I have often noted that I’m from a very big family. Growing up, I never had many friends, but I made up for that with plenty of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Lots of people to learn from, and lots of them to teach.
Yesterday, that big family got a little bit smaller. My cousin was killed in a near head-on collision when he was ejected from his friend’s car, where he was a passenger. He was 41 years old, only four older than me, and…I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Every family, once it gets to a certain size, is sure to have an outlier. That one member who, for whatever reason, just doesn’t fit in with the rest. In our case, that was Brian. We all knew it. We joked about it. He joked about it. Of the whole lot of us, he was always in the most trouble, no matter what kind you imagine, and he was the one most likely to turn down any offers of help from those who truly loved him.
Let’s not mince words. He was, in many respects, an awful person. He was an actual psychopath, with a more-than-healthy dose of narcissism and some general destructive tendencies thrown in for good measure. He lied, he cheated, he stole, and he rarely showed any kind of sympathy for his victims. He was a drug addict who spent too little time in jail for what he’d done. The people he called friends were, by and large, just like him.
Yet he had moments of genuine warmth and compassion, times when he seemed to realize what his self-destructive behavior was doing to his family and himself. I don’t believe in demons or demonic possession, as many of my relatives do, so those flickers of humanity Brian sometimes showed often felt, to me, more like a drowning man who had managed to break the surface long enough to scream for help.
He leaves behind four children by three different women, each of whom left him to save herself, choosing the life of a mother over that of a junkie. His 4-month-old grandson, Wyatt, will grow up having never seen his grandfather. And all of us who tried to help him can only wonder if our efforts were always in vain.
I don’t believe anyone is irredeemable. That’s just how I am. No human being is beyond saving. But they have to want it. You can’t force someone into rehab, or into the hospital, or into a better life. The first step is one they must take.
I’ve often wondered if Brian wanted it. There were many times where it was clear that he didn’t, that he’d rather be high than healthy, that he would gladly trade everything good in his life for one more hit. But then I think about his more lucid days, or at least the ones I saw. I think about the man who always called me for computer help, who all but begged me to take the GED test in his name because, as he put it, he didn’t think he was smart enough to pass it, but he needed it so he could get a job and settle down.
More than anything, I think about someone who, late Wednesday night, tossed the last of his crack to a family friend and said, “I’m tired of being a drug addict. I want to be better.”
And I wonder why the world is so cruel that “I want to be better” is a death sentence.