It was the great storm named Milenyo when it happened, our house was flooded waist deep and the jalousie windows in our bedrooms started exploding from the wind and rain, my baby Anton was just around six months then, and we struggled to get him to safety thinking the flood could get worse and our house’s second floor was not safe anymore. We were shouting and knocking on my parent’s printing press next door. Begging them to open but my father couldn’t do anything, the winds were howling and I was crying but my brother was at the foot of their stairs and had a gun in his hand, saying if they open the door he would shoot us right there and then. I was crying for help and they couldn’t do anything. He was there and he said he’d shoot my baby if they tried to help.
As long as I live, I will never forget this. My anger and helplessness amid the rain and wind. You think I exaggerate when I tell this story but anyone who’s had to deal with drug addiction and violence in their family would know this monster and recognize this scene.
How did it ever come this? To be in the midst of a storm and have your sibling threaten your family’s life in that crisis. I don’t know either. Only that he’s always been the monster. Even when we were kids, me and Victor would hide from him because he always barked orders at us, he always shouted and acted strict and scary. He did scare us. Growing up, I always thought eldest brothers were bad.
We knew of all the problems he brought in — how he was kicked out of schools, how one night while drunk he crashed the family jeep into a nearby rice field, how he was caught doing drugs early on. He was sent first to a seminary school and when that didn’t work out, he was sent to an aunt in Germany, after a year of that he finally ended up in a Catholic school in faraway Mindanao, to my uncle the doctor and that’s where he was able to graduate from high school thru the intercession of this influential uncle of ours.
A year after my Tatay sent him to the US, to his best friend Tito Lony. And that’s where my kuya lived for most of his adult life. He got married there at nineteen (this another terrible story of young love, violence, meddling parents, divorce and a poor baby with cerebral palsy left in the care of her maternal grandparents). We also ended up living in the States during this time where I spent a year there, in fourth grade, and where my brother Victor graduated as the High School Salutatorian.
My parents would visit our eldest from time to time, we went to Alaska when he had another “wife”, she was pregnant then. That visit turned into harrowing months of dealing with two psychotic lovers who were both destructive. I was in college by this time and knew better. I came to know clearly by then how awful a man my brother turned out to be and how he attracted and got into relationships with equally problematic women who suffered under his drug use and violence.
In hindsight, we were probably better off for not having grown up with him. But then, Tatay got sick with cirrhosis in 1999. And my mother got it into her head to bring home our kuya with this notion that he would come home and take care of the family and the business because Tatay was unwell. My kuya, an undocumented alien resident in the US for most of the twelve years he was there, came home for good and life for our dysfunctional family went from bad to worst.
We all knew no good could come of his homecoming. He did not take care of the family or the business. He became its biggest burden. He refused to work and instead asked for a regular allowance. He tried to take over one of my Tatay’s other business but that closed shop soon after he did. We had a private swimming pool for rent that is now useless and dilapidated because he took over that as well. My parents had apartments as their passive income, he took those apartments for himself and they let him take it out of sheer exhaustion from the daily battles with him. This all happened while I was away. I was a full time activist then and played a peripheral role in the family’s affairs. When he became violent, when even our own mother got hurt in one of his violent fits, they decided to put him into a drug rehabilitation center. We thought then that would help change him, but he’s been there thrice since then, and we no longer entertain any hope that anybody or anything could change my brother.
When things got really bad — the family’s core business got into trouble and my parents became enamored of casino gambling to the point that our printing press and home were up for foreclosure with a local bank — I came home for good and took over.
I left the movement to take care of my ailing father and had this messianic notion I would save the family from ruin. Looking back, I believe I did just that. We sold off existing idle assets (raw lands my parents owned) paid off all their debts, had enough money to pay for Tatay’s medical expenses and my father gave me seed money to start my own business. That business continues to sustain our extended family to this day.
But I also gained many enemies in our family when I took over. I changed the old system in our small business and stepped on many toes in the process but in the midst of that crisis, the people who were in my way were those who were contributing to the downfall of my family. So they had to go, it was that simple to me and I still stand by that to this day.
My eldest brother resented that his little sister was suddenly the boss and he hated that I was our father’s favorite. This anger manifested in many ways but always violently. He once hit me in the face and kicked me because I told him to turn down the volume on the TV. After that I was sent away to live in one of our offices because my parents could not control him or stand up to him. After I got married, it was still more of the same. He attacked our house twice but my husband fought back of course and they almost killed each other during these fights. Those were terrible times. I remember him attacking me while I was having breakfast with my father soon after I had my first born. He said we were too noisy in the breakfast room, he threw a chair at me and my two month old baby and it was my father who took the blow. He is that kind of person — he would hit his siblings, his children, his girlfriends for no good reason. He would verbally abuse our mother and threaten her with violence. He would get into debt and have my parents pay for it. After my father died, he has consistently sold portions of our inheritance for gambling, for drugs, for women, all the while pretending he was setting up a business and being a better man. And our family, my parents and his girlfriends, were his co-dependents, his enablers. The ones who opposed him, like myself, became sworn enemies.
I have many more tales of him but this will become a long litany of violence against family and against women.
A few months ago, because my mother could no longer afford the rehabilitation center, we asked the help of the police. He was in my mother’s house, yet again harassing her for money. They were fighting and he kept shouting at her, throwing objects around the room, moving in on my mother, pinning her to the wall. I saw the look of fear in her eyes and I heard the crazy in his voice. I knew that if I didn’t do anything, he would harm her then. I took my sons downstairs, we called the police and he was arrested that night.
As the police took him away, I was shaking with relief and crying uncontrollably, thinking to myself what have I done to him? But soon after, after the haze of emotion and tears, I realized that was the best thing we could have done in a situation where we were again threatened with violence from him. My kuya was put in jail. It was the last straw. We have spent years avoiding this, the embarrassment of it, the gossip from the rest of the town. But we could not put up with him and his drug use anymore.
He got out on bail with the help of money from relatives and he now tells everybody that he has a bad mother and conniving siblings. Perhaps those who do not know him and our story would sympathize with him. I have heard them say it all the time throughout the years – that he is the eldest and we must bow down to the eldest, that he is a man and I must give way to this man, that I did not deserve to stay with the family or become its financial head because a girl should be given away to her husband and not stay with her family. Such feudal patriarchal crap I have had to put up with.
I have come a long way since then. I have been forced to fight for all that I have today and yet I know many still think me no good because I wasn’t born with a cock.
It never ends, this will be a lifelong struggle I know. Against men like my brother and those who think he is right to do us violence. I still wonder everyday how things could have changed for the better if my parents had done things differently. Were they bad parents to him? Perhaps. But I think they did what they thought best, no matter that it wasn’t good enough. As an adult, it comes to a point when you just stop blaming your parents for your fucked up life and take responsibility for yourself. My brother has not taken responsibility for anything he has ever done in his life.
I don’t know if there is hope for him or if we have it in our power to save him. But we all tried. Rehab hasn’t worked and talking to him, babying him and tolerating him didn’t work, giving him money for his own business didn’t work, sending him to work abroad didn’t work. One scheme and plan after another. All these years we have tried. We no longer have the energy or the finances to support each new thing.
I do know we don’t deserve the trauma and violence he has done us and our family through all these years. I know for sure that as long as he remains a drug dependent, he cannot be an active part of our life and I do that to protect myself and my young family against his violence.
There are things that can never be forgotten but I try very hard to let old wounds heal. For my own peace, I must let all the bad blood between us recede into a part of myself that is calm and objective.
And so every day I fight the hate and anger and I try to remember that despite everything he is my kuya. I have two young sons now and I wish that their relationship will have none of the jealousy and violence that has marked my relationship with my oldest sibling.
One thing that helped me put things in perspective is this children’s book titled “Mama, Do You Love Me?” by Barbara M, Joosse. It’s a beautiful and simple story of unconditional love. And it took a while for me to appreciate it but now I keep it in my desk everyday as a reminder that despite everything, somewhere deep inside each of us is that common humanity, that hope for something/for someone better that may one day save us from ourselves.
“Mama, do you love me?”
“Yes, I do, Dear One.”
I love you more than the raven loves his treasure
I’ll love you until the umiak flies into the darkness, till the stars turn to fish in the sky…
What if I put salmon in your parka, ermine in your mittens and lemmings in your mukluks?
What if I threw water at our lamp? Then Dear One, I would be very angry. But still, I would love you.
What if I turned into a musk-ox? Then I would be surprised.
What if I turned into a walrus? Then I would be surprised and a little scared.
What if I stayed away and sang with the wolves and slept in a cave?
Then, Dear One, I would be very sad. But still, I would love you.
“What if I turned into a polar bear, and I was the meanest bear you ever saw and I had sharp, shiny teeth, and I chased you into your tent and you cried?”
Then I would be very surprised and very scared.
But still, inside the bear, you would still be you, and I would love you.
I will love you forever and for always, because you are my Dear One.
When I read this I remind myself that beneath the bear that has become my brother, inside is still him, my parent’s first born, their first loved.
That as much as I have decided to protect myself and my life against this bear, I live with hope that someday, the brother we have loved will emerge from that darkness.