Rob. That was my brother’s name. Robert David Schecter, to be exact. He was a few years older than me, just about 5 ½. Growing up, I used to think something was odd about him or me. We didn’t look like brothers, but according to our parents we were. However, there was this one time that my mother and brother played a joke on me and said I was adopted. Sounds funny, but it stuck with me for years. To this day, I wonder, “Was I adopted?” I know I wasn’t but it’s funny how one little sentence, “You know you were adopted” can truly mess with your head. If I didn’t look so much like my dad, I probably would still think I was adopted. For the record, I’m not adopted.
My brother Rob was an interesting guy, young man. I can’t really say man because he barely lived to see his 25th year. He died about a month and a half shy of 25. He committed suicide. I want to say, “Why?” But after all these years, it just doesn’t matter to ask why anymore. The fact is, he did it. He took his own life. As much as I have had bad days in my life, even a few weeks where I laid on the couch and stared at the ceiling, I never got to the place in my head where I thought, “Maybe it’s time to end all this.” I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in such a place that you can take your own life. Just the thought if it frightens me, boggles me, confuses me, and angers me? I don’t know if anger is the correct description, but for now I will add it.
I often cite the loss of my sister as the beginning of the end for my brother. I wasn’t around when my sister Gayle died. I was brought into this world to fill the void, replace, to “correct” the loss of my sister. It was a huge loss for my family. Gayle was only 9. How do you explain that or make sense of that to anyone, especially a four-year-old boy. That four year old was my brother. He was four when Gayle died. She died of a severe asthma attack.
Cut to many years later, and the younger brother is now the older brother. I was born in 1973, and my brother was 5 ½. Did he want a new sibling; did he like having a brother instead of a sister, an older sister? I don’t know I never asked him. It never occurred to ask him. I wish I did.
Rob died on November 4th, 1992, I was 19. I was at my girlfriend’s home when I found out. I was sleeping on the floor of her room. Even though we were together for about 4 years, it still wasn’t cool for us to sleep together in the same bed. She was a little younger. She was 17. I get it. Anyway, about 1AM her dad wakes me up and attempts to tell me this horrible news that my brother is gone. When I think of the word, “Gone,” I think, “gone on vacation. Gone for a walk?” That is how I want gone to appear in this scenario. But I immediately new that “gone,” meant that he was dead. I hate that word. DEAD. It is so final. It is so sad.
I immediately broke into tears and started to scream “Nooooo!” I rocked and shook my head, and if I remember correctly, “Ben” my girlfriend’s dad tried to hold me and calm me as best he could. It was a terrible night, and one I will never forget.
This past November was 20 years since Rob died. 20 Years!! Holy shit. I found myself thinking of all the things I have done in 20 years. All that has happened. I was pleased to reflect on my life and feel really good about all my accomplishments, the people I met, the places I’ve seen, the job’s I held, and now married almost 10 years and a beautiful child, it’s nice to say, I am doing really well. However, it is sad to think that that much time has passed and my brother wasn’t here for any of it. That he has been gone for that long. That he even existed in my lifetime feels almost untrue at this point. As I am about to turn 40! 40!! That’s another chapter all together. But as I am about to turn 40, I realize that I am about to turn another corner where I will have been alive…without Rob in my life, more than he was in my life. That is a crazy thought. You never want to feel like you are so far away from someone you loved and called your brother, but over 20 years sure makes it feel that way.
I’m still angry sometimes though. Still shake my head and think, “What the fuck?” What happened? How did this happen? I get it. I know my brother was a tortured soul, but, WHY? Growing up, Rob was in and out of so many rehab programs, I lost count. I know he tried, and I witnessed it. He tried every time, but he had so many problems. He had social problems, didn’t like school, dabbled more than his share in drugs and alcohol. It was recreational stuff at first, and though I never witnessed it, but I know for a fact that he took probably every drug that was on the market back in those days. He dealt with schizophrenia, and so many other psychological problems. It was a life of fear.
As I write about my brother, I find myself almost numb for a little while, and then just now, getting choked up. Perhaps I have mastered suppressing my feelings about him. The truth is, I don’t want to think about just how messed up my brother was. At his funeral, I was the only one who spoke. I was determined to make sure people didn’t leave the Temple thinking my brother was a total dirt bag who took his own life because he was a drug addict. He wasn’t that. Drugs, and all his mental problems are what ultimately contributed to his death, but he wasn’t a dirt bag, or a bad person. He was a young man, a good man, with a good heart, tortured by his life. He fought hard against my father who tried so often to help him. He fought so much with my mother who was too much like him. He fought with me, but in all honesty not too much. As much as I believe he was jealous of me, I think his love and respect for me trumped anything. I know he was proud of me. He loved that I was a dancer. I remember him coming to see one of my dance recitals and even as I think of it, I can see his smile and his overly large glasses. He wore glasses because he never saw that well. He was so proud. I like that image of my brother. See, there is a good one. You know there are so many bad images of my life and my brother, but the one that I just described is the one that brings me to tears.
As I said earlier, I can never understand what can bring a person to actually pull the trigger, or throw the sheet over a window, tie it up and hang him or herself. That is how my brother died. He hung himself. That image…. stops me in my tracks. Have to move on from that one. The image of my brother at my recital, the image of me and my brother laying on couches and reading Playboy magazines, the image of my brother and I “chillin” in a tree house that he built for us to hang in, the image of my brother making out with hot chicks, the image of my brother working out, so his body was “ripped,” the image of my brother hugging my dad, the image of my brother and me in a childhood photo, happy on vacation, these are the images I like to remember.
Suicide is a terrible, terrible thing for anyone to deal with. We are the ones that are left behind. We are the ones left to live on with those images. For now, and for as often as I can, I choose to put the good images to the front and let the bad ones stay in the past. I can only justify the loss of Rob by supporting his decision at this point. If he was destined to live the rest of his life tortured and unable to create new memories with me or anyone else…then what kind of life is that?
I miss my brother. I miss him in all kinds of different situations. I don’t miss the rollercoaster of his life and the stress it put on him and all of us that loved him. It’s a really weird thought I just had, but perhaps, just maybe he chose to take his life to give us a better one? That is a really messed up thought, I know, but when a person commits suicide, something that appears to be so selfish, is it possible that there is something selfless about it? I have NEVER thought of it that way in my 20 years that he has been gone, but when I think of the other scenario, the one where he remains alive and not healthy but tortured for the last 20 years…. that doesn’t look good for anyone.
I’ve always said, I would do anything to have my brother back on this earth, alive and in my life, but only if he was healthy and well. Not if he was still living the life that he had lived up until the time when he took it.
My prayer, and wish is that my brother is in a better place; I like to think of it as heaven. And that in heaven, he is healthy, happy and smiling down on his little brother. I imagine him in the best possible way. I imagine him in his late twenties, his curly blonde hair, his smile with his messed up teeth (not that bad), his glasses, and he is healthy. Healthy and happy. Smiling. Right this second, the image I saw was Rob and Gayle walking hand in hand like the end of a long and difficult movie, but you know they’re gonna be okay. The circle closes in and fades to black.