Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Sidebar on Brucie

The third child in our family was Brucie, born in 1939. Some might think that by clinging to his baby nickname, Boo (because he liked to play Peekaboo and it resembled his first baby talk for himself), my mother contributed to his problems, and so far as these were environmentally acquired her own problems didn't help, but the underlying problems could be easily identified now. It should be emphasized, too, that my mother was normally healthy during the pregnancy and not alcoholic nor, yet, heavily involved in medications. It was the post-war uncertainties, coming off wartime economy, and a hysterectomy at age 30 without any follow-up medical attention, that triggered her worst problems, so far as I can remember.

As soon as he could gather his legs under him in his crib and long before he crawled or walked, he rocked constantly and vigorously, bumping the top of his head incessantly, compulsively against the side of the crib, making a large lump, eventually breaking open, on top of his head. The doctor dressed it, had my mother change the dressing frequently, had my parents replace the wooden crib sides with screening. As soon as he sat, then walked, he bounced. Compulsively. Sharing the back seat of the family car with him is still unforgotten. I did realize that he wasn't doing it deliberately, and he had to be in the back seat since a bouncing toddler in the front was too dangerous. No one nagged at him; we knew it would do no good. It continued in the car, as I remember, even when he was six and seven. And, of course, there were no constraining seat belts, let alone constraining and containing baby seats. I can only wonder how a baby and a youngster such as Brucie might have responded to them.

He did not learn to read well, and spelling was hopeless: the classic case, in which GRIL and GIRL are indistinguishable. This continued into adulthood, when I received letters from him when he was in prison.
The bicycle accident, when he was taken unconscious to Highland Hospital, when we lived on East 25th in Oakland, is just part of a larger picture, which began, I am convinced, with the infantile rocking and head-banging and included the episode with nephritis (conflicting diagnoses) which, with the experimental live cross-transfusion, led to my father's death after hia becoming yellower and paler day by day for a week. These and other calamities also are somehow part of a larger picture.
The school psychologist at Elmhurst Junior High, when we lived on Kains in West Berkeley (shortly before I left home), said that his IQ was above average, notwithstanding. He did well in arts and crafts classes, which he also enjoyed when he was sent to the Juvenile Hall (a group of boys, Brucie among them, were caught stealing automobile tires, and by that time my mother, widowed, was deemed unable to handle the situation). At some time he was sent to my grandparents in San Luis Obispo, where he did well and the school chose him to be Fra Junipero Serra (the founder of California missions) in a pageant for Public Schools Week, when presentations were done for parents. He loved this. All else being equal, he'd have loved acting, having roles to play, over all else, I think. When he was sent home, and his big long-haired black cat was flown home to him, on his pleading, the cat was plumb crazy, and would not settle in. I guess it was not sedated for the trip.
When he joined the Air Force, barely old enough, after a few months he took someone else's car from the base at Biloxi and headed west; of course, he was caught.
When he married and had two children with a third on the way, he was caught giving alcohol to teenage boys of the neighborhood in Santa Rosa where they lived, with whom he also was sexually involved. Need I add, he was nearly 27 and they were in their mid 'teens, so it was homosexual statutory rape. Worst of all, for my grandparents (and for Brucie) he was sent to the prison that had been Camp San Luis during World War II, just on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo. It was from there that I received letters from him, the first I'd ever received from him. Later he was in a more serious correctional facilty, from which, being paroled, he fled to Mexico. And so on. Thereafter, I don't know much firsthand, because I was in Oregon or in Greece. He did have the usual problems in prison of a homosexual young man (but without any of the cultural smarts of educated gays). I'd never known prison was like that, with sex being currency, etc. But I alone, who knew a number of educated gay men, had recognized the likelihood that, married and with children notwithstanding, he was gay. I never figured out whether it was inability to get past adolescence or an innate part of his whole person.
I was in the convent in NYC when I heard from my sister Lorna that he'd been found with a knife in his back in the outskirts of Denver. By then, too, I'd seen him once earlier asleep, drugged, in his car, but I don't know how far back street drugs were involved. I knew nothing of street drugs, only of those dreaded medications of my mother. I knew there was nothing I could do to help her, and I doubt I could have done anything for Brucie. There is no possibility of truth to reality among the addicted. Some will say that, if there had been corrective medications in Brucie's early childhood, his life would have been different. I don't know whether or not. He was not like regular gay men, most of whom mature and grow old in enduring partnerships and friendships—precisely what, I fear, Brucie could not have done, though I don't know. My mother and my brother are my enduring hungry ghosts.