Since starting my memoir and my writing classes, I write and write and write. All this writing did something to my brain.
I suddenly started seeing the world as little stories I could write about. It’s like everything, even the mundane, suddenly became fodder for an op-ed.
People, relationships, and their nuances seemed to sparkle in a new light. I especially became interested in the grey area between what we think vs. how we behave.
I started to feel like I could pick out a story just about anywhere—road rage doesn’t exist in Hawaii (why is that?), my dad’s deteriorating legs (what does body betrayal feel like?), and of course, my brother (he was so fiercely loved when growing up, why did he make such poor decisions?).
I started taking notes all the time—even during my sleep. My eyes would open at 2 a.m. because I had a dream about a new story or chapter. With my body still drowsy but my mind spinning with fresh ideas, I’d open my notes app and jot it down before drifting off into sleep again.
Writer’s eye was both exhilarating and exhausting. I was a kid again, looking at a caterpillar for the first time under a magnifying glass.
Empathy for my brother
In thinking about that space between what a person feels vs. behavior, my brother kept coming up. I wondered what he thought each time he sold drugs or ran around with people he damn well knew he couldn’t trust.
Before he went to prison and before all this writer’s eye business, I didn’t want to know how he was doing or more importantly, what he was doing. Just because you’re related doesn’t mean you have to be best friends. But then it struck me that the relationship I had with my brother wasn’t rooted in friendship. It was more like… sister-mom. (Not to be confused with sister-wife. 😁)
I took care of him from the day he was born. I still remember my first job as his sister-mom. It was to make sure he didn’t roll off the couch after he came home from the hospital. I dutifully reported back to my mom, who was eating in the kitchen, that he did not roll off the couch.
I watched him learn how to talk. I noticed the first time he started shaking his head at age 5 before he was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome and ADHD.
Each time my parents moved and my brother attended a new elementary school or junior high, I was anxious as hell. As you can imagine, shaking your head, arm, and leg while making little monkey noises isn’t exactly the winning formula to make you popular.✓
When my brother first started lying to my parents and getting into trouble in junior high, I’d long for a simpler time when a McDonald’s Happy Meal and the toy inside would be the highlight of his day. These are all mom-like memories, amirite?
My family is such a part of me and my brother’s existence has shaped who I’ve become.
Choosing to believe a better narrative
I wasn’t prepared for his sentencing and life in prison. But then again there’s no handbook for how to deal with your baby brother going to the slammer.
I knew I had to change my thoughts in order to come to acceptance. I did a lot of “useless writing” and at first, wrote about what I was most afraid of. I imagined he’d get bullied, raped, stabbed, or killed in a fight. I also feared his brain would rot from sitting around and watching TV all day in his cell.
After reflection and writing, plus a few in-person visits to my brother, I started to feel better and eventually plugged the rabbit hole of these terrifying prison scenarios.
Instead, I chose to believe a new truth—that prison is the only way he would get better. If he were free, he would continue to live his stunted existence, unaware of life’s possibilities and gifts. There’d be no reason for him to stop smoking weed and popping Xanax. He’d probably be dead, and I’m not the first in my family to say it.
Inmate 9023: Stories About My Brother
I saw his situation as an opportunity. I felt called to create Inmate 9023: Stories About My Brother. I wrote the About page, complete with older photos of my brother. I’d like to share it with you. I’m hoping it provides a better understanding of why I started it and what I want to achieve. (Be sure to subscribe, I’m still working on the first post set to publish this month.)
Unlike pink eye or a stye, catching writer’s eye has truly been a gift. It’s given me another way to see and interpret the world and increased my capacity for love and empathy. It’s equal part pain and pleasure, but I feel grateful to have caught it when I did.