I can’t stand a world with my brother dead, but I can’t stand a world with him alive. #contentwarning #grief #writing #CSA

By this time on September 26th, 2008, my brother was naked and dead on the floor in a tiny apartment in Cedar Rapids, and nobody knew it.

Neighbors and passersby couldn’t see his body through the maroon sheet he draped over the living room window, the same way he draped a safari print sheet over the bedroom window. When I saw his makeshift blackout curtains in the crime scene photographs, I gasped. I do that, too: shades permanently drawn, a repulsion to too much light, to people looking in. When I am alone, I want to be alone.

“It appeared he had been dead for some time due to the lividity,” the police said in the crime scene report. Lividity: when blood, no longer pumped by the heart, sinks into the lowest part of the body. Face to floor, arms reaching out in child’s pose, my brother’s ribcage and neck filled with blood, and it fixed there like a birthmark.

Fixed, like an x-ray after the fixer solution freezes bones in place on the film, broken for eternity. Even when the police rolled my brother over, the blood didn’t slosh into other body parts. His vessels had already broken down. The blood had no way out.

He had been dead for some time.

I couldn’t imagine my brother dead until I saw those photos, and sometimes, I wish I hadn’t seen them. I finally took my research too far, I think. I can’t stand a world with him dead.

But I can’t stand a world with him alive, either.

If he had taken the plea deal instead of morphine, methadone, diazepam, gabapentin, and desmethyldiazepam, he would be alive right now. This second. Maybe fixing himself a meal in the cramped kitchen I have stared at in those photographs, amazed at the olive oil decanter on the counter. My brother drizzled olive oil on his salads, his bread?

He would be out of prison right now. His body would be curled up on the couch of his little apartment, the one I know intimately from the crime scene photographs, the one I never would have seen were it not for the crime scene photographs.

The one located right down the street from my parents’ apartment–not the address in the obituary, in another town. Meaning: My father knew everything. He knew, and he didn’t tell me. He didn’t tell me because I have testified. I could have helped put his golden child in prison.

I could have testified. 

In 1974, the Supreme Court of Iowa heard the appeal of Joseph Raymond Maestas, convicted of “committing lewd and lascivious acts in the presence and upon the body of a child under 16 years of age.” Maestas wanted the testimony of the victim’s older sisters thrown out because their allegations from six and ten years prior were “too remote” in time.

The court disagreed:

We believe the facts of this case, and particularly the intrafamilial nature and similarity of place of defendant’s misconduct, compel the conclusion the evidence of defendant’s prior acts was not too remote in time …

In other words, incest transcends time.

In 2010, State v. Cox called Maestas into question, though, and I only found out about my brother’s case in 2013. But in 2008, if my family hadn’t covered up my brother’s crime, I might have been on the witness list.

If my brother were alive today, his name and photograph would appear on the sex offender registry. I could know his GPS coordinates for life. I could watch his age progression from afar for life.

I could track him down, show up at his door. Try to fix this thing between us. Fix us. So the last picture wouldn’t be broken for eternity.

Except, if I am honest, I wouldn’t know about his final crime if he hadn’t died. I never bought the heart attack story my family fed me after the autopsy. It set my teeth on edge. It pecked at my insides like a scavenger until I was completely empty. My family lied, and I knew it. They lied to protect him. 

I had what the Mormons call a testimony, a burning in my bosom, a knowledge of things unseen. I was in the visitor center at Temple Square, bawling as I watched an informational video. Families can be together forever, it said. I sat down at the genealogy computers, searched my brother’s name, and got a hit: his social security number.

“Write it down,” a sister missionary said, sliding a scrap of paper and a pencil toward me.

Write it down. Like a mission call. I could run a background check, I thought. Know things about him he never told me in life.

But exposing his secrets meant exposing mine, too.

I carried my brother’s social security number in my wallet for years, taking it out sometimes to look at it the way normal sisters gaze at photos of their brothers.

I knew. I had a testimony. 

3:59 AM on March 2, 2013, in the dark of the morning when nobody could see me, a background check returned this result:

Case No: 08791 FECR009867

Charge: SEXUAL ABUSE 2ND DEGREE – 1978 (FELB)

Statute: 709.3

Case Initiation Date: 12/20/07

He did it again. He did it again. He did it again.

He got caught. He got caught. He got caught.

I paced the apartment chanting those words under my breath, wringing my hands, until my husband woke up, and I said, “You’re not going to believe this. The fucker did it again.”

For the first time in my life, I felt like I could tell the truth. I was free. (I have since learned it isn’t that simple, but more on that in a future post.)

Did my brother have to die to set me free? Did my brother have to die for me to be redeemed?

I can’t stand it, this world with him dead. But I can’t stand a world with him alive, either.

One thought on “I can’t stand a world with my brother dead, but I can’t stand a world with him alive. #contentwarning #grief #writing #CSA

  1. Just this week I thought of asking you about the experience of seeing the police photos of your brother, because I’ve considered reaching out to the Sheriff’s office that handled my sister’s death to ask for the pictures. I thought you would be the only person who would give me a really honest answer. I didn’t know, I don’t know, if it would be better to see them and see proof that she is no longer alive (even though I’ve held the box with her ashes), or to not have that image forever burned into my brain. What you’ve posted makes me realize I need to think it through more before making the decision.

    Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for always being willing to go a layer (or 5) beyond where most people will go. And I’m thinking about you today on this anniversary, and sending you love. xx

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