Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hard Truth

My nephew is 32 years old. He will spend the remainder of his days on this earth confined to a hospital bed. In a matter of weeks or months, perhaps a year, he will die.

My nephew does not have cancer or any untold number of illnesses which evoke pity or sympathy, a disease around which non-profit and charity organizations raise millions of dollars for research to find cures. He will die because he has led a life full of foolish, stupid decisions. The stupid decision at the peak of his stupid decisions is an addiction to drugs.

To be fair, I don't know if my nephew -- let's call him Bo -- consciously made a decision to become a drug addict. I don't know any remotely sane person who actively chooses to addict him- or herself to much of anything.

Bo has all but murdered his kidney. He has been on regular and intensive dialysis for the better part of a decade, and now not even dialysis can help him. Several other vital organs are not far behind. The clock ticks. If I understand correctly, Bo is in almost chronic renal failure, and eventually his body will poison itself to death.

Bo never graduated high school. He never was the sharpest knife in the drawer, a curse he inherited from two parents who struggled to exhibit any sort of intelligence, ever. His father -- my step-brother -- spent much of Bo's childhood in jail. The second time he went into the klink for theft, Bo's mom divorced him and moved with the two boys back to Tennessee from Florida.

She quickly remarried, and they quickly had themselves a little princess. She was in beauty pageants before she was 3. My two nephews, but especially Bo, became a burdensome afterthought, the parenting mistake they couldn't erase, the incurable irritation. Perhaps they simply didn't know what to do, especially with Bo, but from my view, they stopped trying when they had that daughter.

Much like his father, Bo's sins were not violent or inspired by uncontrolled aggression. He didn't hit people. He didn't start fights. He was an amiable boy with a sweet smile and wanted to be liked. He just didn't seem to grasp the notion of "ownership" as a sacred American value. He liked taking things. We call it "stealing." He called it "taking."

When he would get in trouble at our house, my father would spank him. Bo would say, "That didn't hurt." Even if a tear was rolling down, my nephew would insist it didn't hurt. One night after the two boys got picked up, Dad told Mom in the kitchen, "I'm scared for that boy." As my mom would say years later, "You couldn't love it out of him, and you couldn't punish it out of him."

My mom believes that some people are just born evil. Evil to the core. Maybe she's right, but I fight her on it regardless. With Bo, she doesn't so much believe he was born evil as born cursed. Cursed with a low IQ, with low parents, with low ideas.

Bo has spent time in and out of jail. One felony mixed in with the many crimes and misdemeanors, a felony more about the company he kept than the actions he took.

His dialysis program was entirely paid for by the government. He has never held down a job for more than half a year, a problem made more difficult with his criminal record, his drug habits, his intellectual shortcomings, his struggle for motivation. Bo is exactly the kind of person many amongst us believe had far too many chances and blew all of them.

When people talk about "those kinds of people" who do not contribute to society, whose entire existence is about sucking away resources that taxpayers and citizens provide, you're talking about Bo. When people say, with disdain or disgust, "What a waste of a human being," you're talking about Bo. My nephew is the kind of person people say would have been better off dead, or better off never born.

I talk like that sometimes. I think that about people sometimes. I wonder that about Bo sometimes.

Would this once-cute child, who craved affection, who could express love so well, who still loves his grandmother more than perhaps any other person he's known (it's worth noting that Bo never once stole from his grandparents (that they know of)), who was heartbroken at being discarded by both parents, who was dumber than wood, have been better off skipping this life?

Was Bo a waste of life?

For almost everyone I know, almost everyone I've ever met, the answer is obvious, and the question is insulting. When I ask it about Bo, it just hurts, and a low-boiling rage builds up somewhere in me. I just don't know at whom to aim it. His dad? His mom? His culture? God? Myself?

There is no Clarence for Bo. There is no Wonderful Life or Happy Ending.

I only know I will weep when he finally rests in peace. I can think of no place that won't be a better place than this life for Bo.

1 comment:

Robert Berman said...

I can't think of anything to say, except to thank you for sharing this.