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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Anderson

The Boy With No Name

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

I have put off writing this part as long as I can, but now I have to tell you about my little brother. His name was CJ. The next question out of anyone’s mouth is going to be, “What does that stand for?” It stands for nothing. Honest to God, my little brother was named "CJ" because my mom could not decide on a name for him. Or at least this is what my mother told me. She told me that that she just could not think of the right name, so she decided to give him initials and then find a name to fit it later, and have his name legally changed. But then she got wrapped up in life and her own head and forgot. So, he remained just "CJ." And of course, through time, everybody got used to it, and he became CJ. The story that my mother tells everyone else, is that there was a man she knew, a blind music teacher named CJ, and he was an inspiration to her, so she named my brother after him. I do not think that this is true. Forgetting was just what my mother did. She would forget, then she would make up an elaborate story about why. And story that no doubt made her look good. It was one of her behaviors that I saw repeated over and over again. Either way, the story she told changed over time, but I believe the first version.


My mom was not in a good place mentally when my little brother was born. Me neither, actually. It is one of those times that I do not have any memories, somewhere between second and third grades. I know that I “woke up” in Manderson and had a baby brother. Now, most people thought that I would be jealous, being the baby for so long, 8 years difference in our age. But I was not. I was thrilled. Do you know how sick and tired I was of being called “baby” all the time. I hated it. I was so glad when CJ came along, and I was no longer the baby. And it was great. What little girl would not want a real-life baby. I made him my doll. I loved taking care of him and changing his diapers, and giving him a bath, dressing him up in God knows what silliness. Great fun. I really feel like we all had a pretty good relationship during the early years. Dad had stopped his bad behaviors, and became a decent guy, when he stopped drinking. CJ had three older siblings to take care of him. He got fed too much actually. We over-compensated for our own early childhoods, and he ended up getting pretty fat around 8-12. Lucky for him, he was able to slim down in his teens so he was able to get the girls.


I think CJ generally had a good life. He loved living in Otto. Because he was so much younger, he was raised in huge group of grandchildren. My sisters started having children before my mother stopped. The lines between generations are not as clear in my family as they are in other families. Plus, we had a combined family in any case. My father was married before and had four older children. My mother had three children from her first marriage. Together they had four children, the twins, me, and eventually CJ


CJ was raised more as a sibling to my older sisters' kids, than as an uncle. Honestly, one sister and mom shared taking care of each other’s kids, and I was a babysitter for them all. And I do not mean that in a poor-me way, it was just that both my mother and my sister were working, or going to college to become nurses. Long hours, hard shifts and, because we lived in the middle of nowhere, long commutes as well. They had to lean on each other; it was a rough time for them. Working, and / or school, beyond full-time, having kids and households to run. It was a nut house. Well two nut houses. They flowed freely between the two houses. CJ and those boys ran wild. It was a never-ending job to just keep them from blowing up the house. And anyone who knows this part of my life, knows I am not even joking a tiny bit.


My little brother was a genius. A genius with free run. And, at least 3-5 other boys making plans to do something amazing. Each of these boys were all highly intelligent in their own rights. But they each had extra ability in some area, mechanics, special perception, sweet talk, passion, tenacity, and drive. Together, they were a force of nature. They were extra clever puzzle solvers, who developed an interest in fire, chemistry, gun powder, and making bombs. And when you put them together, add a few neighbor kids, and there was always some sort of chaos that was either happening now, about to happen, or the aftermath of “what they did not think about,” and what to do differently next time. It is funny now, delightful in fact, but at the time…I watched them for my own survival. I babysat because if someone did not keep an eye on them, God knows what they would be up to. I spent a great deal of time being deeply frustrated and outside of my babysitting abilities. I did admire the shit out of him though. I deeply cared about CJ in a way that I never felt about any of my older siblings. In the same way, I am sure, that my older siblings feel about me.


Time and age caused distance, as it always does. I became a teenager, and I did not have time for my annoying little brother. Mom’s crazy was getting to him as well, and he was starting to act out. He was going through the “angry stage” that boys go through when they start puberty. As close as we were, we started drifting apart. He lived his excited life of bombs and boy stuff, and I lived my teenage-girl life of boys and MTV, active in sports, and school activities of all sorts. And then mom took him and left. And I did not see much of them again. When I moved away, like everyone who escapes the hell, I never looked back. I abandoned him there with my crazy mother.


Now this is where those happy memories change to deep pain. Sometimes it feels like I will carry this guilt forever, but I know that there is a path to letting it go. I left him there. I hurt him the same way that my older siblings hurt me. Not on purpose, but because they had no choice, they had to in order to save themselves. Most were running for their lives, or for some form of sanity. Each of us in turn, abandoned the rest of us, to live in hell without them there. It could not be helped, everyone has to do what they needed to do to protect themselves. But it is a huge loss for those left behind, that loss is a trauma for a small child. I know, because that is what I felt. It took me years to be able to admit it, and hopefully finally address this particular trauma in myself.


To me, little Debbie, my mother was not really my mother. She did not feed me, Janice did that. She did not sing to me or read stories to me, Alice did that. She did not protect me from my father. I have memories of every single one of my siblings stepping between me and my father, to protect me, but no memories of my mother doing that. I am not saying that she didn’t, I just have no memories of her doing so, and I do have memories of ALL of my siblings doing it at least once. In fact, I have no memories of her being at any of the beatings, except for one. She did not sit me down and explain things to me, help me understand. My older brother Brett did that. He really talked to me, he answered my questions as honestly as he could. He gave me validation. Each one of my older set of siblings were my real mother, at least to me.


When I was young, one by one, they each disappeared. They ran away of course, but I did not know that. And my mother never talked to me, never told me what was going on, where they had gone. She either couldn’t, she wasn’t “home” a lot of the time. Or she just did not know how to handle her own situation or how to talk about it in a productive way, so she just lied, or pretended they went on a trip to visit friends or family. But they never came back. I did not understand, and my little heart broke every time. And not knowing how to handle these losses, I just locked it away in the basement of my mind. Until one day I forced myself to “open the door.”


The day I forced myself to face these losses was one of the hardest days of my life. What happened was exactly what I was afraid would happen. The reason I went years and years in a state of denial. A flood of pain, and loss, and sorrow, and grief, and deep sadness came flooding out of me. And I grieved. I grieved for the pain that every one of us children bore to the point that we could not take it anymore, and we walked away. We walked away from our own babies, our little siblings that we took care of, who we loved and nurtured, because our mother could not. I grieved for the loss of innocence, the loss of childhood. I grieved, and grieved, and grieved. Finally, I was left with only my own guilt for having disregarded the pain that my absence caused my baby brother, my abandonment of him.


Not until he graduated and started college were we able to grow back a relationship. He came to live with me for a while. In my absence, he went from angry teenager, to full blown heroin addict. I moved him to my house. He detoxed in my basement. I was going to the University of Wyoming. We enrolled him in college, and we graduated with our Bachelors degrees in the same year.


I want to pause here to show you what an amazing man he was. CJ had what we called in my family, "the bad spelling gene". As an adult, I now know that this was dyslexia. My father could not read or write. We assumed it was because his education was so severely disrupted, that he never caught up. Now, I understand that he was probably dyslexic as well. CJ was diagnosed in school. And this really hit home when he was living with me. CJ could not write at all. When he tried, it was absolutely not readable. So, I would have him dictate his papers to me, and I would type them out. We were able to advocate, that as long as he had an assistant, a disability adjustment, that he could go to grad school. His professors advocated directly to the top Universities, that his GER requirement should be waved because of his disability. And it worked. He got into grad school at one of the top chemistry universities in the country. He got his PhD, he published papers in scientific journals, and had a great government job waiting for him as a rocket scientist. This is what made him amazing, he overcame the cards, clearly stacked against him.


In grad school he seemed to be doing great. He found the love of his life. He seemed to have it all. But after 10-12 years of sobriety, the pressure started to get to him, his past trauma got to him, his mental health issues got to him, his addiction got to him. He returned to an old coping mechanism, he returned to opiates, and he returned to heroin. As is typical, he got his wife addicted. He and his wife almost died many times. Finally at the bottom, he finally reached out to me and another sister. Me and my sister were working to get him and his wife moved back to my house, get him cleaned up again and back on track. But we were two weeks too late. We waited too long. Two weeks, he asked for two weeks to get his remaining affairs in order. He was supposed to be to my house in two weeks, I had gone down to California and moved all his stuff to my house. But he never made it. My sister called me to tell me that my baby was gone. My genius little brother with so much potential, gone.


They say that if you face your loss, accept your grief, you will be able to move on. But that everyone does it on a different time line. That you never stop grieving that loss, but that it gets easier. And I would have to say that is true, but damn if it isn’t unbelievably hard.


Being that I am on this healing hike thing, I felt obligated to hike this metaphorical mountain. They say that the healthy way is to embrace the pain, but that is so much harder than they make it out to be. To me, grief and loss are the absolute worse of feelings, it rips out your soul. And to me, avoiding that shit is SOOO much easier. But you know what happens, people will just keep dying. That is just how it is, and it sucks really bad. And it gets more and bigger, and it takes more and more emotional energy to avoid the reality. I had to start avoiding all funerals. I just could not take it. But when my little brother/nephew recently died, I decided to do things differently. Okay Universe, you win. From now on I am going to let all of my grief and loss just come right out. Just let that freak flag fly, then @$#* force myself to face the grief. I forced myself to go to his funeral. I forced myself to talk about him. I forced myself to let everyone see me cry, see my pain and my grief. I can get down right pissy with the Universe about my lot in life. It’s sort of our thing. The Universe beats the living shit out of me, and finally, when I cannot take it anymore, I give up, and I start to listen. I stop trying to prove that I know it all and must admit that I clearly do not. Well, if you ever have been to an AA meeting, you will know this is the first step. The first step is when you are finally willing step over that line of denial and admit you have a problem, that you do not have your shit together, and that you need to do something different with your life. It is a hard line to step over. It is what I think keeps us sick.


I am still waiting for the grieving processes to work its magic fully. I hear it is a long-haul hike. It apparently takes a long time, and it is a rough mountain to climb. I will let you know how it goes. So far, I just look like a crazy woman who cries a lot. But, as always, all I can do is just keep hiking, and hope that the top of the mountain is just over that next ridge.


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marciebop
Jun 18, 2023

I doubt you are aware, but my mother (I guess a nice way to put it) lives in her own reality. Okay, she lies and alters the narrative to suit her audience. If you ask her why CJ was named CJ, she'll tell you that Dad never got over her so he named his son after her, Carole Jones. Even though her maiden name began with an S and she remarried in 1968, and her new married name began with an L. My mother's narcissistic ego had to make it about her.

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