Day Seven: Give and Take

I have 3 siblings and you’d think  we were raised in different families.  Often times people say to me, “I can’t believe that you two are related! You’re so different. You don’t look anything alike.”  But, I’d rather not write about me.  Instead, I will write about my oldest sister and my only brother.

She was a beauty queen and runway model long before cosmetic surgery became a normal way to enhance physical features.  She was a beauty and popular by any standard.  Tess was tall, with medium-length dark hair that she wore in a flip or some coif-of-the-day.  Her dark brown eyes, enhanced with eye liner and mascara, looked right through you. Her smile, wide and genuine, captivated an audience; when she entered a room, people noticed.  Confident and poised, she commanded an audience.

Tess competed in beauty pageants at all levels, even competing in the Miss USA contest!  She had a short-term gig with a modeling agency and appeared in magazines and commercials.  Before long she was anchoring a popular news program, appearing on a nightly broadcast.  The work was rewarding – professionally and financially. She worked in sought-after markets, including Chicago and Los Angeles. While visiting her one summer, she said to me, “I’m living the American Dream! Can you believe it?!”

Terence was scrawny growing up but had and made many friends.  He played baseball for several years, giving up the sport when he got into high school.  I’m not sure what the turning point was for him, but I’m certain something happened to take him down a different path.  At age 14 he started drinking; we – the family – didn’t know it at the time, but I recall a day when he came home and fell asleep on the back steps.  Perhaps he had passed out.  I tried to wake him up, but when I finally roused him, he shouted, “Leave me alone! Get the f#¢k away from me!”

When he woke up, he was sunburned on those parts of his skin that had been exposed to the sun for 3 hours while he slept off the drunken state. He never said anything about being drunk.  He confessed to being tired after having worked several hours the day before.  I believed him.

He kept his drinking hidden for the most part.  I never really knew but I think my mom found out when he showed up for work drunk.  During the summer he was 16, a friend of my mom’s hired him to do some painting as a way to earn some “spending money” for the summer.  He was grounded except for going to work.  I would learn later from my brother that it was at the homes where they worked (painting inside and out) that he would sneak into the liquor cabinets.  So much for grounding him!

By the time he was 17 he had become a heroin addict and would remain addicted to substances, primarily alcohol and cigarettes, until his death at the age of 48.  One of the last conversations we had, he said to me, “I’ve ruined my life.  You have your whole life ahead of you.  You can do something amazing with your life, but I’ll never live to see it.”  It was a death wish of sorts, I think now.

So, while Tess was walking up and down runways wearing the latest fashions, Terence was walking up and down city streets looking for the next fix. Tess enjoyed attention and being in front of the camera.  Terence, on the other hand, avoided anyone and anything that would focus attention on himself.  He would “lay low” and was often no where to be found during the day.  He was focused on staying out of jail.

How do two siblings with the same upbringing choose such different paths in life? It sounds like an episode from Intervention.  I’m not sure what happened to change him from a typical teenager who enjoyed playing baseball to a conflicted and tormented adult.  I guess I’ll never know.

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