brother, Rick, was born three years before me. As we grew
up, he was always infinitely stronger, tougher, cooler and
wiser than I could ever hope to be. Rick was my hero and I
wanted to be just like him. Rick was a reader and he introduced
a lot of great fiction to me. He pushed books by Asimov, Arthur
C. Clarke, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Kurt Vonnegut and others into
my hands. Not to mention those great Doc Savage novels. He
also tried to get me to read Carlos Castaneda, but that stuff
never did anything for me.
I eventually became the more dedicated reader
and I ended up giving him far more books than he ever gave
me to read. His favorites of my recommendations were Philip
Wylie, Robert Cormier, Robert McCammon, F. Paul Wilson, Bill
Pronzini and Stephen King.
I don't think it would be too much of an exaggeration
to say that Rick was a musical virtuoso. He got his first
guitar at a young age and in a remarkably short period of
time, he was incredibly good. I know that everyone says that
their brother is a kick ass guitarist, but in Rick's case
it was emphatically true.
Rick got along with his musical talent for a
while as we grew up. He played in some small bands and he
made a few bucks. Sadly, Rick never had the kind of ambition
it took to really make it. Sitting by yourself in a room or
playing in little cover bands in tiny clubs isn't the ideal
way to hit it big. Part of his problem was a wooden stage
presence. Rick usually seemed awkward and uncomfortable while
performing in front of people. His physical discomfort was
painfully obvious. That didn't stop him from giving his all
and impressing a hell of a lot of people. He got his share
of ladies while on the road, too.
Yet, things changed as we progressed into adulthood.
I moved in with Rick and continued to look up to him for a
few years. However, after a while our roles sort of reversed,
and I started acting like the big brother, or the most responsible
one. Many people assumed that I was the older sibling and
not simply because I looked older than he did.
As the years progressed on, things turned darker.
Rick became moody and sullen, often claiming to be sick. He
would self-diagnose himself and was convinced that he had
various afflictions. He stopped doing any sort of work and
would stay in the back bedroom for days at a time. I guess
he would come out when I worked, but it was hard to say. He
would have brighter moments in his life and we had some laughs
and did things together. These happy times became rarer and
rarer as we approached our forties.
One day he approached me and said that our parents
were coming to pick him up. He needed their help and was going
to live with them. I'm not going to lie; I was ecstatic. Finally,
I had my place to myself.
I saw Rick from time to time over the next several
years. Some of the times were pretty good and others weren't
so good. It was easy to become frustrated with my brother.
All everyone wanted for him was to get up and do something
he came to stay at our home while me and the family went to
Horrorfind 2003. It turned out to be a disaster. I won't go
into it all, but we ended up having hard words. Horrible,
nasty things were said. Vodka was part of the blame, but truth
be told, I still had a lot of pent up hostility toward Rick.
We parted company and
I didn't talk to him again until I heard the
heartbreaking news. My big brother Rick; the athlete, the
musician, the fisherman, the hero of my youth, had contracted
a terminal illness. Cancer of the worst kind. His liver and
pancreas were affected and the doctors had given him only
a few short weeks to live.
I was slightly delirious when I received the
awful news. I was crying and feeling awful. After calling
an old friend or two, I went to The Shocklines Message Board
and related the devastating news. I knew what I needed to
do, but I was frightened. Frightened to face a man on his
deathbed. I had never done such a thing before and I doubted
that I had the strength to go through with it. Then there
was another problem: Rick was in Florida and I am in Virginia.
This was a week before Christmas and flights were out of the
question. My old wreck would not have made the trip and I
had just spent a wad on Christmas shopping. I was near broke
All I can say is, God bless the remarkable people
at Shocklines. They rallied for me and made it impossible
for me to say no and stay home. Even while I desperately wanted
to. I grew more terrified by the hour, yet I had no choice.
No real choice anyway.
I rented a car the next morning and headed south
that afternoon. To say that it was a difficult trip is an
understatement. I was crying most of the time and wondering
how I was going to face a man looking straight into the face
of death. Especially after the way our last meeting had went.
Yet I drove on. It took the better part of two days, because
we stopped in North Carolina to drop off our fourteen year
old daughter and we spent the night. The next day was all
road travel and we arrived without any ill incidents at around
8:00 PM. We went first to my sister's and she had dinner warm
in the oven. We ate, caught up on things and went to our motel
room. I tried to sleep.
The next day, I was feeling lightheaded and
scared, but we went back to my sister's for breakfast and
then went on to my parent's house, where Rick was.
The moment I was so afraid of arrived. I entered
the house and went back into my brother's bedroom. He looked
extremely thin, but far better than I had feared. He barely
greeted me, but slowly warmed up. Almost immediately I said
that I was sorry and he replied that it was in the past and
not to worry about it. Most of the day was spent with me talking
to Rick and him just sitting, nodding sometimes and chuckling
now and then, as I told him stories of some of our old friends.
At one point I asked Rick if he believed that there was something
after this life and he said that he did. Rick knew that I
often proclaimed to be an atheist, but my thoughts on that
matter have changed a bit over the years. And not just because
he was dying. After a time, he became too weary to sit up
any more and we left. The last thing Rick said to me was,
"I'll see you."
I had done what I set out to do and I had to
get back home. Sadly, tragically, life must go on. We spent
one more night and left Florida very early the next morning.
The trip home was much worse than the drive
down south. I just pictured him sitting there, defeat and
anger in his features. Sitting there with his childhood possessions
around him. His beloved Citation stamp album. His books and
his comics and baseball cards. His videotapes of shows like
Andy Griffith and Leave it to Beaver. I cried and cried and
cried until I didn't think it would be possible for tears
to continue to come. But they did.
I came home from that trip a stronger and wiser
person, I think. More compassionate. I deeply regretted the
way Rick and I fought. It's easy, far too easy, to judge others
based on our own standards. No one knew what private hell
went on in my brother's mind. I think there are some people
that just don't, can't, fall into the path of life the way
The news from Florida was as expected. Rick
did a chemotherapy treatment or two and he had hoped that
it would help him. Of course it didn't. If anything, it made
him worse. His decline was rapid and I received word that
he had to be restrained to his hospital bed. His words were
gibberish, but my sister said that the the only thing he said
that she could make out was my name.
When the expected news of Rick's death arrived,
it was a blessing. It was making me physically ill to contemplate
him suffering the way he was. He passed quietly, with our
mother, father and sister by his side.
I hope that Rick's spirit is somehow still
around. Maybe he has seen the overwhelming amount of love
and generosity that came in his name. And I hope that he's
in paradise at last, away from pain and heartbreak and humiliation.
If my prayers come true, right now Rick is wowing millions
with his guitar playing. The fish always bite and there are
new Doc Savage books coming every month from Bantam. And they
all have covers by Jim Bama. His mouth is watering over that
line of trout that Andy and Opie are bringing home. He's knocking
hardballs out of the park every day and the Orioles win every
game they play. At MEMORIAL STADIUM too, not at that newfangled
place that average folks can't afford. Rick's new bike is
so light, he can fly. I pray that he at last found his queen
and knows love. And he will always, always be a part of The
Circus of Dr. Lao.