Hometown But Not Home

By Eliot Gregory

After so many years away, I was back in my hometown. I didn’t know if anyone would remember me. I sort of hoped they wouldn’t. I liked the idea of being a bit invisible.

This was where Bradley and I had grown up. We were fraternal twins and there could not have been two people in the world who were less alike than my brother and I. It often seemed like our birth and childhood had been a cosmic joke.

Bradley had been a football player in high school and he looked like it. At six foot two with eyes of blue he was the stereotypical heartthrob quarterback that everyone worshipped.

No one worshipped me. I was almost the exact opposite of my brother. I was tall, but not as tall as Bradley. I had a ruddy complexion with dishwater blonde hair. While Bradley was the picture of American masculinity, I was wispy and thin. Perhaps the biggest difference of all, at least to our parents, was that I was gay and he wasn’t.

As you might imagine, high school was not something I wished to prolong, whereas Bradley’s glory days were those between the ages of 16 and 18 when he was king of the varsity team. At the time, I was jealous of him for all the admiration he had, but as time went by, I watched how fervently he clung to those memories, as if time might possibly stand still and he could relive them again one day.

That never happened, of course, and everything else that came after it paled by comparison. None of his wives lived up to the girls he had dated in high school, even though at least two of them had been girls he had dated in high school. Eventually, even his children left him as he slipped into middle age and held on to the dreams of a boy.

Even though I had been only a shadow in his life when we were kids, it still hurt me in a primal way to see Bradley suffer as an adult. His failures led to addictions and, before it was all over, the failures won. They were larger and heavier than the few victories he’d had in his youth. I watched my brother give up. He stumbled down life’s road and stopped caring anymore about anything.

I would never have wanted that for him, not ever. But I’ll admit that, after all I had been through—none of which Bradley noticed or acknowledged—a part of me initially felt a bit justified when he came to me for money or needed help sobering up. I admit to feeling a twinge of justice that he had not had a completely charmed life.

The cool autumn air forced me back into the present. I felt a chill walking down the sidewalk. I was in my old neighborhood. The sun was just starting to set but the old-growth trees blocked what warmth might have lingered. I pulled my cardigan tighter across my chest and folded my arms to keep it there. It wasn’t lost on me that this might also be a way of protecting myself from the past.

The neighborhood hadn’t changed much in thirty years. The old homes were stately with beautiful lawns. Some even had the proverbial white picket fence. It was so perfect in some people’s view of perfection, but even as a small child I knew I would never fit into that particular view. I used to think that it was only me who was different, but I have lived long enough now to know that the lives of people – anywhere – are often not what they seemed to be.

Finally, I came to the house where Bradley and I had grown up. It had been repainted probably a half a dozen times since we had lived there and some of the trees had been replaced over the years, but otherwise, it was the same. Or, at least, it felt the same.

I thought back to the sign my dad had pounded into the front lawn boasting his son’s status as an all-star quarterback on the football team. How many Friday nights had we traveled to Bradley’s games and cheered him on?

My eyes lingered on the window that used to be my room. There were shutters now where there had once been curtains. My mother had sewn them by hand. I wondered if the built-in desk was still there. I had logged so many hours at that desk, studying for tests and memorizing lines for the plays I was in. It’s how I earned a scholarship to the school that set me on the path I had followed for the last 25 years. I tried not to think about the disappointment of the boy who had sat at that desk, hoping that maybe this time his parents would show up to the play he was lead in, hoping for the kind of celebration Bradley got when he brought home another victory.

These days I was proud of what I had accomplished, proud of the love and acceptance I had in my life. I could see, though, why Bradley had clung so much to his time living in that house. He had the love and acceptance then that it took me a lifetime to discover. There was never any doubt in my mind that my parents might have been happier if I had not been a member of their family. So, while Bradley stayed locked in the past, I ran as fast as I could toward a future that might be different from what I had known as a child.

A car pulled into the drive across the street and it woke me from my thoughts. I moved on. I didn’t care to be questioned by one of the residents of the neighborhood.

I’m not sure why my feet took me past the old church I had attended as a child, but I did feel drawn there. Church was no longer a part of my life. I came out when I was in my twenties and was told I no longer had a place there. By then, it wasn’t much of a shock and, in some ways, was a little bit of a relief. I was released to go find community with people who would love me for who I was. In my heart, I knew what drew me there now wasn’t the church. It was the cemetery where my parents and Bradley were buried.

I walked under the archway at the entrance to the cemetery, and headed down a small pathway to the family plot. My parents lay side by side under the double gravestone. I ran my fingers over the chiseled names and dates. My mother had purchased the tombstone after my father died not long after Bradley and I had graduated high school. Mother’s gravestone sat for over twenty years unclaimed. Her name and birthdate had been there but there was nothing after the little dash.

Mother died less than a year after Bradley killed himself. Even standing there alone, I wanted to use euphemisms when I thought about Bradley’s death, but the truth was the truth.

All the years of hard living took a toll on him. He hadn’t thought about what he might do after high school. I guess he thought it would always be like that.

He was diagnosed with Type II diabetes when he was in his thirties and it was like nothing to him. I can still see him sitting at Mom’s thanksgiving feast asking if he could have another piece of pecan pie. Then the drugs and alcohol caught up to him. He had a stroke at forty that miraculously didn’t take his life but it left him limping and one side of his face was always a little slower to react than the other.

A few years back, he had confided that he had stopped taking all of his medications. He wasn’t going to the doctor anymore. He was tired of it all. I tried to rally him, to give him reasons to live, but nothing worked.

Now – when I think about it – I wonder why I didn’t jump up and go find his medications and make him swallow them. The truth is, he wouldn’t have done it, and, toward the end, he was just unhinged enough to say I tried to kill him.

By the summer after his stroke, he was in a wheelchair, but not the one he wanted. He was so angry about everything by then, and I can’t say that I blame him. But he wanted to blame me.

“If only I had the motorized wheelchair,” I heard him saying. “I wouldn’t have to rely on you.”

He had ordered one in the spring and by summer it still hadn’t come. He was convinced that was the only thing that would keep him going, and he blamed me because I had not yet called the company to find out what was going on.

I couldn’t get the company to move any faster on the wheelchair, so I tried to be there in other ways. It was no use. When I took him for a leisurely stroll in a park near his house, he screamed the entire time. He accused me of trying to dump him out of his wheelchair and kill him. I’ll be honest. The more he kept on about this, the harder it was for me not to just dump him out of his wheelchair and go on with things.

And then there was the diagnosis of cancer. His dentist found the tumor under his tongue. By then, though, it had invaded his jawbone. I tried not to imagine what he might look like after that surgery.

Surgery couldn’t happen, though. The doctors called Mother and I as next of kin to be present when they broke the news.

“This is the worst case of cirrhosis of the liver I have ever seen,” they said. “His heart is enlarged and the cancer has spread to his lungs.” They couldn’t do surgery, not with all of that.

We sat there in that little room after the doctors left. I remember searching my mind for something to say that would be comforting, but there was nothing. I just looked up at him, into those bloodshot, empty eyes. He was broken.

He had enough pills and things to keep the pain at bay that it would have killed a horse to take them all at once. As it was, Bradley was halfway gone already, so I can’t imagine that it took long for him to go after he swallowed the whole bottle. I try not to think of it, what his last moments were like, but when I do, I realize that it was really his last years that were the worst. He hated his life.

There are questions I could never answer. My poor mother followed Bradley to the grave soon after his death. She just didn’t have the will to go on and I was definitely not enough to keep her here.


By Eliot Gregory

When I was growing up in the sixties, breakfast generally consisted of a boiled egg and orange juice. Every morning, the same thing. It’s what my mother could manage to slap together between her job and keeping up with her kids, but what I would have given for some Frosty-O’s.

“Those things’ll rot your teeth,” Mom used to say, taking a drag on her cigarette.

At eight, I was willing to risk it. It was hard enough to get up early for church on Sunday, but it would have been worth it for Frosty-O’s.

Mom didn’t see me when I first walked in to the breakfast nook and sat down. She was on the phone consoling somebody. I didn’t have to guess too hard to figure out it was my Aunt Ruby. She was the oldest of my mom’s sisters and she was always upset about something.

Mom saw me and walked across the kitchen with the phone pressed to her ear. The yellow cord stretched from the wall near the fridge over to the table, the round curls straining against the stress. She put her hand over the receiver and said, “Eat your breakfast, Martin. We don’t want to be late for church.”

I sat at the table for a while, just staring at the egg and listening to my mom’s conversation. Now that my brother had gone off and joined the Army, I was the only one home. There’s something about being the youngest—and not only that, but a lot younger than my other sibling—that brought me into the confidence of my mother. She didn’t keep a lot of secrets from me and, in fact, often seemed to believe it was best if I knew up front what kind of family I had been born into. So, I sat listening to my mom talking and ignored my egg.

When she hung up the phone she lit a cigarette.

“Why’d she call so early?” I asked. “She was just here. We just got rid of her.” And, in my head I said, “I finally got to take off that stuffy shirt and tie.”

My Aunt Ruby and Aunt Rose had recently visited from Mississippi. We lived seven hours away, in Northwest Arkansas. Whenever they decided to visit, they always stayed two or three weeks Both Mom and I thought two or three days would have been plenty. They had only left the day before to go stay with my grandfather who lived a half an hour away.

Mom took a long drag and leaned heavily against the wall. She still had half the curlers in her hair from when the phone started ringing.

“They’re on their way back,” Mom said. “She and Grandpa Mackey had a falling out.”

“They’re coming back?” I whined. “What did they argue about that would make them come back?” Without thinking about it, I sat up straighter and fussed with the napkin on my lap. I really didn’t want them to come back.

She sat down in the chair next to mine and picked up her coffee. She looked exhausted. She didn’t want them back any more than I did. “I guess Grandpa thought she and Rose would go to church with him.”

She stood up and started to pour herself some more coffee, but then put her hand to her stomach and set the percolator down.

“Oh, how I wish they would just get along,” she said. “My acid indigestion can’t take anymore of this.” She pulled the chair out further  from the table and fell into it.

“They didn’t want to go to church with Grandpa?”

Mom shook her head. Her eyes filled with tears. “He was so looking forward to this, you know? Showing off his daughters. I bet he even had on his best suit.” She wiped her eyes and looked over at me.

“That’s how I feel about you, you know. Since Frank has turned out the way he has….” She looked out the back window. I could tell she was trying not to cry again. My brother, Frank, had joined the Army, but he had also gone AWOL a couple of times. Mom had given up a good portion of savings to buy him a car so he’d at least stop hitchhiking when he did these things. She didn’t want to have to worry about him going missing and getting killed by an axe murderer.

“Why didn’t Aunt Ruby want to go with Grandpa? What’s wrong with his church?” I asked.

Mom dabbed at her eyes with a napkin. “He’s Baptist, you know. She’s First Christian.”

“So?” I had always gone to First Christian, too, but it didn’t seem a big deal to go to the Baptist church with Grandpa.

Mom sighed. “Ruby said she’d only go to the ‘one true church’ and she actually had the nerve to ask where the First Christian church in town was.” She started to rub her head but then jumped out of her chair. “My curlers! I can’t let Ruby see me like this.”

She ran to the bathroom just off the hall from the kitchen and left the door open so I could hear her.

“It’s such a mess, Martin.” I heard the curlers and plastic pink pins clink into the sink. “Grandpa yelled at Aunt Ruby and Rose. Poor Rose.”

“What did he say?” I couldn’t imagine my grandfather yelling at anybody. He was the gentlest man I had ever known.

She leaned her head out of the door, and with her arms raised over her head, she pulled on a curler. “He told them he didn’t know where the First Christian church was and he didn’t care to know where it was. He said they had grown up Baptist and if they were too good to go to church with him, then they could just be on their merry way.”

She ducked back into the bathroom and a few seconds later I heard her blow her nose. “I can’t imagine what Rose was doing during all of this. She’s probably as upset as I am.”

I heard the hiss of hairspray and smelled its aerosol fog just before Mom came out. Her brown hair was perfectly curled. But for the red puffiness in her eyes, no one would suspect her older sister had thrown the morning into chaos.

I, on the other hand, looked every bit chaotic, based on the once-over I got from Mom. “Good thing we’re not going to Bible class this morning,” she said. “You look like you got dressed in a tornado. Since Ruby and Rose are going to church with us, you’ll need to do a little better than that.”

I didn’t really see the problem. For the past three weeks I had had to dress more “like a little man” so Aunt Ruby wouldn’t criticize my mom for dressing me like a homeless imp. When they were gone, the first thing I did was rip off those stuffy clothes and toss them in the corner. But then I had to go to church. It made sense to me to wear what I had worn the day before. It was more broken in, less starchy. I knew from past experience that I had risked being sent back to my room to change, but I was hoping Mom would be so relieved to be free from her sisters that she wouldn’t say anything. I was wrong.

“We’re not going to class?” I asked, doing my best to change the subject.

To be honest, I was kind of glad to hear we weren’t going. The lady who taught it always seemed sleepy. Every week was the same. She read a chapter out of the King James Bible and then she would ask if there were any questions about it. We were eight. What did she expect, a theological debate on the Gospel of John?

My favorite part of class, actually, was the mimeographed sheet of questions she passed out every week—not that I enjoyed quizzes, but the smell of the purple ink made up for a little bit of the boredom.

Every week, we took turns reading the questions, trying to answer what we would do in a given situation.

One time my question had been, “If you saw your best friend steal a cookie out of your mother’s cookie jar, would you tell?”

I generally saw these as trick questions. In reality, I wouldn’t have told on my friend, but I was pretty sure the answer was supposed to be that I would. I tended toward shyness and hated being in the spotlight, especially in front of a teacher. My strategy was to answer the question in whatever way made the teacher the happiest so she’d move on to another kid, but it was like walking through a minefield. Sometimes what you thought was right turned out not to be the right answer at all.

So, no, I didn’t mind skipping Bible class. Seemed like a pretty good idea, actually.

Just then, the door opened. Mom leaned in and whispered, “Don’t mention anything about Bible Class!”

“Why not?” I whispered back.

“Ruby and Rose go to an anti-class First Christian church in Jackson. They don’t believe in classes.”

“How can they not believe….”

“Ssshhh!” Mom straightened up and tugged at the waistband on her dress just as her sisters came into the kitchen.

I could tell Mom had intended to give Aunt Ruby a hug, but she stumbled back when her rather rotund sister leaned against her and sobbed.

“I don’t cry for me,” she wailed. “I cry for Daddy.” She pulled away, but kept her hold on my mom’s shoulders. “You do realize his soul is in jeopardy, Martha.”

Mom’s eyes widened. She said nothing, but nodded weakly.

My aunt pulled dramatically away from Mom and took two, heavy strides into the the breakfast nook. She rested her meaty hands on my shoulders and squeezed.

“Besides,” she continued, even louder than before, “He was so mean to me!”

It took everything in me not to cover my ears with my hands.

Standing a couple of steps behind my mother was my Aunt Rose. She was a lot more like my mom, more reserved and quiet. Also like my mom, she was very sensitive and only wanted everybody to get along. But even she had big tears streaming down her cheeks.

“He called us Campbellites!” said Aunt Rose, pulling Mom into a hug and sobbing makeup into her blue polyester dress. “He actually told us to get out of his house and then said, ‘you Campbellites!’ It was so hateful!”

Mom just stood there. Even I knew things had to be bad if Grandpa was throwing people out of his house and calling them names. I had heard other people refer to the Christian Church as the Campbellite church because of a guy named Alexander Campbell, but I wasn’t sure who he was, exactly. No matter who he was, though, I was old enough to know that the term was meant as an insult. I could not imagine my mild-mannered grandfather being so up in arms about anything. I had never heard him raise his voice.

Aunt Ruby pulled a handkerchief from her purse and blew her nose. She leaned over me and picked up my uneaten egg. Without asking, she ate it in two bites.

I guess I didn’t have to worry about eating breakfast.

Aunt Rose sat down at the table and smiled meekly at me. “I don’t know how she can eat right now. I think I’m getting a migraine.”

Mom sat down next to Aunt Rose and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Me, too.”

“How can you not be hungry after all that?” Aunt Ruby said. She walked over to the refrigerator. The rubber soles of her shoes squeaked against the linoleum. “Martha, do you have any of those biscuits and gravy left over? Didn’t we leave some of that yesterday?”

Mom kept her head in her hand and shook her head. “No, Ruby,” she said. “You ate all of the gravy yesterday. Remember?”

Aunt Ruby pulled out from the fridge and held a jar of strawberry jam like an Olympian holds the torch. “I know there’s got to be some of those biscuits leftover, though.”

“They’re wrapped in foil in the cabinet,” Mom said.

When my aunt found the biscuits, she brought everything to the table, along with a knife and some more napkins. I sat and marveled watching her inhale the biscuits in record time. She had the look of a mad bull chomping through a wood fence.

“I never thought I would see the day when my own father would treat me like this,” she finally said when she was down to the last bite. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been this mad at him.” Then she popped the rest of the biscuit in her mouth and chewed angrily.

Finally, Mom looked up and said, “Our church service begins at 11. We’d like both of you to come with us if you feel like it.”

Aunt Rose continued to whimper into a napkin. Then she wiped her tears and sighed. “We should probably go,” she said. “I think I’d feel better if we did.”

Aunt Ruby busily mopped up biscuit crumbs with her fingers and ate them. The kitchen was silent, but for the dull smush of her fingers pressing against the plastic placemats.

When she ran out of crumbs, she looked at my mom with a look that could have cut her in two.

“Is this a church that has separate Bible classes?” she asked, chewing the last crumbs with her front teeth.

“Yes, Ruby,” Mom said. I had the feeling my mother wanted nothing more than to lay her head on the table and cry. Her shoulders were stiff and she seemed to have forgotten to breathe. “We have Bible classes for different age groups. But we’re not going to Bible class. We’re just going to the church service today after…everything.”

Ruby stood up and stalked back to the refrigerator. Before she opened the door, she paused, and walked back over to my mom. She was so big that her hip squeezed against the metal lip of the table. She took up so much space in that little nook that I couldn’t see the back window. I can only imagine how intimidating it was for my mom, who had my aunt’s belly in her face.

“You know I can’t go to a church that has Bible classes,” she said. “We can’t compromise in this. How would I ever hold my head up again if I went to a church that has divided up Bible classes?” She shook her head. “Oh no. If Sister Morgan heard that I went to a church that had Bible classes, I would never hear the end of it.”

She turned on her heel and walked back to the refrigerator. She dug past the milk and orange juice until she came upon a carton of eggs. “Do you know if there is a Christian Church without Bible classes here?”

Rose let out a squeak and laid her head on the table. I don’t think she was still crying, but she might have been hoping for a quick death of some sort. The desperation came off her in waves.

Mom stood and started to shuffle towards the hall. “You know, I have such a pounding headache now, I don’t think I’ll be able to go to services today.”

I watched my mom with as much sympathy as an eight-year-old boy can have for his mother. She looked so drained. And I knew exactly why. I wanted so badly to ask, “Is your headache named Ruby?” But I kept my mouth shut. I knew it would have done more damage than good.

I stood up then, too, and walked over to Mom. “I’ll get you a damp washcloth,” I said, knowing the drill. “You go to bed.”

Mom smiled down at me and patted my head. “You’re a good son,” she said. “Thanks.”

When I turned to look back in the kitchen, Aunt Rose seemed to be asleep at the table and Aunt Ruby was boiling more eggs.


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.

Brother Betrayed

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.


By Eliot Gregory

Jewel pulled her cloth coat closer around her and braced herself for the north Texas midnight wind. She carried her purse beneath her coat in case anybody got any ideas about trying to take it.

She had to walk two unlighted blocks to get to the Harbrick Company, a cotton gin that had hired her reluctantly, and only after her father had talked to the owner. It was a dull job but that might be for the best. She had not finished high school and she knew a lot of girls dropped out of school if the right man came along.

Under her breath, she said a quick prayer for Louise, “Lord, please watch over Louise while I am at work. Keep her safe and let her sleep.”

Louise was her 8-year-old daughter. Jewel had had to leave her that night in her apartment by herself. She had explained to Louise that she had to take whatever job was offered, even though it might not be ideal.

As always, she went over the rules with Louise before she left the house. “Keep the lights off, don’t answer the door no matter who it is. This door is opened only for me when I get back from work in the morning.”

As she rounded the corner of the Harbrick Company, she came upon two teenaged boys leaning against the brick wall.

“Hey baby, where you goin’ on such a cold dark night?”

Jewel’s pulse raced but she kept a steady pace and walked past them. In less than a minute, she was at her work station inside the company. She smiled at Gertrude who stood across from her. The bell whistled and the cotton bolls came down the conveyor belts. She and Gertrude were the first ones in  line to grab  cotton bolls and separate the cotton from the seeds.

She was glad she wasn’t the last worker on the line. The last workers were often yelled at by Mr. Fisk, the manager. She had never seen Mr. Fisk actually do anything. It was his job to stand at the end of the conveyer belt and see that no seeds were mixed in with the cotton that fell on to the next conveyer belt. It was a job he was born for. He stood with his arms crossed over his chest and a disappointed look on his face.

Even though it was cold outside, it got hot in the building. Workers were never allowed to turn on the air conditioner in the summer or the heater in the winter. Those decisions were made by the men who sat at big desks with their cowboy booted feet crossed on top of the desks leaning back in their easy chairs while smoking a cigar.

Jewel and Gertrude didn’t get to talk much because it was too loud. It wasn’t worth the effort. They each got a ten minute break every three hours. It was only long enough to go to the one restroom in the building, and there was always a line. Jewel often looked at her watch and weighed the time it would take her to get back to her work station. Mr. Fisk made checkmarks by the names of workers who were even a few seconds late getting back to their stations. She certainly did not want any checkmarks by her name.

She thought how, under different circumstances, she and Gertrude might be housewives visiting back and forth between houses, their children playing together, family barbecues on Sundays. It was best not to think of “what-ifs.”  She was living in the real world where she had to leave her child alone at night to make a meager living for them.

She had been the envy of all the girls when she announced her engagement to Homer Martin. She was 16 when he pledged his undying love for her in the Baptist Church where she had grown up. Now she felt like crying when she thought of him. For her husband, there was always another party, always another woman. He heard distant music and couldn’t be tied down with a wife and daughter. Jewel never saw him as an enemy, but she did feel betrayed by him. He had loved her and made her feel happy, as if all her dreams were coming true.

She wondered if he ever thought about her or about Louise. He never sent his daughter any birthday cards or Christmas presents. She probably couldn’t even find him if she needed him. But then, she couldn’t imagine why she would ever need him. She didn’t know where he lived or if he was happy. She wanted to think that maybe he sometimes had a sad pensive moment when he thought about his own past, the family he made.

She felt sad when she thought of how quickly her charmed life had gone away when she married Homer. She felt so many possibilities in life, and then, like a dream it had all gone away. Being married  wasn’t as much fun as she had thought it might be. Her father had worked as an accountant at the Bells Cotton Gin. He was a deacon in the Baptist Church there. He brought his paycheck home every Friday night and handed it to Momma. How was Jewel to know this was not the way of all men?

She couldn’t let her mind go off on these tangents. She had to just accept her life and focus on her work at the cotton gin. This was her life. She wouldn’t get another chance. Her efforts had to be for Louise. She was 25 years old and, as she tried to push away the past, her future telescoped before her and made her tired.

Sometimes when she was daydreaming as she picked at the cotton bolls, she would think that someday Homer would realize what he had given up. She liked to think that he would come crawling back to her and Louise and beg her forgiveness. But she wouldn’t take him back, not after all of this. She wasn’t seeking retribution and she didn’t want anything bad to happen to him, but she could never feel anything but sadness and betrayal when she thought of him.

Louise looked a lot like her dad, but Jewel didn’t hold it against her. That little girl was the reason Jewel got up in the morning, the reason she worked at this awful job, the reason she lived in the best apartment she could afford. When she had a day off from the cotton gin, she would usually sew a new outfit for Louise.  She didn’t want her daughter to suffer or go without just because her father was a lout.

All of Jewel’s sisters had married much nicer men. It made her wonder how she could be so fooled? Poppa had not liked Homer, but her father wasn’t the kind to interfere if they loved each other. Momma had gone to bed for several days when Jewel quit school to marry Homer. Her mother didn’t handle things well. She could afford to not handle things well because her dad was there to pick up the slack. Jewel realized with stark clarity that she could not afford this luxury.

As she rifled through all her old memories and daydreams, one particular scenario played out in her mind and brought a smile to her face. In it, Homer was old and lying in a hospital bed. Jewel, being the kind good Christian woman that she was, would go to visit him and, from his bed he would cry and say, “Oh, Jewel, I’ve been such a fool! How could I have lived like this?”  He would beg Jewel for one more chance, but without much emotion, Jewel would say, “I don’t think so, Homer.”


Eliot Gregory is a new contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. We look forward to hearing more from him in the coming weeks and months.

Spanish Flu

By Eliot Gregory

It was December 3, 1918. William stood in the snow with stinging pellets of sleet slashing his face. Although he wore a wool coat, gloves, and a warm scarf around his neck, nothing could stop his shaking.

He took a moment to lean on the shovel. The sky seemed to be glowering at him in anger. There was no sense in what had happened. He wanted to shake his fist at God. He had always served God and he was a good man. He knew he was. Shouldn’t these things happen to scoundrels and wicked people? Not him.

Now he wasn’t even sure there was a God. Why would God let this happen?

His thoughts turned to the day he and Annabelle had gotten married. It was the happiest day of his life. She was beautiful and she was his. That had been less than a year ago. Things had seemed so happy and bright. He had looked at her with awe that such a beautiful woman would even look twice at him. It was still hard for him to believe that she loved him.

He pushed on the shovel and tried to push those thoughts from his mind. He couldn’t think about it right now. He pushed again and again but the ground was too hard to break up. It was frozen. He stood on the shovel but made only small indentions in the ground. He reached up and wiped sweat off his forehead. He knew he would probably be sick, too. He couldn’t help wishing that he, too, could be carried away by the Spanish flu. Maybe it could still happen. He didn’t want to go on living without them.

He had contacted several grave diggers, but none of them were available. They were either trying to nurse someone in their own family or they had this awful flu themselves. Who knew that something like this would come and take everything away from him?

He should not have been so happy, he told himself. He shouldn’t have allowed himself to be so taken by the baby. Maybe God was mad at him for loving Annabelle and the baby too much.

When little Henry had been born, no one was ever as happy as he and Annabelle had been. They took him everywhere with them. Henry was such a good baby. He didn’t cry and take on like some babies at church.  Annabelle was very discreet and kept a blanket over her chest when she nursed him. Everything about Annabelle was first rate. He sometimes worried that he wasn’t good enough for Annabelle.

Fresh tears ran down his face as he pictured his baby son. The tears froze into icicles against his face. Little Henry had begun smiling at William when he was a little over a month old. At first he and Annabelle had thought the baby had gas, but no, he was overjoyed at the sight of his father when he came home at the end of the day. William would sit in the chair by the fireplace in the small kitchen and hold the baby while Annabelle finished cooking supper.

He and Annabelle had named the baby Henry after his grandfather. It made him so happy that Annabelle wanted to name the baby for the grandfather he had loved so much. Having that sweet baby named after him was almost too much happiness for one man. He had been 21 when he and Annabelle married. By 22, he had everything he had ever dreamed of having, and then so quickly he lost it all. The rest of his life looked bleak and hopeless.

When he had been a child, he often spent time with his grandfather. He loved listening to the old man’s stories about the good ole days. Sometimes his grandfather would tell him something sad about his own life. It was hard for William to imagine his grandfather ever playing any role in life except being his grandparent. He tried to think of what his grandfather might have been like as a child.

If only he could go and talk to his Granddad Henry about all this. It wouldn’t make it go away, but he would feel a little less burdened. He knew he couldn’t talk to him ever again. It was too sad to think about. Wherever Granddad was his heart must be breaking, too, because they had loved each other so dearly. William would’ve given up everything he owned to bring any of them back. Even as he thought it, though, he realized he was asking for the impossible.

It seemed  an intolerable cruelty that he had to dig the grave that would hold the two people he loved most in the world. He wondered what he had done to deserve it.

People all over the village were screaming and crying in anguish at the death of another beloved relative. He didn’t want to hear them. He had heard enough screaming and crying to last the rest of his life.

He and Annabelle had held little Henry over a steaming pot of water on the stove. Henry coughed so deeply and even in the beginning, it made William  shake when he felt the cough that rattled his son so deeply. Then one night William went to check on Henry in his  sleep and, well, he couldn’t dwell on that. No amount of grieving would bring him back.

Just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, Annabelle came down with the same thing. She had cried and wailed when the baby died, but William couldn’t comfort her because he was wailing on the inside. Annabelle lived 36 hours after Henry died.

William thought about the Black Plague that had decimated entire families all those years ago in Europe. In the night, wagons would go up and down the streets and carters yelled for people to throw out their dead. Bodies of the dead  were taken to a common grave outside of town and dumped in with all the other bodies. He felt sick when he pictured people being dumped in with other dead bodies just because no one had the time to grieve or to move on. He could do precious little for Annabelle and the baby now, but he would see that they had a proper grave, and a headstone.

He had sent his brother a telegram to tell him what had happened.  It said:  “Wife and baby both dead STOP.  Come if you can. STOP.

Some people in the community didn’t bother with funerals. William wanted Annabelle and Henry to have a nice service. He was burying them together.

He looked again at the sky that that was still spitting snow at him. Slowly the hole in the ground that would receive the bodies of his beloved Annabelle and his two-month-old son began to take shape. The afternoon was colder and darker as he chipped away at the graves, but he knew he could not stop because if he did, he might never be able to start again.


Eliot Gregory is a new contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. We look forward to hearing more from him in the coming weeks and months.

Raining in My Mind

By Eliot Gregory

I listened to the puddles of rain splashing up underneath the car as we drove down the highway.  The sky was pewter and looked as if it might rain some more. It was a fitting day to be going where I was going.

George drove. Our friend, Doris, sat in the passenger seat of the car. My car. It seemed appropriate for me to sit in the backseat of my own car, representative of my life. I was no longer in the driver’s seat. Frankly, it was a relief to let them make decisions for me.

“It’s so nice to be insane, no one asks you to explain.” This line kept going through my head in a loop, over and over. I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it–perhaps it was part of a song, or maybe just something I had read–but all I could remember was that one line.

I wasn’t insane, though. I was a drug addict. And no one was more surprised than me.

In high school, drug addicts were brought in to speak about the horrors of addiction. I usually read a book during these testimonials. None of it applied to me. I was smarter than that. Now, though, every time I heard the word addiction I cringed.

It was April 20, 2011. Doris knew a psychologist in the next town and after months of pleading, she and George had finally talked me into going for an appointment. Just one visit, they said. Doris set everything up and scheduled it.

When I heard her say the date, it the first thing that came to mind was that it was Hitler’s birthday. I knew I shouldn’t think about that, but it had to be a bad omen. I was certain that a normal  person would think of something happier and lighter. Instead, I thought about how Hitler and all of his SS officers carried cyanide capsules in their socks and were expected to use them in emergencies. I wondered how I could get cyanide. I’d have to find it in another form instead of a capsule because I can’t swallow capsules.

The idea was intriguing, though. I doubted I could order it on the internet. I’d heard it was a very quick death, though I couldn’t remember whether the word painless was used when describing such deaths. I just didn’t know. Was it painful? I wasn’t that much into pain.

The idea blossomed in my head, gaining steam with each mile passed on the road to the psychologist’s office. I knew I couldn’t look it up on my home computer. It would be recorded that I had searched for the information. I could go to the library if I could get myself together. I wondered if that kind of death would look like a heart attack. Heart attacks were prominent in my family. I had to make sure there was no curiosity by investigators as to the cause of my death.

My twin brother Bradley recently recovered from a very deadly form of leukemia. We have always been close and his potential death was too much for me to handle. I was still surprised that he was alive, quite frankly. I remember walking the halls of the hospital wringing my hands when I thought he was dying. It was such a painful thing to watch. Too painful. More than once I stared out from the fifth floor railing that opened onto the atrium below. It would be quick, I thought. But what if five floors up wasn’t quite enough?

It was the worst time of my life watching my twin suffer and nearly die. For 25 years I had worked as a teaching assistant in the same school. I thought I was surrounded by loving people who cared for my family and me. Of all people, I thought they would understand. They didn’t. Instead, they fired me.

I often told myself as I opened the tranquilizer bottle that anyone in my circumstances would do what I was doing. There was no other way to get through it.

George turned into the parking lot of the psychologist’s office. My stomach turned to ice. It was the last place I wanted to go.

I thought fondly of Dr. Lemon, my former psychologist. I  hadn’t seen her in almost 15  years, but we had stayed close through letters and email. All the time that Bradley was in the hospital fighting for his life, I felt her near me, but the idea of seeing her during that time was too much. I just couldn’t get myself together enough to call her. I smiled as I thought of her and how I almost hadn’t gone to that first appointment just because of the psychologist’s name!

Then it was too late. She was gone. She was 88 when she passed away. I was lost without her in the world.

“It’s time to go in!” Doris said as she got out of the car a little too loudly. Her voice could really be obnoxious sometimes. I sat in the backseat clutching the armrest and seat padding. It was drizzling, but my resistance had nothing to do with the rain. I just didn’t want to go in. George opened the back door and urged me to get out with the look that always won any argument. I did.

We walked through the light spring rain and I noticed that on the window of the psychologist’s office were the letters spelling his name, Robert McGill, followed by a series of letters indicating his education and licensing.

It’s supposed to assure people that he was licensed, I thought. I wouldn’t have known the difference. I didn’t care how many licenses he had. I just wanted to go home!

The waiting room was not what I expected. It had three hard wooden chairs  that looked as if they were carved out of a tree. I thought there was probably a good reason not to have comfortable chairs in the waiting room. People wouldn’t loiter then. There were magazine racks filled with Cowboys and Indians magazines. I had never heard of a magazine devoted to Cowboys and Indians, at least not since I was a boy, but Doris picked one up and started reading it as if my world wasn’t falling apart.

Dr. Lemon  would be so sorry for me if she could see me now, sitting in some strange psychologist’s waiting room in a total panic.

Then the door to the inner sanctum opened, and Dr. Robert McGill asked us all in. I  kept reminding myself that it was just this one time, just to make Doris and George happy. Doris had told me that the good doctor had gone to the same grade school I had. She probably thought I would be more eager to go to the appointment knowing this, but I wasn’t.

I had a vague memory of Dr. Robert McGill. He was a jock and jocks like him made fun of me. In fact, somewhere in the back of my memories, I was pretty sure we had a schoolyard altercation. It was almost a daily event in my life back then. As I sat in the chair he offered, I hoped he wouldn’t remember me.

Even without that horrible nightmare of a memory, I could tell immediately that he was someone who could never understand me. Few people did. Doris is case in point. She had obviously made a mistake. I couldn’t tell this man anything at all about my life. I had asked to see a lady psychologist and here I got Dr. Cowboys and Indians. It was clear that he was light years apart in thought patterns and lifestyle from me. I sighed loudly to let Doris know my first impression. It was turning into more of a disaster with each minute that ticked by.

Doris handed him my bag of pills. He made a big effort to pick it up, acting as if it was the heaviest bag he had ever lifted. I watched him warily as he picked up each bottle and commented on its use. I felt attacked.   Finally, he put the bag down and looked over at me, tired.

“I see that you are going to Dr. Marvin?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, my voice shaking more than I wanted it to.

“Do you need all these pills?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered. I shifted in my seat and felt lightheaded.

From the look in his eyes, I could tell he was angry. Maybe I should have said no? Instinctively I leaned more toward George as the doctor continued.

“I have seen so many people whose lives have been ruined by this man,” said the doctor, clearly furious.

I was flabbergasted. Couldn’t he see that I would not still be alive if I hadn’t had those pills to blot out some of the pain? Suddenly, I was the one that was angry. I didn’t like this man putting down my medical doctor. Dr. Marvin understood how horrible life can be. He helped people get through the unbearable times. I felt the need to defend him right then and there.

“Dr. Marvin didn’t put those pills in my mouth! I did that myself!” That told him!

“He sure set the table though, didn’t he?” shot back Dr. McGill with lightning speed. He burned red and nearly rose from his chair in anger.

I had no answer.

He sat in the center of the room in a chair with a word processor from the 80s balanced on his thighs. His thoughts seemed suddenly far away. The timbre of his voice softened as he asked other questions, but I could tell there was another not so comforting voice just underneath.

It didn’t matter, I thought, because I had just made up my mind. I was never going back there. I was there in the first place because of Doris and George, but it was the last time I would ever be in that office.

In my mind, I  could hear Dr. Lemon’s voice saying, “Run! Run as fast as you can!”

As I stood up to go, Dr. McGill asked if  I could come back the following week.

I said, “Sure.” There was no conviction in my voice, no real commitment. I said it knowing I would cancel the appointment later.


Eliot Gregory is a new contributor to Jet Planes and Coffee. We look forward to hearing more from him in the coming weeks and months.