I am sitting in a Los Angeles hi-rise, at a desk with a view of the entire city, staring out at the endless lines of cars on the freeway, the rows of houses on grids of streets, the world as we are expected to live in it. I am on a conference call regarding a new project and can sense the excitement and adrenaline building, as the faceless execs on the line contemplate their next score.
My brother is lying on the floor of a trailer in a sun bleached Florida town. He has gained seventy pounds and has needle sores on his arms, hands and legs, infected holes ringed bright red, with scabbed edges and pus blotted in the center. His overgrown hair has accumulated dust.
Empty prescription bottles, fast food wrappers, discarded magazines, spilled ashtrays, plastic soda cups, pizza boxes and wadded cotton balls obscure a molded, mildewed carpet. Ant lines snake through it all. A tilted, crud-laden overhead fan lists and groans with every turn, threatening to unmoor itself from the ceiling above him. The constant TV displays another game, part of another season, among years of meaningless wins and losses.
He is snoring, a half-full Big Gulp settled below his sternum, rising and falling with each deep breath, frightening monster exhalations broken by a choking cough. Amazingly, the drink does not spill. Next to his foot sits an oversized bowl with Lucky Charms drifting in the remains of milk. The nightstand is piled with plates, cigarette packs and small change, and the dresser top is strewn with soiled clothes. Tangled speaker wire pokes out of a corner and connects to nothing. A rancid, lurid odor hangs over it all.
The summer sun streams heat rays through the bent open blinds. The light that strikes his face illuminates an open, toothless mouth. Somewhere under the room wreckage lies the partial set of false teeth that I bought him last year. But that was when he had a couple of molars left to attach it to. He has sweat through his t-shirt and shorts, more than once. The wall bordering his mattress has a filmy stain from where his body has rested against it. The scene could be the aftermath of a nuclear accident.
I hang up anonymously on the conference call, unable to listen. I place cash in an envelope, with his name printed on the front, above the address of the place he lives in the town where we both grew up. I add a note that I know he will not read. But I imagine that, on a day when he gets no mail, he may spot it in the garbage at his feet, shift himself toward it and see that I have told him that I love him.
I stick the stamp on, walk down the hall and slip the envelope into the company mail slot. An immediate calm encompasses me. The weight of the day lifts like an emotional balloon. Somewhere in my inner vision a speck of future reappears. I suck a breath of relief, knowing that I can go on. For several minutes I feel light and free, as if nothing is wrong. Back in my office I notice that I have left my drawer open. I stare at the half-full box of envelopes, the half-empty book of stamps, and next to it my last pay stub. I shove the drawer closed, disgusted, angry and sorry, promising myself that I won’t do it again.