Blood Runs Thicker
Jackson called my mother around 1 A.M. I was in my room watching TV when my mother came barging in, her brown hair uncombed around her face, more wrinkled than usual, telling me my brother had sent her a text message: “I’m sorry, Mom. I love you.” She held the phone up to my face for my response. He hadn’t answered when she texted him back.
It wasn’t a normal text because my brother isn’t a normal person. My brother was the chunky kid at the lunch table that kids taunted. When he was twelve and playing hide and go seek, he got stuck under a water bed at a kid’s house down the street and my dad had to go down and take all the water out of the bed just to get my brother out. Another time when he was in 6th grade and I was in 8th he got in a fight at the bus stop with another boy and I stood frozen watching, not knowing to stop it. I still didn’t know how to stop him.
Around the time of the text Jackson had been living with his friend Marc for a couple of months. Jackson dropped out of school the day he turned 18; two arrests and one bad drug deal gone wrong later, Jackson moved out of our house with his friend, Marc. Marc was the poster child for the kid parents try to keep their kids away from. My mother calls Marc a “lost soul” because he looks like a corpse with dark eyes, stringy blonde hair, and has grey teeth. It was no secret to my parents or me that Jackson and Marc sold drugs together. When they still lived in my parents’ neighborhood we’d have cars show up in front of our house and stay there while my brother went out and came back smelling like marijuana with his pockets filled with money. My mom would always threaten him that she’d call the cops or kick him out, but these were all just empty threats—which my brother knew.
Lauren Gann is from Georgia and is currently enrolled at Atlanta John Marshall Law School. You may leave comments here, or reach Gann at email@example.com.
Even though he and my brother were “best friends,” Marc continued to step all over Jackson. One time when Jackson was with my family at my grandmother’s funeral, Marc broke into our house, took my brother’s bong and weed, and smoked in our living room while drinking my parents’ liquor with two of his other buddies. Our neighbors, who knew we were at the funeral and had a key to our house, saw them break in and went over to confront them. The kids all left—after cleaning up the broken bong on the kitchen floor and empty liquor bottles off the counter—all before we came home from the funeral. My parents didn’t press charges because Jackson didn’t want Marc to go back to jail for violating his probation.
The night Jackson sent the text to my mother I read and re-read the each word “I’m sorry, Mom. I love you” while calling Jackson repeatedly. My mother just stared at me waiting for me to assure her that I was handling it and it was going to be okay. I am the one who has to talk to my brother when my parents bring him home from jail; I am the one who has to talk to my 14 year old sisters about sex; I am the one who has to talk to my youngest 11 year old sister when she asks my mom to wear mascara. After getting no answers, I broke down and called Marc’s phone hoping that they were home together. Again no answer. I texted Jackson from my phone that I was on the way over to his house. Within two seconds he called me.
“Lauren, don’t come here.” He sounded shitfaced. My mother stood beside me waiting for me to tell her he answered, that he was okay. I gave her a wave and she took a deep breath and exhaled, then sat down beside me.
“Are you drunk? What was that text to mom about?”
“Lauren, don’t come over.” And then he hung up. I kept the phone held to my head deciding what to tell mom.
“We need to go over there. Something isn’t right and he keeps saying for us not go come over.” I didn’t know what else to do. My mother asked if I was sure and as soon as I said yes, my words were golden and we were up getting dressed.
My mom went to wake up my dad who staggered across the dark room to his house shoes and keys as we all tip toed downstairs to the car, careful not to wake my sisters. I texted and lied to Jackson that if he called me back then I wouldn’t come over. My phone rang as we were in the car driving to his house.
“I… I just don’t want to be alive,” he stammered– he would repeat this several times on the almost fifteen minute drive to his house. I turned the volume down on my blackberry, scared that my mother would hear him say this. I watched every light flicker as we drove, hoping they’d stay green to drive the fifteen minutes to Lawrenceville to my brother’s house in the “ghetto” as my mother called it.
Jackson and Marc lived in a duplex that was dirtier than a frat house after an initiation party or the girl leaving the frat house the next morning. The first time I went there to visit him, I was actually scared to sit down on his couch because his friend Marc had just put his cigarette out on it. He had been so drunk, at 2 in the afternoon, that he didn’t realize what he was doing. The kitchen table my mother had bought him had become a trash can, covered by three trash bags and an empty milk carton. The duplex was Jackson’s marijuana sanctuary—decorated with Bob Marley posters and different sized bongs—he literally woke up and smoked weed every day, “Wake and Bake” and he called it.
When we arrived at Jackson’s duplex a man on the other side of the duplex smoking a cigarette was yelling at someone on the phone. I couldn’t understand anything the man said, but I covered the phone so my brother couldn’t hear as I got out of the car to knock on his front door. The brown duplex looked darker at night and the cement steps of the front walkway were filled with cigarette butts and empty beer cans. Knock.Knock.Knock. I could hear myself on my brother’s end of the phone. I heard him stumble to walk to the door, cursing the coffee table that he hit on the way over. He hadn’t pieced together that it was me knocking on his door until he opened it and said, “Fuck you, Lauren. I told you not to come over.” He edged his way back to let me in, holding himself up on the walls and any other furniture he could until he fell back onto the green couch that was stained with cigarette holes. I closed the door behind me, looking at my worried parents waiting in the car with the doors locked.
I sat down beside Jackson on the couch, tossing him his black lighter off the table to help him light his cigarette. I grabbed one too. I thought he might feel better if I smoked with him for some reason, even though I don’t smoke. It was amazing seeing Jackson not able to walk. All I could think was that it must have taken a lot of alcohol to get a 6 ft 5 guy, 280 llbs this way. That’s a big guy to take down even for Jack, Jim or Jose. I stared at my brother as he sat hitting on his cigarette, glazed eyes both staring at the wall in front of him with a poster of Bob Marley smoking a joint. He asked me why he felt this way, like he wanted to kill himself because the pain never stopped. I just stared at him, thinking of what might convince him to come home, because home wouldn’t let him feel this way. My mother had told me just to get him home, away from Marc.
But the truth is I didn’t know what to say to him. How do you talk someone back from the brink of killing themselves? How do you convince someone they won’t feel like death everyday when you don’t know if it is true or not? I didn’t know what to say to Jackson, because the truth is he had been fighting an uphill battle since we moved to Dacula with all these skinny, preppy, Abercrombie wearing kids.
“Jackson, when you drink anything you feel intensifies. So you probably felt sad before you started drinking and since you drank, you feel that pain even more. Did you feel sad before you drank?”
“I always am sad. Do you know what? The only thing that keeps me from killing myself is Madeline. I think about her finding out I’m dead and I can’t do that to her.” Madeline is our youngest sister, Jackson’s favorite.
“Why don’t you come home? Mom and Dad are here outside and you can come home, sleep in your bed, and we can figure this out tomorrow. We can get you someone to talk to. Just come home.”
“DAMN IT, LAUREN! Why are Mom and Dad here? DAMN IT,” he pounded his fists on the coffee table, burning his hand with his cigarette. But the word “Mom” works on my brother because he is a “Momma’s boy.” He lit up another cigarette and walked into his room. I stood up to look in but I just saw him grabbing his quilt off his bed that he’d had since he was a newborn and walk back out hitting his cigarette.
“Can we smoke one more cig before we leave?” he said as he sat back down and lit a third.
“Yeah, I’ll text Mom and tell her we’re coming.” I’d sit and smoke a whole carton just as long as at the end he’d come home.
I helped walk him out to the car by holding his body up as best as I could under my shoulder. I’d never walked my brother drunk before. One time he carried me upstairs when I was drunk the day my high school boyfriend of two years broke up with me. I’d never thought we’d be switching places like this. So I carried him as best I could and we drove home in silence. Smoking and silence he seemed even more broken than before, it was the first time my mom’s new car had ever been smoked in.
At 3 A.M. my brother woke up and walked out of his bedroom to smoke a cigarette. My mother was up in an instant before he could even make it to the stairs. I was downstairs on the computer and stood up to eavesdrop. She asked him what he was doing and he said he wanted to smoke a cigarette so she followed him downstairs and asked me to go outside with him. I knew she was scared he would leave with a friend or something, that’s what I figured he would do too. We went out on the back patio and sat together smoking cigarettes, talking about Marc.
Earlier that night after a bottle of cheap vodka, Jackson and Marc got in a fight because Marc hit his girlfriend and Jackson held him against the wall until the girlfriend got in her car and left. Marc bit Jackson’s shoulder while he held him to the wall—it looked like an infected vampire bite.
Jackson held his shirt over to show me the bite and I convinced him to let me take a picture in case he got sober and wanted to press charges to put Marc back in jail—he ended up not doing it. I used the picture later when Marc and Jackson become friends again to send to Jackson as a reminder when he’d go to hang out with Marc. You could see all of Marc’s teeth printed into Jackson’s skin after all the blood was washed off.
“You don’t know what I’ve been through, Lauren. I’ve seen stuff and done stuff and you wouldn’t believe me.”
And I didn’t believe him. He’d always acted like he knew gang members and hard core criminals in high school, but we grew up in a community where the cheapest house was around $150,000. People here listen to country music and shop at Abercrombie—they aren’t gang members. He was full of shit.
“You don’t have to believe me, but I know people,” he said looking straight at me like it was important he knew these people. He put out his cigarette and went inside back to his room. My mother and I both listened for him throughout the night, but he didn’t leave.
My dad and I stayed home from work so we could take Jackson to counseling. My dad moved him out of Marc’s duplex the same day. I printed out college applications for him just to get him thinking in a new direction. Maybe he’d start college. Maybe he’d get a job. Maybe he’d move back in with Marc.