By Eliot Gregory
My twin brother, Bradley, has always been a religious type. We didn’t go to church when we were growing up, so I don’t understand how that happened. I wasn’t religious at all. Usually, twins are more alike than different. We are fraternal twins, not identical. Maybe that could explain the differences in us. As I understood it, we just happened to be born at the same time. We have always been totally different, and, as life goes on, the differences become more pronounced.
For starters, Bradley was a football player in high school. Wild horses couldn’t have made me an athlete! I watched from the bleachers as he made touchdowns, and I cheered with the others who were screaming around me. This was Texas, where football is a religion all its own. I was afraid not to cheer! I didn’t understand the sports world, but I knew it could draw anger from others if I didn’t pretend to be excited by everything that happened on the field.
After high school and college, Bradley took his religion from the field and into church. He became a minister, of all things. He didn’t want me around much during those years. He married a girl he met on a mission trip to Italy. She could barely understand any of us, let alone Bradley. I could see after a year or so things weren’t going to work out, but there wasn’t anything I could do but watch his life implode.
That’s when he finally turned to me for help. He asked to live with George and me in our condo in Austin. We had the room, but to be honest, it really wasn’t comfortable with him there. At times, I saw the distaste on his face that he had for George and me. I tried not to let it bother me because I wanted to help him. So, I ignored the looks and became a sounding board for him.
Funny how it was me who let him into my life when he had once shunned me and put all his stock into his church. By the time chinks started showing in his armor, though, his Christian friends had completely deserted him. He realized too late that Christians aren’t always very nice. They might say they cared, and they all said they’d pray for him, but their actions spoke much louder, in my opinion.
For years, I kept my mouth shut about all of it. And I’ll admit that it gave me a tiny bit of satisfaction to know the church had turned on him. It didn’t make me happy to see my brother so sad and out of options, but there was a little piece of me that enjoyed hearing what all had happened to him at the hands of his beloved church family, especially when he had shunned his real family (me) because of his beliefs.
I wanted to say, “Well, Bradley, where are your church friends now?” Believe it or not, though, I don’t always say everything I think. I knew my words would twist the knife in his back. I didn’t want to add to his misery, so I tried to help him pick up the pieces and move forward.
Most days, he languished in his bedroom reading or watching TV. George and I bought a TV for his room. I knew he was taking pills of some sort but he had always been fairly responsible, so I didn’t worry too much. I didn’t realize the extent of the damage done to him, though.
He cried hysterically when he talked about the senior pastor yelling at him when everything fell apart. It must’ve been awful for him to go through that and then see the guy up in the pulpit on Sunday mornings talking about how Christians should encourage each other and bear each other’s burdens.
“Church is a haven; a place of rest,” the minister had told his congregation. That’s a fine thing to say in public. Too bad he couldn’t have practiced what he preached.
By the time he turned to me, Bradley’s wife had long divorced him. He was greatly diminished as a person and nearly annihilated as a minister. I never went to his church. I just couldn’t do it. I had thought to myself that he was so happy and anxious to do a good job, especially in those early days. I guess they thought that’s who he would always be.
He went through so much. I wanted to tell his church friends that, but I could already see the critical looks that would be on their faces if I tried to talk to them about their hypocrisy and unfairness to this man who gave his life to their service. But I would be wasting my breath because I know how church people are. They’re scared! Plus, I knew they would never admit they had been wrong to fire my brother at such an awful time in his life, even if they sort of believed it in their hearts.
Not long after he was fired, we found out he had a brain tumor. Stage three brain cancer. I don’t think I have ever felt so sorry for anyone in my life as I felt for Bradley during that time. Not one of the church leaders that he had looked up to all those years took the time to visit him or even call him. He had a broken heart along with that brain tumor.
Even after he came through that horrific disease, he was constantly pulled back to the torment of what had happened at church. I listened patiently to every story that tumbled from his lips. He explained just how petty things had gotten before he left, such as how he had left a message from one of the members for the senior pastor on a sticky note.
He put his head in his hands and sobbed.
“Well, tell me the rest, Bradley,” I said, because I couldn’t imagine how that had been wrong.
“He screamed at me for leaving messages on post-it notes!” This big man just crumpled in front of me. He dropped his head back in his hands and cried.
It took everything in me not to go give that pastor a piece of my mind, but it would’ve been pointless. I could see all the church people standing there against me; against poor Bradley. It was so senseless, all of it. The people who should have been there for my brother deserted him at the worst possible time. And they couldn’t ever be sorry because they couldn’t admit they were wrong.
So it was Bradley who had to change and accept things, and the church people would not be held accountable for their actions, at least not in this world. I tried to take deep breaths when I spoke with my brother so I didn’t explode. I wanted to keep my voice calm because he was already so visibly shaken much of the time. I watched him disintegrate and I didn’t know what to do.
After a while, I knew all of it backward and forward. Months went by, maybe a year. I heard the story over and over until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I knew it was time for him to move on, but he couldn’t.
One Saturday afternoon, I went in Bradley’s room and pulled up the blinds to let the sun shine in. He was still in bed. He groaned and rolled over, away from the light. I told him I wanted him to get up, get dressed, and go somewhere. I didn’t care where, just somewhere.
It was then I noticed the bottle of pills on his nightstand. He didn’t leave his room much, but when he finally went for a shower, I went in and looked at them. Whatever it was, he had 90 of them.
To see us standing next to each other, someone might think the athletically built Bradley was the strong one; the one who could handle the vicissitudes of life. And I would be seen as the opposite, with my thin bone structure, pale appearance, and shy demeanor. Bradley never had much of anything go wrong in his life, whereas I was bullied relentlessly in school. I watched him all throughout high school. Although I didn’t envy him, I did want to understand him, so I stood on the sidelines and paid attention. He and the other football players punched each other in the arms. They talked about which cheerleader they were going to take out on Friday night, and they chatted about the game the week before.
My brother is a people pleaser–always has been. When he had the beautiful wife from Italy on his arm, he looked like the picture of success. I think in his early adulthood, he thought he was still on that football field and he could still hear the cheering. Then it all went away and he crumbled.
I felt sorry for him at first, but after a while, it got old. I heard the story too many times. Finally, I just couldn’t listen to it anymore. I know he felt that there was no one left in the world who cared.
Last night, I had had too much. He followed me down the hall screaming, “They told me I could never make another mistake!” I looked at him with disgust. He was disgusting to me now.
“Get over it, Bradley,” I said as I closed the door in his face.
He yelled at the top of his lungs for what seemed like hours. He beat on my locked door and cried and begged me to not leave him alone. I tried to burrow more deeply into my bed. I couldn’t stand to hear any of it again. I ignored his pleas. And, finally, he cried himself out and went back to his room.
To be continued….
Eliot Gregory is a contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. For him, writing is an exploration in human emotion and action. He has been writing for his own enrichment for more than 20 years. Thankfully, upon gentle encouragement from others, he decided to share some of his favorites with us.