I’ve Been Hearing Some Things About Saint Valentine.

Everyone at work knew I had the weekend off to entertain my family from out of town. I bragged on social media about balancing full-time hours with baking and cleaning between shifts. Just hours before my mother and brother arrived I managed to bring things around like personal touches and past purchases (crap, where’s that oil burner) to really show them how much I cared.

Leading up to the weekend I would get this frustrating flash of thoughts across my mind: What’s the point? Why? Who am I doing this for?

Don’t forget the night before when I fought with my boyfriend because he said some random thing that pissed me off and caused me to turn off the vacuum and retire upstairs before I had everything done. Recipe for disaster. Just meant more to cram in the day of.

Christopher was pissed that we had declared it a drug-free weekend. He almost didn’t come because of the nights he’d been keeping prior to my invite. The moment he arrived I caught him trying to find liquor stashed away. It was a big second chance/redemption effort on his part, as he hadn’t visited in a year since becoming belligerent, verbally assaulting everyone and coming close to violence.

Mom had taken him home, embarrassed. Exhausted. So sad.

My goal was to entertain for two nights with home-cooked meals and quality time. The first night was a success. I had a new Valentine’s card to set beside ones from previous years. They loved my baked goods as well as the pot roast and everyone seemed to be getting along. For a while we were all sitting together, reading separately. Chris kept having to go outside in the cold to smoke so I gave him my old e-cigarette and all of the pricey little accessories that came with it. If he didn’t like sitting close to someone else on the couch, a chair was always free for him. Anything I could do or give to accommodate, I did.

On our second and final night together it seemed like I had gotten the great idea of going out to eat. Chris “heard” there was a bar and he appeared to be all in. Mom warned him to pick up his own alcohol tab and that nothing was to be brought back to the house. In reality, Chris has been texting me from his first few minutes after setting down his luggage about how sick he was, how he was going through withdrawal, how he was upset and bored and miserable and so I CHANGED THE PLAN, straying from what was a strict decision made under heavy stress. I didn’t want my brother to remember his visit as a torturous one. I wanted to make him happy, too. I told him I was going to suggest dinner out and then I made it happen like a secret between the two of us.

It was a decision that would cost me everything.

I thought I could see tears in my mom’s eyes during dinner, but it was just too dark to know for sure. Chris had produced a $20 bill for his bar tab (from my wallet earlier on, because I know he doesn’t have much and I wanted him to feel like he didn’t depend on Mom for everything) and after 5 beers in, got the total for $1.25 over what he had money for. Mom, again, to the rescue. Louder and more freely speaking, Chris wasn’t the only one having beers, so I didn’t think anything was going to go wrong with so many reasons to celebrate.

Mom retired at a normal hour and went upstairs. Chris proceeded to destroy the night. He aggressively claimed two beers from the fridge as “his beers” and demanded to know where the liquor was kept. Dan and I were tired and about ready for bed but my brother kept getting louder, singing, shouting…

Then the insults started. He said that my boyfriend was an asshole, that his own girlfriend was sleeping around with other people, that he hated the world, his life…and he wanted to fight us. He charged at the dogs and they thought he wanted to play, but quickly caught on to a bad energy that frightened them out of the room. Chris leaned over in a chair to bite the leaf of a house plant, and almost fell to the floor.

“I hope that wasn’t poisonous.”

“It is.”

Spitting the leaf bits in to his hand, he asked the plant’s name.

“Peace Lily.”

My mother could hear the fuss going on and was texting me her hopes and prayers that he would tire quickly. I wouldn’t know until later that she was crying, leaving the Kleenex on my bedside table for me to find later on.

Chris grabbed Dan’s guitar, held it high, and I could tell he was looking for our reactions. He wanted us to warn him, to be afraid. But we weren’t playing along, instead tending to our own tablets, and that seemed to infuriate him just as well. He carefully strummed the strings and put the guitar back against the wall.

Constantly complaining about a God that wasn’t real, a life that we couldn’t begin to imagine the horror of, he would start crying, crying tears, and then he’d turn it to a Joker laugh, the one from the Batman movie, that he had practiced and mastered. Showing off, breaking down, getting angry, manically cycling and pacing the house before he started really picking on everyone and telling us we weren’t shit. That we disgusted him.

“Babe. I’m going to have to go upstairs and ask your mom to leave. I’m sorry. He’s threatening us. He’s out of control, Autumn.”

Finally losing my patience and damned if I was going to have my mom depart early, I ordered Chris to get his shit because I was driving him home. He realized I was serious and he tried to calm me down but I was done. I asked if he wanted to go home and he said, “Of course, there’s nothing I want MORE.” So I now had an hour and a half to drive each way, around midnight, to salvage what was left of my weekend.

The brother part had failed. His second chance was not a success. One year later, no lesson learned. To think that Dan hadn’t even hesitated to allow him after last time…

On his way out Chris ran after Dan. I grabbed him by his coat and pulled him back as he screamed, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING WITH A GIRL THAT YOUNG.”

Then he shoved me back, pushing me down under the garage door as it was closing. I recovered my footing and PUSHED him back, screaming that if he touched me again, I would call the police and they could give him a ride. I warned him to choose quickly. I was shouting, loud enough for neighbors to hold hands over their children’s ears.

Mom insisted on riding with me. Several times on the way home Chris opened the car door like he was going to jump out while I drove down the freeway. Mom would cry, shouting, “Please Chris, stop, please Chris don’t”…

Again she was crying, so tired, so wrecked, that it made me furious. I was over Chris and the pain he was causing.

“YOU LEFT ME ALONE FOR TEN YEARS.” Which must have meant, from the moment I went to college.

He remarked about my mother’s marriage, how he had no idea why Dad had put up with her. He continuously attacked us, digging up every piece of guilt, every memory of pain, relentlessly. When the road began to wash with tears, I widened my eyes and got a grip. It was a nightmare.

Once in their driveway, Chris shouted that he had stolen things from my house. I said, “I don’t care” as he chucked my Joker library book in to the back seat. With him gone, I put the car in reverse and a weird siren went off, like my rear camera was malfunctioning. I hopped out to check on it and my mother screamed –

“-AUTUMN HE’S COMING BACK-”

And when I turned my head, the headlights were on my brother, charging at the car with his body. I jumped back in the car and locked it, but it wouldn’t start because I had locked it with the remote start key fob first. SO STUPID. Chris’ body slammed against the passenger window, against the hood…

“WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU STILL IN MY DRIVEWAY?!”

This is happening within seconds. I’m trying to start the car, fumbling at the remote start key in the dark, still wondering why the fuck a continuous alarm was going off at this horrible moment. Mom was opening her door, trying to yell “it’s her camera, her camera is why we’re still here!!” and opening the door after I’ve locked the car from the inside with my remote start causes all of the alarms to start blaring, preventing the engine from starting –

Chris is now running at the car with a large, metal show shovel.

I SLAP my mother across her fucking face. She stops moving and making noise.

“MOM. CLOSE THE FUCKING DOOR NOW. WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE. SHUT UP AND CLOSE THE FUCKING DOOR.”

The car still thinks someone is breaking in and turning the key isn’t working. Everything. Fucking. Backwards. Within seconds. Wrong seconds.

Reverse. Reverse. No engine. Reverse. Reverse.

My mother quietly looked at me and calmly said, because I had smacked her, maybe because it looked like his drinking had been all my idea, “I will never forgive you.”

Then she opened the door again (sirens wailing) and walked off.

UNLOCK. UNLOCK. UNARM. SOUND OFF. CAR ON. REVERSE.

My tires started spinning over the snow before I got myself to slow down and get out of there as fast as I could. I had to put miles between us. Miles. After so many minutes I finally… realized that my mother would be without her vehicle. Without her bags. I had lost my company. Had lost them both. And had escaped something…I cannot put words to…what that was.

I woke up with a Very. Broken. Heart.

There isn’t enough sorry in sorry, to apologize to Dan. We have spent Valentine’s Day together just being at the house, tired. Speechless. I went in to the kitchen and had a piece of the cake I would not be sending back. I opened the oven and tossed little cherry pies in the shape of hearts, in to the trash.

I grabbed the Valentine’s cards and put them away. Blocked my brother’s number until a day, if a day, that he is out of rehab. When my mother pulled in with my father this morning, she asked for her bags. I grabbed them and gave them to her. Moved my car so she could get to hers and follow Dad back home. I did not look at them once.

I haven’t felt pain like this in a while. That real brokenness makes the other stuff seem so petty. It’s grabbing my chest like a hawk holds its prey to ground with its claws. Like the pain is waiting for me to die. This is something that wasn’t supposed to be compromised.

I wish I knew what to do without my family. But I don’t.

They were supposed to be the point. They were why. They were who I did everything for.

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