'd go.
Around 2003 life was looking up for both of mom's boys. I was getting married and building a house, happy that my baby brother was going to be in my wedding. He was having a baby with someone he'd met in the hospital and was excited. Through all the episodes, hospital visits, erratic behavior, (he once shaved his eyebrows clean off), I still trusted him. He wasn't violent. Odd at times but never aggressive or hurtful. But all that changed in the winter of that year.
Our mother was driving him to her place where he was to stay for a week when they hit a deer. Jack was off his meds and already in a nervous state but this event seemed to be the final blow for his mental foundation. Later that night he got a little upset because she wouldn't hand him a can of Coke or some such random thing so he went and dropped an end table on her head. He then yanked a broken leg off the end table and beat her about the neck and head with it, without saying a word. Unsatisfied he left our mom bleeding and crumpled in a corner to go pay a visit to our beloved 85 year old grandmother who was sleeping in another room, oblivious to what was coming. He gently woke her up and instructed her to get ready to go to Hades.
Jack disappeared a few years after that night, much like he'd done many times before. I was certain he'd show up a week later in Texas or Ohio. Two weeks went by with no request for bus fare but it wasn't out of the norm for him. I'd been in contact with him the day he disappeared as he was looking for a ride from the VA to the latest halfway house that took him in. It was snowing heavily and I was working in another town 100 miles away. Three weeks went by and and this time an uneasy feeling started settling in. I littered the town with missing posters and interrogated a guard at the VA but still felt a little silly. I was certain he'd pop up again somewhere. He always popped up.
Our father was also in contact with Jack the day he disappeared. He'd even convinced a friend to look for Jack on his way through town. And to my surprise his friend actually found him but it probably wasn't the best thing to happen. To someone who was now diagnosed with Schizophrenia, having a complete stranger pick you up and hand you a phone that has your dad on the other end was probably quite unnerving. Jack ended up jumping out of the moving car and ran away into the blizzard. His body was found by some canoeists that spring floating in a nearby river, a few miles from where he disappeared. His son would never get to know where he inherited his uncanny knack for musical instruments that I enjoy to this day.
There's no shortage of opinions on solutions to mass shootings out there. The left's call for banning certain firearms or magazines is magical thinking and has already been proven less than effective. It's also does nothing to protect our kids right now. I've also heard it suggested since Friday that we keep a national database to keep track of persons with Asperger's and Autism. From there I suspect adding schizophrenics to the list would come naturally. And hey, why stop there? Add depression and PTSD too.
No, that's not who we are.
It occurs to me that maybe the answers are much smaller and far more local.
Accepting the notion that someone you love dearly could do something as heinous as systematically murder a classroom of defenseless babies or attack your sweet old grandmother is a bridge too far for many who deal with a loved one with a mental illness. Especially when there's no violent history to speak of. In my case it took over a decade capped by Jack beating our mom senseless before I fully understood. And that's how it is when dealing with the legal system too. It's hard to raise eyebrows or get help unless a crime is committed. Luckily our mother was able to summon a hulking deputy in time to stop my brother from even trying to pack our grandmother's things for her trip to Hades.
Mom forgave him for that night. And he was mortified by what he had done to his dying day. Still if he hadn't disappeared that blustery day, as painful as it would be, he would not be welcome in my home let alone near my firearms. But there was a time when he was.
I've tried like hell not to remember my brother that way. The unnervingly stiff and awkward posture. Those pupils drowning out his beautiful hazel eyes. His skeletal frame. The disconnected rage that exploded without warning one winter night. But that familiar face reminded me.