From the Guardian in September and the title says it all really: A letter to … my brilliant brother who became an alcoholic. Thanks to the Club Soda member who bought this to my attention.
We shared a bedroom until your wedding day at the crazy age of 19. You’d sat up the night before and emptied a bottle of rum alone. I knew you wanted out, but everything had already been arranged. You were seven years older than me and sobbing.
We were an ordinary family but you connected us to everything that was changing. You bunked off school to lie on the waterbed in the Virgin record shop. You played Tubular Bells, Gong and you left Oz magazine for me to figure out. You wore an Afghan coat, lemon loons, three-stage platform boots and long hair. We were ambushed once by stone-throwing neighbourhood kids just for walking to the bus stop. Hairy Fairy is what they called you. We all loved your independence, your cynicism and your insane humour and you had many friends.
You passed your first job interview and started in the Forensic Services without even going to university and you stayed in that job, in that same building for 37 years. Your work was structured with its routines and you used your analytical brain to eliminate uncertainties. You were commended for your work, which put murderers, counterfeiters, arsonists and drug dealers behind bars. You rarely fed us the gory details but soaked up the grisly crime scenes day after day, year after year. What long-term impact did those things have on you?
You had a cutting wit and revelled in the gallows humour of your colleagues. You kept chocolate bars in the walk-in fridge where the corpses lay waiting to be examined. Your team had special ties made to celebrate solving famous cases, using a cryptic series of symbols that only you could identify. There could always be a humorous payoff from the most terrible of crimes.
You only talked to me about one of your cases – perhaps the most infamous murder spree of all. You described the body cocooned in gold lamé thread, which had survived after the cotton dress had rotted away. A breathtaking image that I can never forget and I can’t imagine how you could either.
Away from work you crashed through two marriages and several failed relationships, but you never confided in any of us. You could fix anything mechanical with ease and solve the most complex crimes at work, but you were hopeless at maintaining yourself. Was alcohol the reason or the outcome, or both?
I opened your email account after your death and saw how you’d been groomed by an online wine company. Why did you fall for that nonsense? With each email they said you were getting closer to the top of the queue until, as they described, you became a priority customer who qualified for a great deal.
You always lied about your health but we’d been worried by your rapid weight loss and confusion. In the final few weeks we found that you’d survived on bitter lemon drink, red wine and fruit gums. I removed 75 empty wine bottles from your stinking flat.
At the end, you were unrecognisable, lying in your hospital bed with five of us holding on to you. As you drifted in and out of consciousness, I know you knew I was there.
Your younger brother
PS Thank you to all of you who sent kind birthday wishes via here or FB or email. I had a lovely day despite being struck down with a heavy cold on Sunday. We did the London trip as planned with me dosed up and powering through it like I used to do back in the day with hangovers!! A timely reminder of why I don’t do that sh*t anymore 😉 Today I shan’t be getting out of my jim-jams as I implement some self-care to shift it and head back to bed.
PPS Two people subscribed yesterday so your free Udemy online course places are waiting for you and now it rolls over to subscriber no 1500 for the next free place 🙂