"I love you so much, Brother."
He smiled at me, and nodded. "Yes, Brother," he said. "That's always been the problem, hasn't it?"
I was no longer crying when I walked back down that narrow corridor to the psychiatrist's office. He was sitting behind his desk. He looked up and said, "I told you you wouldn't recognize him." He pushed the papers across the desk toward me. I looked at them and saw, in my mind's eye, my brother, my father, and that delicate false world they had created for each other. Like a house of cards I could finally destroy. But I realized what I had thought was sick all these years wasn't sick; it was perfectly understandable. My father deferred to my brother and was hard on me because I was his natural son. His only blood relation in all the world. My brother had been rejected by his natural father. My father knew how that felt. Alone. Unwanted. Adrift in life. He was determined my brother would never feel that way, too, even if it had to be at my expense. It was their common bond that shaped, or misshaped, their relationship, and, in the process excluded me. So what? I was supposed to know these things. I was supposed to know that despite everything these two men loved me in their way. Everything else I felt was the self-pity of a boy who'd never become a man. A pampered boy who would never realize how blessed he was to have had not one but two fathers.
"He's not the brother you know," the psychiatrist said.
I looked at the paper, then at him. "Yes, he is." And then I left.
When my brother returned home, he was never the same again. He retreated into the bosom of his family. His wife, his children, his grandchildren. He sat at his kitchen table, like the potentate of a small, diminished kingdom. His family acquiesced to him out of fear that if they didn't they might push him again over the edge of sanity. It was painful to watch, for me at least. My brother's life became smaller as he aged, while my life became bigger. Some small fame as a writer. Recognition. Our roles had been irrevocably reversed. So I removed myself from his life so that my presence would not force him to confront what must have pained him.
He didn't seem to mind our long absences. And, on those rare occasions when we did talk, I tried to defer to him. It was a false relationship now, tiptoeing around the unspoken. I think he knew what I was doing, condescending to him, and it must have pained him, "the kid," who had seen him at his weakest moment, now treating him as if he was the child.
Over the years of our parents' deaths, and our increasing old age, we rarely spoke or saw each other. For both of us, it was painful to have our brother in our lives. So we absented ourselves from each other's lives. But we have never absented ourselves from our brother's love. Of that, of all the things in my life, I am most sure.