Jun. 16, 2021

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY---TO JERRY, MY BROTHER.

I never want my only sibling, Jerry Miller, to be forgotten. I will love him always. In these final days before Father's Day, I want to honor his memory with a few pages from my book, THE BEAUTY QUEEN:

"The degree of damage my mother inflicted on my brother and me for a lifetime, can never be measured.  I never discussed our mother’s controlling abuse or even hinted at our shared secret to anyone, not even to my brother.  But, on two different occasions, my brother indirectly referenced our secret.   The first time, was in a phone call.   Quietly, as if not wanting anyone to hear, my brother said his psychiatrist in LR had expressed an interest in talking with me. My brother wondered if I would meet with his doctor for a one hour appointment.  Normally, I would have asked, “Why does the doctor want to see me, I’m not his patient,” but… I didn’t need to ask; I knew the answer.  After repeating the doctor’s name and phone number, my brother thanked me and said goodbye.  A few weeks later, at the office of my brother’s psychiatrist, I answered questions about my mother, my brother, and…the secret.  I struggled to describe the intimate abuse; I explained it was my first time to share details surrounding the secret. 

After 45 minutes, the doctor thanked me, shook my hand, and escorted me from his office.  I never spoke with the doctor again and my brother never mentioned the appointment. 

 The second occasion came one week before my brother’s death, when he called me from his hospital bed. He sounded youthfully happy as we talked about our addiction to homemade peanut butter candy, our favorite pets, and the fun of taking ballroom dance classes from Ms. May.   Most of all, my brother wanted to reminisce about Dottie. Whenever we were alone, my brother would talk about Dottie--- the love of his life.  Now, I could hear the sadness in his voice as he remembered the past and how-- when Dottie had suddenly ended their three year romance--our mother had baked a celebration cake.

He cried, as he did every time he talked about Dottie.  Dottie had dated other guys, eventually married, and moved to another state.   Desperate to replace Dottie, my brother dated one girl after another.  All too soon, he married a local girl, fathered one child, and appeared to have forgotten his past love but-- I knew the truth.    As time passed, I learned Dottie’s marriage ended and she was suffering from a rare, debilitating disease.  Some years later, Dottie died.   But-- in my brother’s heart-- the love of his life remained very-much alive. 

A hospital nurse interrupted our phone conversation, warning my brother to stop talking-- to rest. I remember the last question Jerry asked me, “Sally, do you think anyone ever learned our secret”?  Pausing… to steady my voice…I answered: “No, Jerry. I’m sure no one ever-guessed our secret.”

 One week later, my 58 year old brother died. Devastated, I returned to Pine Bluff to attend my brother’s funeral.    Arriving at the Funeral Home, I was greeted at the chapel door by an attendant who quickly ushered me to a seat, far from the family section. I later learned that my mother and my brother’s wife, united in their hatred of me, decided to publically “put me in my place”--on the back row of the Chapel. 

 At the end of the service I watched as those in front of me (I was the only person on the back row) were directed to another room-- to a reception line-- consisting of my mother, my sister-in-law, and their close friends.  Alone, I walked to the front of the chapel to stand beside my brother’s casket.  Several funeral attendants stepped forward to close the casket lid then stepped back when they recognized me.

 I reached across the steel vault’s creamy satin lining to pat my brother’s cheek.   I took my time, as my fingers moved upward to smooth his graying hair and thinking---even at 58 years of age-- my brother was still just a little boy. I thought about the few times I’d seen him smile or look happy; how he often appeared nervous and uncomfortable around people. Now, in death, he looked relaxed, at peace, and-- just maybe-- enjoying his final rest. 

With time a very-crucial factor, the attendants began working around me.... moving flowers, tucking the casket's drape inside..performing those final steps before lowering the lid to entomb my brother..forever.

 As the attendants secured the coffin’s lid, I stepped aside so the funeral director could guide the metal casket through the doorway, down the walkway, and into the black hearse. The traditional parade of funeral cars were-already lining up behind the hearse, eager to participate in the long procession to the Cemetery.  And--- it was time for me to exit, to leave the funeral home, to separate myself from death.

Walking toward my car, I felt my brother’s presence again--like invisible arms surrounding me—reaching out to share one last goodbye.  As the hearse passed in front of me, chauffeuring my brother to the waiting grave…an overwhelming loneliness grabbed my heart and I began crying--- knowing Jerry-- my only sibling-- had never-really-lived.  And...it was then...that the familiar melody crossed my mind.

 It was a memorable tune from the fifties, performed by "The Platters". In fact—it was my brother’s favorite dance song.   Sitting in my car, I pictured my brother as I remembered him best—dancing.  He could master any dance floor with the greatest of ease----his smooth dance style delivering every step in perfect time to the rhythm.

 I saw Jerry as if it were yesterday, artfully leading his partner through difficult moves, skillfully maneuvering each dance step like a pro as the music played, “Only you and you alone, can thrill me like you do……and fill my heart with love, for only you.  When you hold my hand, I understand, the magic that you do….You’re my dream come true, my one and only……”  My brother circled the dance floor, twirling his partner, both smiling as they danced past me.  His dance partner glanced my way and I returned her smile.  “Oh, Dottie, please take care of him.... you know he never loved anyone else….ONLY YOU.”