My brother is a musical genius. At the age of two, he spontaneously banged out Mary Had a Little Lamb on a Nicaraguan Miremba and was immediately put up to a piano. By age 10 he could play things that many professionals struggle with and had his own band and at the age of 14, he was sent away to performing arts high school. All through these years he was told over and over again that he would be a rock star. We all believed it. When my brother and I would fight, he would threaten me with cuts to the $100, 000 a week allowance he was going to have to give me so I could survive. I laughed, he was 4 years younger and it was the only weapon he had against me.
Unfortunately, it takes a great deal more than talent to be a rock star. You also have to have a level head, stay out of drugs, and get a massive dose of good luck in about 100 different ways, in just the right order. These things did not happen to my brother. He did not get a level head, whether it was because our father had no business sense to pass on, because the women in his life mollycoddled him to make up for the abuse from our father, or because he simply was not born with the resilience gene, I will never know. He also did not avoid drugs. Our childhood was painful, lots of people have painful childhoods, but most people (I don’t think, or at least I hope) aren’t introduced to drugs that wipe away that pain for a few precious hours when they are 14 and their parents are in the middle of a vicious divorce. Needless to say, it became a crutch that he would not give up until he died.
Luck did smile on my brother a few times. He had a recording contract, wrote and performed music all over LA. Did spots in TV shows, scored video games, and recorded in one of the most famous studios in the world, but non of it made him a star. It didn’t matter that he could support himself and his family entirely with music. It didn’t matter that he had a wife and two beautiful kids, a home, friends, and family that love him.
He had been promised all his life, “You will be a rock star!”
When promises and dreams go unfulfilled it is disappointing. If you aren’t strong and don’t have good coping skills, it can eat you up and cause intense bitterness. This is what it did to my brother. He is bitter beyond reason, hating the world for not fulfilling his promise. He rails at God by attacking religion and anyone that has faith of any kind, swearing that they are all stupid for thinking there is anything beyond this life, and then becoming wrapped further in bitterness because it will all end without meaning. It is a tragic thing to see. Watching someone so filled with hate and pushing away happiness with both hands.
When his wife finally had enough and left, he decided he didn’t care if he lived or died and shot himself full of heroine. He died. His buddy that found him performed CPR until the ambulance got there and began to work on him. He was taken to a good hospital, that admitted him even though he didn’t have insurance, and his family converged on it from all over the world. We sat in the ICU for 3 weeks waiting.
My brother lived. We don’t know how, or why, but he lived. He is clean and sober now and has a new family (amazing how easily that can be replaced these days,) and seems to be doing okay, but the bitterness is still seething below the surface waiting for some small tipping point to release the tide of bile.
As I look at my children I wonder. Our culture tells them they can be anything they want to be, but it is all a lie. You don’t just get to be a rock star, or an astronaut, or prima ballerina. You can’t be a full time mom AND a high powered corporate executive. I was made promises too. I was going to be rich, win a Nobel Prize, set the world on fire. I’m okay that I haven’t done those things, but often I feel like my life is meaningless because clean toilets and healthy meals don’t really set the world on fire. Sometimes it overwhelms me and I cry.
None of us talk to our father anymore, but his emotional cancer still eats us up from inside. The last thing he said to me was, “When you are done raising your children, I expect you to do something with your life.” Why were we told to be something amazing instead of being taught to find joy in the small things in life. If I had been told, “You will marry a good man, have a nice home, and raise nice children,” maybe I could be satisfied with my sparkling toilets and the scratch meal in the crock-pot that waits for us to get home from orchestra practice. Do we really help our children by telling them to reach for the stars? Wouldn’t it be better to tell them to reach for the mountain tops and just enjoy looking at the stars from a clear, unpolluted sky?