I Wouldn't Give a Shit if Mark Died
By J. L. Thurston
Hi. I’m Bob. Mark was my big brother, and I distinctly remember realizing one day that I wouldn’t give a shit if Mark died.
That may come across as harsh or whatever. But he’s my only brother in the whole world and I found that his death wouldn’t be all that sad. I realized this the day I was told he was about to croak. I had gone to visit him. He was in a pretty bad way.
In order of birth, it goes Mark, then Leslie, then me. Bob. The youngest. Between me and Mark are seven years. As the youngest, I always got a lot of attention, but Mark acted like the whole world revolved around me and left him in the dust. That is so not true. He always got the most attention. Mark was born with problems. When he was a baby, he constantly stopped breathing. At age three, he had some kind of cancerous tumor they had to remove. And worst of all, he had cerebral palsy.
If you don’t know what that is, you’re lucky. It’s a condition of the brain that kids get born with. There’s varying degrees of it. Some kids have to be stuck in wheelchairs, some can’t even talk or do much at all for themselves. Some are just about as normal as you or me.
Mark was kind of in the middle of good and bad. He was always small, always sickly, and slow in the head. Not like to where you have to baby talk him, but slow enough that he couldn’t figure out concepts like taxes or Algebra. He couldn’t ever spell for shit, either.
He had big dreams. He’d tell me he was going to be an NBA player, and no one could tell him otherwise. No one ever helped him in the right way, either. They put him on the basketball team in school — regular school — and let him play when the team was ahead. Other schools kinda knew him, or at least they knew enough to be kind. They let him double-dribble, they let him take his sweet time to shoot. He had decent upper body strength and could make a basket from time to time. He had this deep, throaty giggle that always kind of rumbled out of him in times of high stress. So, there’d be Mark, stumbling and dribbling and shooting, all the while giggling loud enough to echo in the crowded gym.
Everyone cheered like adoring fans when he was on the court. Like it was some great thing he was doing. It filled his head with false ideas. He saw himself as big and bad when he was really four-foot-ten and floated between ninety and one hundred pounds. I never thought that was good for him. It made him an even bossier big brother.
My parents never gave him slack, either. They never talked down to him, never felt sorry for him. Whenever he’d stumble and fall, they’d try to make light of it, they’d make him pick himself up every time. He’d cry, he’d whine, he’d stay down, hoping for a sympathetic helping hand, but my parents thought that if they helped him then he’d be too reliant on other people’s strengths. They wanted him to be a successful adult. They wanted him to be able to live on his own, if he wanted. They wanted him to know how to care for himself, to pay bills, to hold a job, to be able to get himself out of sticky situations.
Mark hated that. He loved the attention, the sympathy, the poor Marks.
The type of people who gave him the most love, the most sympathy, and the most fun were the kind of people you didn’t invite inside your home. The town druggies made Mark feel cool and he fell in line with them. His mind was very moldable, he was very easy to manipulate. Mark gave the kids his lunch money for weed and then threw the weed away because he didn’t know how to smoke it.
I remember when he got caught with other kids’ cigarettes in his bookbag three days in a row, giggling the whole time Mom yelled because that’s what he always did under pressure.
I went away on a camping trip with some other guys and when I came back, Mark was gone. He’d done the unthinkable. Him and his pothead friends called the cops on my parents. He claimed they had been beating him his whole life. That they’d take him to the laundry room and abuse him.
Being as pathetic-looking as he was, we were terrified what authorities would do. My sister and I were fairly young. Would DCFS take us away? Would my parents be able to show their faces anywhere ever again?
Luckily, nothing ever came of it. I think my parents were respected enough that when they claimed their innocence the authorities believed them. Also, there was not a scrap of evidence to support Mark’s claims.
Let me tell you, the hissing behind our backs went on for years. My parents never forgave Mark, and Mark never came home. He was reduced to couch-surfing at all his druggie friends’ houses until he finished school. Then he moved in with a dealer and stayed with him for over a decade. The drama never ceased and the rare times I talked to Mark just involved me hearing his stories of getting away with drug busts, domestic disputes between his roommate and the various women. Just trashy shit.
Ultimately his roommate went to prison for selling heroin to an undercover cop. Mark called me a lot after that, yes he did. Bob, I need a ride, or Bob, I need a place to crash. And my favorite, Bob, I need some money.
I remember calling Mark when my wife was pregnant with our first child. I was so proud, my head was swimming, I wanted to tell everyone at once. I told my parents first, then I decided my siblings should be the next to know. This would be the first child to make them an aunt and uncle. On the phone, Mark heard me tell him I was going to be a daddy. He responded with a long list of complaints about the thieves in his apartment building and how he can’t hardly make it down the stairs. Also, he was very concerned that the government wouldn’t pay for him to get a scooter. I hung up on him that day.
So, I stopped answering the phone when Mark called. I deleted the voicemails, I never responded to Facebook messages. I was over him and his dramatic bullshit. Mark was a bad egg. Selfish, stupid, and mixed in with a bad crowd that I didn’t want anywhere near my family.
My cousin knew he was in the ICU and didn’t tell anyone. It was four days after he was admitted that word slipped. Mark went to a hospital complaining of bronchitis. He had many health problems, all of them chronic, and he was on every pain pill known to man. The local hospital saw him as a drug seeker and sent him home with albuterol and instructions to stay in bed. The big city hospital took one look at his X-Rays and intubated him immediately. They said if he would have waited another day he would have died in his sleep.
On top of the double pneumonia, little Mark had some kind of blood infection coursing through his body that caused his bones and muscles to ache. In the four days that he was intubated in the ICU he’d completely lost the ability to walk. When my mother and I visited him in the comprehensive care unit, Mark was bedridden with three tubes in one arm and four in the other. He had a Christmas tree of bags hanging off an IV pump next to him. Any little movement would jack up his heart rate to about one-forty, causing the nurses to panic. He broke down into tears many times.
He didn’t giggle once.
It didn’t look good for Mark, and I left the hospital wondering where my head was at. My big brother, the only one I had, was doing poorly. Maybe this would be the thing that would kill him. When he was a baby, the doctor said he probably wouldn’t make it to his thirties because of all his problems. He was nearly forty.
I thought about what I’d say at his funeral. I know that sounds morbid and kind of sick considering I should have been praying for his recovery, but it’s the truth. My speech would be fairly void of good things to say about him. What good was Mark? He only cared about himself. He never learned from his mistakes. He caused my parents and my sister and me pain and never once apologized for it. He would rather live in moldy shacks with meth-heads than be an independent man.
Did I feel sorry for Mark? Yes, I sure did. He was suffering, and he spent much of his life suffering. He’d been given the short straw. I was lucky that I was the good son, the one who was born normal, the one who never spent a day in a hospital. I had a great job, a wonderful family, I was happy and healthy. All the while my brother was being fed through a straw.
But I felt about him the same way I’d feel about hearing this story about a stranger. I think, Sucks for that guy. Too bad it couldn’t have been better, and then I move on.
He died of a medication error. That’s what the bottom line was. He’d been on so many things. His little body, eighty pounds at that time, couldn’t take it all. He slowly suffocated to death. We found out two days later when my pothead cousin decided to tell my mother.
This is what I said at his funeral. “Hi. I’m Bob. Mark was my big brother. He was seven years older than me. When we were kids, we’d fight all the time. I know it might be hard to imagine Mark being able to fight anyone, seeing how little he was, but he was actually a lot stronger than me in those days. But when we weren’t fighting, we’d go to the pool a lot. Mark was the one who taught me how to do a backstroke. When I was in the fifth grade, I won first place in swim team for it. That was something wonderful Mark did for me.
“Mark showed me how to turn our bunkbeds into a fort. Then we’d listen to music on his bottom bunk. He introduced me to Aerosmith and it is still my favorite band to this day. That was another wonderful thing Mark did for me.
“When Mark was sick in the hospital, he told me that the ghost of his best friend was visiting him. He claimed that every night he saw Carl, and that Carl would tell him to come with him. That he’d take care of him. When Mark told me that, I told him that it was sad Carl died of an overdose, but he was a good guy and a good friend. So, I guess Mark decided to leave with Carl. And, I think that’s kind of wonderful in its own way, too.”
Then I said goodbye to Mark, and we parted ways forever. I once thought that I wouldn’t give a shit if he died but I was wrong. Our relationship was ugly and we never made it right, but it is what it is. He’s still the only big brother I’ll ever have.