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Scenes from Childhood

My brother, Brad Hare, died this week from an apparent suicide. The news came like a ghost as my phone rang early in the morning as he had no contact with his family for the last 18 years. Depression clearly wracked his last years on this earth, but he made his passage slowly for reasons he never told us.

Though the grieving process started years ago, it is only fitting that I have some kind of wake. We are Celts, after all, a people who have raised suffering and depression to such an art form that we always find a way to celebrate it. This is an occasion to relate a few stories from our childhood together south of Miami in a world where craziness crackled through the air and condensed around us as reliably as a 3PM thunderstorm every languid summer day. It made us who we are, and in the end we are all nothing but stories like these.

We grew up together in paradise. There was never any snow to slog through and the ground was perfectly flat. When it comes time to make my kids feel bad about their whining I got nuthin’. Miami circa 1970 was perfect in just about every way.

The story of the Garden of Eden always seemed to me to have a basic flaw, however. Serpents and the tree of knowledge are a thin cover story to what must have been the essential truth. If we learned anything as a child it’s that humans aren’t made for paradise – and they were almost certain tossed out for trashing the place.

Sometime around 1980, when we were becoming adults, things got really weird around us.

A classic story with Brad came after he purchased an 1892 Turkish Mauser rifle at the Tamiami Gun Shop. It was an incredibly cheap rifle with the flawlessly smooth Mauser action that begged us to carefully clean it and simply admire it. But what we like to do with it the most was head out into the Everglades, near a half-built airport called the Jetport, and plink away with the obscure 8mm rounds we scrounged up anywhere we could snag them.

One day we were out happily slaughtering beer cans at 50 yards or more, prone on the hard coral ground with the sun baking our backs. It seemed safe up against the mounds of dirt left behind from abandoned construction as the air slowly became acrid with smokeless powder. No one was around. No one cared, we were sure. Then suddenly, off in the distance, the unmistakable sound echoed around us.

Dit-dit-dit-dit! Dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit!

Someone nearby had the same idea, but their hardware was a fully automatic rifle. Our antique weapon suddenly felt just dangerous enough to be a problem if something was going down.

“What the Hell was that?” I asked
“Full auto.” Brad stuck with the facts when in danger.
“Where is it coming from?”
“No idea. Let’s get the Hell out of here.”
“Um, yeah!”

We crouched down as we walked back to the car, tucking the still hot rifle into the trunk. Brad drove out to the main road slowly, crouching down a little as if it made any difference in safety.

When we got out to the road the direction of the shots became obvious. We realized we’d have to drive past it to get out of there on the only paved road back to the thinly civilized world of Miami. We crept closer to the sound as we saw a large Cuban flag on a pole, la estrella solidad. A bunch of older guys were standing around as if watching the road and looking official enough that we felt it was best to check in rather than simple drive by. We got out of the car just as another round fired up.

“Hello! Como estas!”
(A thin wave was the only answer)
“What’s up?”
“Training.”

Surveying the scene, it all started to make sense. The older guys had their permits on strings around their necks, proudly showing anyone that they had the permits. Younger kids were the ones doing most of the shooting, however, getting their first taste of the M-16 in full rock ‘n roll. Dit-dit-dit-dit-dit! Up this close the plinking sound was fuller and meant business. One of the men proudly showed off his piece to us at a distance, beaming from ear to ear. The others had the blase look of the suspicious, not betraying any tell to the stranger.

Training. They were getting the kids ready in case there was ever a call for a Bay of Pigs II, another invasion of Cuba. We’d heard about this but never seen it up close. We walked back to the car and slowly drove off looking as harmless as a pair of anglos ever could.

But that wasn’t the only thing we stumbled on. Brad dated a woman who went to Old Cutler Presbyterian, a church that walked a narrow line between fundamentalist and mainstream. Brad went to church with her a few times, but came home one day clearly disturbed.

There was a guest speaker that Sunday, an old friend of the pastor. His name was Rios Mott, the dictator of Guatemala, there to worship and tell the world about how Jesus had saved him. Nevermind that Mott had an iron rule back home, enforced by death squads that routinely killed and disappeared people. Here, at Old Cutler, he was a pious Christian, saved by the blood of the lamb. The blood of Guatemalans was apparently not a big deal.

Brad was troubled by it all, but not quite in the way you might think. His own politics could be best described as Pragmatic Libertarian. As he told me, “Human rights violations aren’t something I think about on a daily basis. It’s the hypocrisy that I can’t stand.”

A relationship on the rocks over Central American death squads. Ah, Miami.

That wasn’t the only brush with dictatorship for us, however. On 3 Jan 1990 we were home for the holidays, loafing in the warmth as anyone with a home in Miami does between the Orange Bowl and Three Kings Day. We went out one evening to pick up beer at a liquor store near Dadeland shopping center, right on Dixie Highway.

As we were leaving a pair of cop cars raced by with their lights spinning. Before we made it to the car another one pulled into our parking lot with the window down, barking furiously.

“Get off the road! US1 is closing!”
“I’m sorry, sir, what?”
“US1 is closing down! Get off of it!”

His mission complete, he sped off to the south with a purpose. Wondering what was going on, we set off down the only artery that connected here with there in that part of Dade County, the road they said they were closing. I spun the radio on to find out what was happening.

Up ahead, it was disco time out on the highway as a party of blue and red lights said it was time to find another way home. The news finally spilled out of the radio telling us that Manuel Noriega, erstwhile dictator of Panama, was being extradited to the US after being yanked out of the Vatican Embassy where he was holed up after our invasion.

Looking ahead, Brad grasped the craziness of it all right away. “You want to start an international incident?”
“We do have booze.”
“You’re right. We should stop at the gun shop and get something to make it official.”

Of course, we didn’t do that. We went home about as fast as we could and switched on CNN. Surreal moments like this call for CNN somehow. We watched as Noriega’s plane landed at Homestead Air Force Base, south of us, and the entourage of cops made their way up Dixie Highway. There were choppers up above with spotlights on the shiny parade, possibly just to make the festive feel of the moment a little more ominous in the booming whirl of their blades.

“Hey, they’re crossing Richmond Drive!” Brad said from in front of the TV. Scrambling outside, we saw the procession glimmer in the perfect weather as the lights bounced off the still water of the canal. We could see all the way to the highway as the glorious moment ricocheted off our neighborhood and became an instant nooze feed for the nation.

It wasn’t as though anything happened, it was one of those happenings full of old fashioned quantity time spent with the family that found its way into the surreal.

What I remember about Brad through all these moments was a sense of grace, a denial of the craziness. He wasn’t about to be fazed by anything. The craziness was nothing more than a call for a joke, an offhand comment, a bit of wit that said he wasn’t really part of all this.

That’s what made us both who we are. For Brad, that detachment ultimately became a terrible illness that took his life slowly. I will miss him as I have for 18 years now because we shared so many strange experiences together and came through them to the other side, somewhere around reality. What’s on the far side of that perhaps he can tell me now, and I hope he is at peace.

I love you, Brad. I’ll keep your stories safe as long as I can, but some of them just have to be told. That’s what we have left now.

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15 thoughts on “Scenes from Childhood

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss. Your recount of these memories served your brother well. There’s something about family that we are able to miss them when they’re gone even if they were already out of the picture. My condolences to you and your family.

  2. Having lost enough close family members in my time I’m familiar with the pain, especially if there was estrangement. Yet the pain we humans suffer is unique to each of us and our life experience. Mourning is a psychological process locked in our evolutionary heritage and requires engagement to complete. Societies develop mourning rituals that move the process along, but ultimately it is for each of us alone, in our own unique way, to come to terms with our loss and its effect on our life.

    You have written eloquently of your brother and what you’ve shared. To an outsider like me, you have created in but a few words, a picture of what his death means to you and your pain. By giving us this glimpse, limned by your skilled writing, we can briefly relate it to our own experience. You’ve done well by Brad and done well as you’ve embarked on processing the loss. Hang in there, it’s all we can do when inevitable loss hits home.

  3. A beautiful tribute, thank you for sharing it with us. My prayers are with you and your family as you struggle to understand what happened. Brad is at peace now whatever his troubles are. I hope you can be, too. I will pray for you all.

  4. Sending sympathies on your loss – beautiful post. I, too, have known & loved ones who chose their time to leave – ‘In the world but not of it’ so often comes to my mind when I think of them –

  5. My condolences to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt memories of Brad with us. As long as his memory lives in those who loved him, he will always be a part of things. I hope that he finds the peace that he was seeking.

  6. Thank you all for your comments and for being there when I need you. Bless every one of you and may depression never darken your door. Be there for each other as much as you can and we’ll all be allright.

  7. Pingback: Today’s Pirates – the Panama Papers | Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

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