Advice — If You Need It, Take It…I Hope You Don’t. St. V’s Calls Me Daily to Tell Me about Kirk and to Tell Me Not to Come To Billings

“Is this Martha Ann?”


“Oh good. You’re hard to reach!”

“Yeah, I’m teaching all the time.”

“I’m Donna Rausch. I’m the social worker up here at St. V’s Hospital in Billings.”

“Hi.” My god, what had happened to my brother?

“I want to talk to you about your brother, William.”

Oh no, another person blaming me for neglecting him up there in Montana. I’ve already tried over and over to let him live with me until he got on his feet. It never worked. It… I think of him throwing lighter fluid on the walls of my apartment and then tossing lit matches at it. I think of many other things.

“OK. Uh, we call him Kirk.”

“OK. We’ll do that. I’m making a note. Martha Ann, you know your brother is an alcoholic, right?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Many family members of alcoholics don’t know. They just won’t see it. For YEARS they just don’t look at it straight on. Half my battle is getting the family to see it for what it is. I’m glad you already know about your brother and I don’t have to give you the news.”

I could imagine the rage this woman must have had to deal with trying to persuade families in denial that their loved one was a drunk. This woman had courage.

“The main reason I’m calling is to tell you NOT to come up here. Don’t come up here and get him. I know you want to. I know you want to take him down there to San Diego and help him, am I right?”

“Honestly, I have mixed feelings about that. I’ve done that before. More than once. I feel like I should come and get him, but I don’t want to.”

“So you know how well it works?”

I could swear she was chuckling ruefully on the other end. If she WERE, well, she wasn’t going to blame me. “It doesn’t work.” I was about to cry.

“No. Here’s what we’re doing. We’re keeping him here in the hospital until we’re able to collect from the state for his care. That will be about a month.”

I wondered what I would have to pay for this. I didn’t ask, but I wondered. I was sure that I would find that out. In the end, it was nothing, that time. “He’ll check himself out,” I said.

“He can’t. We’ve taken his clothes. Unless he wants to walk around Billings with his bare bottom, he’ll stay.”

“His friends will bring him clothes.”

“No visitors. We allowed him visitors at first, but two very seedy Indians came by. Later they came back and sneaked him a bottle of vodka. No visitors. Does he have any money?”

“He should, but I don’t know. Our mom died in March, and we got our inheritance last month. Last I heard he took his out of the bank and put it under his mattress.”

“Well, that’ll be gone. I have a hunch your brother sent them to his place to get money for booze.”

“He would do that.”

“That’s water under the bridge. If they took it, they took it. Do you have any family up here?”

“My aunts.”

“You might tell them about the money. They could go have a look. It would help us out a bit if he could pay for part of his care. I don’t expect that, though.”

I did not know if I wanted to do that — but I did. They offered to go to his place and look and I told them to go ahead if they thought it was a good idea. I was so beaten, I thought $20k was irrelevant. They must have thought I was nuts or careless. Or both, actually. In fact, I thought the last thing my brother should ever have was money. The second thing he should never have was a car. My mom had left him both.

“We have to get him sober and healthy and then we’ll see. It’s likely we’ll be sending him up to Havre to a good rehab facility.”

“HAVRE??? In December?”

“Yeah. Your brother’s timing wasn’t the best.” She WAS chuckling. “I’m going to call you every day until this is over to make sure you’re all right and that you don’t come up, OK?”

“I won’t come up.” I did not yet know the pressure I would get from family to do just that. When I told them about the social worker at the hospital and her calls, they thought I was lying. I was in for a couple of hard months and painful phone calls. My brother’s “situation” would divide the family.

“Your family is going to make it hard for you to stay there,” she said. “You have to stand your ground. You cannot help your brother. You have not succeeded in the past and you will not succeed now if you come up here. If you really want to help him, you’ll leave him where he is. We’ll do our best. I’ll call you tomorrow — is this a good time to reach you?” (This was in the 90s, before I had a cell phone, thank god. I only had to worry about this when I was in my actual house. I could not be molested by my brother’s stuff if I was not home.)

“Yes. I’m usually home until 10 am your time and now, except on Wednesdays. I have a night class.”

“OK, I’ll call you tomorrow around 5 your time. I’m here from noon till eight, so if later is better. You can call me back, too, if you’re not home. I just want to be sure I speak with you every day. You need an ally right now and that’s what I’m here for.”

By then, I was crying. “OK,” I said.

“It’s going to be OK, honey. But remember. This is not your fault. It is not your responsibility. Live your life and I’ll stay in touch with you until your brother is on his way to Havre, OK?” I nodded, a pretty useless response in a phone conversation, but I think she heard me. “Take care of yourself, Martha Ann. And remember; don’t come up here. You’re important, too. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Kindness of the Gods

In 2010 my brother — a hardcore alcoholic — died. None of his friends or family knew about it until five months afterward. I was devastated, naturally. I’d “cut off” my brother six years earlier when his constant demands for money and his absolute lack of awareness about anything in my life or his daughter’s life was too much. I always hoped that he would want us enough after a while to stop drinking. I have known people who made that choice — family vs. booze. My brother chose booze. And, right now I do not want to hear anything about “it’s a disease; they can’t choose” because the reality is that yes, addiction is a disease BUT the only cure lies in the hands/mind/heart of the addict. There is NO OTHER cure. Simple cure, horrendously difficult to accomplish. If you believe otherwise, you’ve bought into the addict’s con and my prayers go out to you.

When I learned of his death, I contacted one of his friends. We did work to confirm it. I was left, then with finding his body. After some effort it was delivered to me — ashes — by my sweet, friendly and dog-loving postal worker. She had no idea what she was handing me over the fence, but there was my brother.

My brother was my best friend. I loved him with all my heart and soul. So, as it happened, did many others. When the news got out I made a Facebook group for his friends. My brother was an artist and soon photos of his works began to appear on the page. Memories and stories appeared, also. Then, one of his friends from high school — Lois — held a wake for him. I couldn’t go (it was in Colorado and I’m in California). They filmed it as it was going on and I watched it on Facebook and commented — as if, almost, I was there. I saw my brother’s friends, all of whom were from his teens and twenties. I felt I had met them and knew them and loved them, but I only knew a couple of the

Three years later I went to Colorado to give a paper. By then I’d made Facebook relationships with some of my brother’s friends. We planned a small “service” for him and a dispersal of some of his ashes which I shipped ahead in case TSA didn’t like the stuff that looked exactly like gunpowder. I met some of these people for the first time. Others for the first time in more than 40 years. My new/old friend, Lois, and her husband cooked a brunch for everyone who would be coming. We sat in her living room and talked about my brother and about addiction and about each other and where life had brought us all. When the time was right, we took my brother’s ashes up to a place we had all loved as young people, to rocks on which my brother and I used to climb. I put some ashes between a cedar tree and a juniper tree, and one of my brother’s friends tossed some of my brother into the air.

I did not know these people. Many had not seen my brother in decades. ALL of them — all of us — had had some terrible experience with him. They were there to memorialize my brother, but they were also there for me. Never in my life have I experienced anything like that. I felt as if my brother — now in some place where he’s no longer tormented by the demons that pursued him — brought me to his friends. Perhaps he was finally able to see how golden they are. Perhaps  he knew I would love them. In any case, out of it and their kindness, have come friendships that I treasure with all my heart. I almost cannot believe my good fortune awakening from the sorrow and darkness of my brother’s life and my life with him into such a circle of kindness.