1. Den Calls About Christmas
My brother Dennis — my only sibling — died on November 17, 1997. He was 58. That may seem young, but in relation to the men on my father's side of the family, it is not. My father died at 49, my uncle at 59, my grandfather at 60.
For no reason, my brother's death made me think of a call I got from him a few summers back while I was on vacation at the beach.
"What do you think I should give Mother for Christmas?" he asked. "She's got everything."
"I honestly haven't given it much thought, Den. This is, what, the middle of July?"
For years, Den was on Lithium and sometimes Stelazine and Haldol to stabilize his moods, insulin for his diabetes, other medications for a bleeding ulcer. He really couldn't work, so he didn't have a hell of a lot to do. He used to read quite a bit, usually magazines on contemporary political issues. He was especially interested in issues with a military angle, because of his service in the Air Force.
Some years back, I heard him by chance on Daniel Shorr's CNN call-in TV talk show. There was no mistaking his voice. He was debating some missile question with the commentator. He was holding forth with considerable gusto.
We talked about his condition some time ago, and how it used to be before the lithium. He told me that when he started to go nuts, the color yellow somehow became malevolent. Yellow surfaces, yellow flowers, yellow traffic signs — they all rose up to attack him, causing him to flee buildings and drive cars off the road.
It's genetic. In the blood chemistry. All those sugars and salts out of whack. Manic depression, diabetes, alcoholism — all variations on a bad gene.