Half Hearted

This is a short memoir I published back in 2007, I think in http://www.peglegpublishing.com/glassfire.htm

Copyright © 2015 Steve Howard
Half Hearted

Roughly fifteen miles into the trip, heading towards the backside of Seattle, he said, “Take 509, it’ll be faster,” and maybe it was. I liked dropping down off the hill on the north end of Burien. The dark shadowy greens of the Douglas Firs lined the freeway here going into the city. I could see the changes of spring began to green the banks of sluggish Duwamish as it slid quietly into the Puget Sound.

On our way to the bus station I thought about his apology, whether it was sincere or not or whether embarrassment made him regret asking me for the money. Because the answer didn’t really matter or because it probably wouldn’t make a difference, I tried to let it go, but couldn’t.

I wanted to tell him that he was my older brother, that the three hundred dollars was incidental, but I didn’t. I gripped the steering wheel like a wounded Neanderthal, barely grunting in response to his apology. He asked me if I wanted him to send the money when he had it. I just downshifted his question away into the background, pretending to concentrate on my driving.

“Maybe I could mail it to you.”
“Yeah,” I answered, not expecting to hear from him again.

I turned onto 4th Avenue and drove past the rubble of the Kingdome thinking about how it hadn’t been blown up like the media had told the story, but instead had imploded and collapsed in on itself when the structural supports detonated. I thought about the tons of concrete, steel, and plastic coming down. The pile of disregarded waste material sat in the parking lot waiting to be hauled off somewhere out of sight. All the emotions that ricocheted off those walls from players and fans were lying in that pile too, waiting to be dumped so they could rot away with the concrete and steel. The structure of the building lay strewn across the North parking lot like the entrails of a gutted Grey Whale.

I’d been there once or twice with him as a kid, a Seahawks game and Sesame Street on Ice, I think. At that time he was simply my older brother. He knew about football; he knew about fishing; he had all his funny voices to make me laugh. What I didn’t know was that around the same time he was also learning about marijuana, a knowledge that in three short years would deepen into an addiction to crack cocaine, alcohol, and cigarettes.

“What will you do when you get to New Orleans?” I asked.
“I dunno, I think I can work. Maybe on a fishing boat with my friend. I’ll send you the money when I have it. It might take a little while, but I’ll get it to you.”

Neither of us spoke for a while. After we crossed James Street the sunlight temporarily went to shadows as we passed between the tall buildings. The annoyed sounds of the city drifted in through our open windows. Even with the temporary shade of the buildings heat still found its way into the compact car. Occasionally I could see the asphalt shimmering off the in the distance, seemingly a small oasis, but at the point where it seemed close enough to enjoy the moisture it evaporated back into the asphalt.
He had his bus ticket, a greasy duffle bag stuffed with everything he owned, mostly dirty clothes and a book or two. My sister had made a sack lunch for him. His car, which had been his home several weeks, dead now on the side of the road, sat forty miles east of Portland, but it didn’t matter since it had never been registered in his name anyway. He was starting out with almost nothing.

His life was mostly a mystery too me. Occasionally little tidbits about him would filter down to me from my sister or mom telling me all about his three marriages and subsequent divorces, his continuing problems with alcohol and crack cocaine, and his seemingly permanent financial troubles.
A few years ago I learned of his latest set of troubles involving an affair with his sixteen year old baby sitter. My mother called to let me know that he had fled to Idaho from Eastern Washington in the dead of winter with the baby sitter, his five-year-old son, no car, and no money. There had been another phone call. Another apology, this time to my father, and a few hundred dollars wired to his latest crisis.

One year later my mother, sister, and I wait in a cage-like visiting area of a low security correctional facility somewhere near Port Angeles. My brother appears, tall, a little thinner, unshaven, in an orange jumpsuit. Again, there is an apology and a request for me to thank my father for helping him out. I felt sorry for him and tried to think of something encouraging or comforting to say, but couldn’t find the words beyond, “Hang in there, everything will work out somehow.”

Now, at the streetlight at Madison Street the low hum of the engine fan broke our silence. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to ask him how he had come to this point in his life and how I could help him, but I didn’t.

“Do you ever think about dad?”
“My dad or yours?”
“My dad. Both, yours or mine.”

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t really think about them. I don’t really know them. Not like you knew your dad. I wasn’t that close to either of them.”

I turned right onto Madison trying to get to 6th avenue and swore as I missed the turn. Now we were heading in the wrong direction. The road was curving back to the south out of the heart of the city and away from the bus station.

“I think I missed the turn, we’re heading in the wrong direction.”
“Just hang a left on 8th and follow it down until you hit Pike.”

At 8th I made a left and followed it North to Pike. I tried to remember what his dad looked like. I’d had only seen him a few times, once when we made a trip to Billings Montana to drop my brother and sister off for the summer and another time when he’d been in Seattle for a convention.

I do remember my mother saying onetime, “He looks just like his dad.” Pictures, for Christmas, I think. It wasn’t the words she used; I was too young to understand the implications associated with “just like his father,” but the flat look and soft resentful tone in her voice stayed with me until I was old enough to understand their meaning. I used to get mad when I was a kid if anyone called him my half brother. “He’s my real brother,” I would insist. The muddiness of different fathers, multiple divorces, and the fact that his last name began with an L and mine with an H had not complicated the simple idea of brothers for me yet. My brother was my brother. At that age I didn’t understand the difference a father can make or the effect the image of an ex-husband on the face of a child can have on a mother’s emotions.

“You can drop me off here. Then you can get back on the freeway without going through downtown again.”

I let him off at a dirty curb on 8th and Pike three blocks from the bus station. We said goodbye and I gave him a couple of bucks for emergencies. I looked for him in the rearview mirror as I pulled away from the curb, but didn’t see him. He’d already crossed the street and disappeared in the crowd.

Back on I-5 heading south towards Auburn I pass the 4th Street exit and out of habit look for the Kingdome. Only the new black steel curvature of Safeco Field is visible, still alien to me against the backdrop of the Seattle waterfront.

I search for a sense of connection or even a feeling of loss, but can’t say for certain anything is really there. Instead, a memory from Sesame Street on Ice comes back. It has just ended. The crowd is slowly filing out of the Kingdome and following the long winding corridors down to the parking lot. I’m asking questions about Big Bird. My brother squawks out a perfect imitation of Donald Duck. I turn to him and say, “Donald Duck’s not part of Big Bird’s family.”

On my right I can just make out the top of the rubble from the Kingdome. It looks so different torn apart like that.

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