I don't know where to begin to write about this photo. It isn't even a photo: it's a crop, only a tiny piece of a much larger picture that featured all my siblings, plus my sister's boy friend Derek. We were all in wacky positions on the sofa beside the Christmas tree.
It didn't occur to me until just now to crop out the part with Arthur and me. And it jumps out at me now, startling: so there we are. Arthur influenced my childhood, not to mention my life, more than anyone. Arthur was crazy. He was a flutist, a musician, a ne'er-do-well and very very smart. As time wore on, it became more and more evident that something was "wrong with" Arthur. In his early 20s, a few years after this photo was taken, he was diagnosed schizophrenic.
Whatever that means. But in an odd way, he embraced it. His life was hand-to-mouth on the streets of Toronto, though I did get to see him once in a while. He was a beloved figure, always, even if he did not always make much sense. The family tried to help, they really did, but he was hard to keep track of. He was in and out of hospital, and once when he described a hospitalization to me, it was as if he were telling me about his vacation in Acapulco. It was a grand adventure - no kidding! None of the bleakness, the shame that a "proper" mental patient should feel.
Though he did "mental patient" with great style and verve, he really was mentally incapacitated at times and found it hard to get along. Practical things were difficult. Because he was naturally appealing and very spiritual, various religious groups adopted him, literally took him in off the street and gave him food and shelter. First it was the Buddhists, then the Sikhs, and I don't know who else. I am grateful to them now.
Arthur died horribly, in a fire, in 1980. It was the same year John Lennon was shot. I don't know how I got through that year. Everyone said things like, oh, it was smoke inhalation and probably a painless death. Then I found out what death through smoke inhalation is really like. Everyone said things like, well, at least now you know where he is. They even said: maybe it was for the best.
It wasn't for the best, not anybody's best, and certainly not his. He had his life, odd as it was. He influenced me enormously. I can't even describe his sense of humour. It was bizarre; he could be bizarre. It wasn't always pleasant being with him.
My second novel Mallory has a character closely based on Arthur. It was important to me to write that novel, but like everything I have ever published, hardly anyone read it. I try not to dwell on the sense of futility that gives me.
When my brother died, I rather bitterly thought: now I get to inherit the mantle of family fuckup. And I did, to a large extent. I wear a "diagnosis" too, though a different one. I take "meds" too, though different ones. I don't like jokes and cartoons about meds because they are not funny, though I see them everywhere. If I mind, I'm told I have no sense of humour.
But Arthur was good at his diagnosis, he usually wore it lightly. He told me about a time in hospital when they had a "patient's night out" and went to a pub. When it was time to order a drink, one of the guys kept calling, "Oh, nurse!" He thought that was very funny.
I don't wish to paint him as this jolly schizophrenic. There was that time he tried to exorcise a demon he claimed had taken over my body. And he often smuggled hashish into his bedroom, where we smoked ourselves senseless. I was only about 15.
I wasn't popular as a teenager, at all, and was often miserable. Oddly, Arthur WAS popular. Strange as he was, he always had friends, and they came to him. He never did a single thing to attract them.
I will never figure out the riddle of him.
If you've had a brother, and then you don't, it leaves a hole, a brother-shaped hole. It leaves you wondering why you had to inherit this mantle, this "not right in the head" stuff that is supposedly so important. I am NOT "right in the head", but that doesn't matter so much because I have my life. And I suppose it's nothing special, except to me.