Friday night I got a call from a police officer asking if I was Robert Shepards Sister. I thought it was the call saying he had overdosed and died.  ‘Overdose’ doesn’t mean dead.  A distinction known almost exclusively by people who love an addict.  My father overdosed countless times before he died of an overdose. He once told me with the air of a man bragging that it took them 3 shots of Narcan to bring him back. A man I once looked up to for how smart and hard working he was, now thought that this was a sentiment he should share with his daughter. I grieved my father years before his actual death.  I haven’t made it that far yet with my brother. 

 He was sober for about 4 years, and I got to know him on a different level during that time. I left home when he was about 10 years old. A few times over his young adult years he stayed in my home. By that time, he had a mean streak in him. Angry at the world. By that time, I had little lives to protect. I had to be their mom first. It hurts a lot to know that he needed protection and couldn’t find that in my mother or father. They were part of the reason he needed protection. Sure, you may be saying to yourself it’s easy to blame the parents. Sounds like a bit of a cop out. I am living, breathing proof that sometimes it is the fucking parents. My brother is not only a product of the neglect we suffered. He is also a product of all the choices he has ever made. The only way he learned of decision making was to watch the people he was supposed to trust and look up to, making the worst choices repeatedly.  

 I don’t know the reason my brother turned to drugs or if there is a defining reason. My limited experience with addicts leads me to believe there is some kind of hurt that can’t be fixed by love.  

There is a large population of this country that would like to simply exterminate my little brother.  A “drain” on society. Clearly some of that large population are a “drain” on the society I wish to live in, but I never talk of their extinction only their understanding.  Whatever you believe, it doesn’t change that I don’t want my little brother to die. It's simple and as selfish as that. He is my little brother, he is 34 years old, one day I hope he finds peace in a healthier way.  In a deeper darker part of my soul, I know that it may be too late. That’s pretty shitty. Doesn’t make it any less true. It’s a part of me that has been let down so many times it holds on to that dark sadness.  

Holding his hand in the ER on Friday night hoping that this would be the time that has him see the light: Getting clean is the only answer.  Watching him go in and out of consciousness. Holding a drink to his lips because he was so cold, he wanted to stay covered up as much as possible. Hiding behind a blanket to eat the burger they gave him, a trick he must use for survival while living in a tent city. I could see in the eyes of the staff at the ER that this was all too common. My brother was one of 3 transients in the hallway.  I am not ashamed of my brother. I know that it is a sickness inside him, on some days that’s all he is and on others he is so much more than his addiction. I am not sure that the day when the sickness completely takes over has happened yet. I so deeply hope that hasn’t happened yet.  Two days of visiting him in the ER and I still don’t know. Here we are and it’s Monday and he is back to living outside in the Maine winter.  

I have given all I can. Time, love, clothes, food, an air mattress, a sleeping bag, and maybe some hope that better days could come if he wants it bad enough.  I can only give up so much mentally. I have learned that too much exposure wreaks havoc on my mind, body and soul. I can’t own too much of it, I will be sore physically and weak mentally.  I need to protect myself. It’s a hard realization some days that I can’t fix anyone in my life. It is up to them. I can be there for them when and how I can.  

 I have to go about my life, because that is what I own: My life, & my choices.  

Be a little kinder to someone on the streets, reserve that nasty comment on a news article. If only for the simple reason that they are human beings or more profoundly that they used to be just like you. They just made a few bad choices and now must pay for the rest of their lives.