And follow, Rick did.
Rick followed as Joey demonstrated how to crawl backwards and forwards and sideways, how to ride a bike without training wheels, and how to catch fish with just the right flick of the wrist. Rick watched and learned the art of good aim in the bathroom, of fair play in the backyard, of epic whoppers and burps, and of raw loyal love. For thirteen years my sons were Best Brothers. (Well, on most days.) But now, at ages 24 and 27, they are strangers.
My sons are strangers.
Addiction did this.
Instead of fishing — or even fighting — my sons no longer know who the other is.
Ten long years have passed since the addict stole Rick’s brother’s place. The scary stranger showed up when Rick was in the eighth grade, so Rick was just a kid when Joey was last a part of his life. Well, that’s not quite right. Joey has been a big part of Rick’s life, even in his absence. Sucked into the vortex of his older brother’s addicted chaos, Rick’s life has been affected by choices that weren’t really choices and by cataclysmic loss. But, somehow, even before his boy-voice cracked and turned deep, Rick understood a love that wasn’t always fair or easy. Bug-eyed and reeling, Rick was never resentful as his dad and I tried to save his older brother — chasing or dragging Joey and his latest problem across the country or world — not when we abandoned him on his sixteenth birthday or his first days of high school in a new town or even when we left him parentless in a foreign country.
When Rick graduated from high school, Joey was in jail and deep trouble, and when he graduated from college, Joey was completely unaware of the accomplishment and in even deeper trouble. The ghost of Joey’s mistakes hovered over everything Rick did (and didn’t do), and so did his dad and I, skittish and fearful and trying to learn from our own mistakes. Growing up could not have been easy for Rick, but he is strong and stable, forgiving and loyal, in spite of everything. Rick is a fine young man, walking his own fine path.
One of the many things addiction has destroyed is the natural order of things.
Rick is now Joey’s special act to follow.
(If only he would.)
The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction is available in bookstores and libraries.