In Loving Memory of Eddie
In the face of my brother’s death, I feel an urgency to write, to dream, to remember, to pray, to cry, to imagine, to scream, to share.
My mother had four children. Being the baby, I was fortunate to have BIG brothers—I say B-I-G because my 5 foot 2 frame always looked tiny next to my 6 foot 5 brothers who towered over me like giants. They taught me how to shoot free throws and understand the art of football in-between playing Barbies and dress-up. My brothers provided the loving fatherly energy I needed growing up in a single-mother household.
My mom told me my brother Eddie was the smartest and best looking of all her children. His beautiful tan skin, tall athletic build and piercing green eyes made women melt by the time he was 13 years old. Mom jokes about how girl after girl left messages on the phone asking for Eddie during his teens. In middle school, his principle skipped him a grade because he was ridiculously smart. He was the type of kid who got straight A’s with out cracking open a book.
In one sense, Eddie was our golden boy: smart, good looking, and the quarter back of the football team. And yet, he was trapped in an ugly addiction that haunted him for twenty-four years of his life. What started out as innocent partying spiraled into binge drinking and drugs followed by trips to the emergency room and rehab. I grew up going to family Al-Anon meetings every Saturday morning as a way to cope with my brother’s addiction.
During his time in rehab, my brother met his wife Jackie, a beautiful former model with a heart of gold who also struggled with alcohol. In their sobriety, I dreamed of finding a love as deep as theirs. In times of chaos, I was reminded why I never wanted to fall in love with an alcoholic. They were soul mates that understood and forgave the complexities of each other’s addictions, and yet, their love was anarchic like thunder. Even with their tumultuous marriage, they made time to care for my sister and I. From babysitting to basketball games, they were there for me.
Six years into their marriage, during my sophomore year in high school, Jackie passed away. Her kidney’s shut down due to years of alcohol consumption coupled with massive amounts of Tylenol taken for her back pain. She was uninsured, low-income, with no money to see a doctor. After the death of my sister-in-law, my brother entered an ongoing state of depression. He said he was angry at God—that Jackie should have never been taken away so quickly. His anger and depression manifested in to an increasing reliance on anti-depressants, painkillers, and alcohol.
Over the years, my brother’s mental and physical health deteriorated. Two and a half decades of drug use regressed his ability to function and find hope. Every holiday I came home from college, I was just grateful my brother was sober and alive. Even though my brother was as erratic as fireworks, he always loved when I came home from the Bay. I loved how he knew every stat about Cal’s football team even though he was a die-hard USC fan. My mom always said nothing made my brother happier then sports and his little sisters coming home to visit. Christmas 2011 would be the last time I would see my brother Eddie.
This past April, my brother got into a brawl with a group of men that put him behind bars. While he had been to jail before for minor offenses, this time the judge had no mercy and sentenced him to serve time in prison. I always knew my brother's emotional and physical capacity wasn’t fit for the extreme isolation and suffering of prison. Due to his special needs, he was housed in the psychiatric wing of the Twin Towers “Correctional” Facility in Los Angeles, California.
Then came Friday June 29th, 2012 at 10:15pm. My brother Eddie hung himself with his bed sheets wrapped around his neck and the toilet seat. He suffered from deep depression yet was not placed on suicide watch. He died alone, cold in a small windowless cell with nobody to talk to. He had just finished serving the first month of his prison sentence and had taken my mom off his contact list so she wouldn’t receive the news of his death in the middle of the night. While he needed rehabilitation and holistic healing, the despot hell of prison pushed him over the edge of suicide.
As my heart soaks in pain, I’m dumfounded by the timing of Eddie’s death; I was suppose to visit him the following morning. Two weeks before I lost my brother, I bought a plane ticket to LA for the weekend of June 29th. The main purpose of the trip was to visit Eddie in jail and tell him to hold on. I had a gut feeling that he needed me. I arrived in LA the night he killed himself. Ironically, I was checking the sheriffs department website for the Twin Towers visiting hours during the exact time my brother committed suicide. To this day, I keep kicking myself for coming too late; I keep asking myself what if I had made it to see him on-time. My heart continues to ache with deep sadness and regret as I mourn the death of my brother.
Today, I’m reminded our society is in a major human crisis. We live in a country where prisons, alcohol and pharmaceuticals are plentiful while mental health services and holistic treatments are sparse. In 2012, there are 1.2 million inmates like my brother with mental illness locked up in U.S. prisons. This number is astounding considering there were only 283,000 inmates with mental illness in 1998. As the prison population booms, drug addicts and the mentally ill have served as the prison fodder for a system that disposes lives.
Tears trickle down the ridges of my check-bones as I write this but I pray to God that Eddie’s death is not in vain; that his story inspires us to tap into our human spirit and take action for all of the prisoners and addicts who are alive. As people of conscience, my favorite writer Cherrie Moraga states: “we write, we think, we work in the face of death. Some days it seems that it is the only thing worth doing, to counter injustice in this way; for injustice—for perpetrator and victim—kill spirit. We are in search of ideas that can separate the strands of human exploitation and its consequent environmental ruin in order to illuminate the causes of the utter holocaust of the planet’s heart. We want to stop the destruction; I imagine that is why we imagine. We proceed with some infinite faith that if we say it, write it, walk it well enough that it will matter somehow—that spirit can be materialized as consciousness can be materialized.”
As I mourn my brother’s death, I know Eddie is at peace with Jackie. A few months prior to going into prison, my brother told my mom he wasn’t angry with God any more; that he let go of being angry. I count my blessings that he did. Even though I was too late to catch my brother alive, I promise to commit my life to challenging prisons and the criminalization of drug addicts. I promise to visit others who are locked behind bars and advocate for rehabilitation instead of incarceration. By sharing Eddie’s story, I hope that you do to.