Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I Miss You, Danny

Yesterday would have been my brother Danny's 58th birthday, and how I wish he were here with us still. He died when he was 44 years old in a hospital room in Columbus, Ohio. I can picture it as if it were yesterday, all of his family gathered for a vigil. Up to the very end, he was flirting with the nurses. Laughing as long as he could. But then, things suddenly changed and he was gone within a few hours.

Danny had a gentle heart, a heart that I know would have been accepting of me as I came out - I'm sure he knew I was gay when I was a teenager - but a heart that, so, so tragically, longed for love and acceptance - something that eluded him all his life.

My Dad holding me as a newborn, with Danny (left) and my brother Mike looking on.

Danny in the bedroom I shared with him in our house in Salem, Illinois.  (Note my bed was made.) 

Danny and I were constant companions when we were very young.  He was the very personification of the term “mischievous”: he got me into all sorts of trouble and, like most brothers close in age, we quarreled – and even fought – quite a bit.

Yes, that's me on the bouncy horse.

In our back yard in Salem. I was wearing Dad's old Army helmet. Danny was improvising.

Danny (center), me (right) and my best childhood friend, Chuckie Horseman

As we got older, we sort of came to a fork in the boyhood road, and he turned one way with his group of friends, and I turned the other with my group of friends. That’s the way it is supposed to be, I guess.

Dad took Danny and me to Colorado in the spring of 1973 to pick up our sister Karen from school in Denver.

Danny and me with Grandma Broom around 1973 or so. She was approaching 90 then. He had that incredible blond hair and, damn him, blue eyes. I was just brown/brown.

Dan, though talented athletically, never did very well in school. Unfortunately, he received no end of grief from my mother about this as well as his “antics.” Truth be told, she was cruel to him, something I'm sure she later came to regret, whether in this world or wherever she is right now. As Dan got older, he started to get into more serious trouble, which involved alcohol and then drugs. 

He eventually married (above), but that didn’t last too long. He was an attractive man, and with his big blue eyes – what my fraternity brothers would have jokingly called “bedroom eyes” – and his long eyelashes that he could bat at just the right moments as required, he charmed many women.

Unfortunately, Dan always seemed to pick the wrong kind of girl. To use a common phrase, he looked for love in all the wrong places, inevitably getting hurt after he had been used time and time again. I could see what was happening: he was trying to fill a gigantic hole in his heart that had been created when he was just a boy. He turned to alcohol to fill the void; he turned to drugs; he turned to women and "friends" who took advantage of his giving nature then left him. His hole was never filled, and he died as the direct result of the way he had lived his life, still looking for the love that had eluded him all his life.

He loved my children, his nieces and nephews, and I loved that he was able at times to visit, both in Vancouver and once we moved to Utah.

Dan and me shortly before I left on my mission to France in 1984.
Three generations of Brooms - Dad, Dan and me and my son Adam, in 1990.

Dan with Hannah and Rachel

Danny with Adam, Sarah, Hannah and Rachel in the late 90's

At his funeral, a song was sung by my sister Karen that poignantly reflected the tragedy of Dan’s life.  The words to the song have for years both haunted and inspired me. Inevitably, they made me think of Dan.  The song: “The Rose,” by Bette Midler. Here are the lyrics:

Some say love, it is a river
that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
that leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
an endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
and you its only seed.

It's the heart afraid of breaking
that never learns to dance.
It's the dream afraid of waking
that never takes the chance.
It's the one who won't be taken,
who cannot seem to give,
and the soul afraid of dyin'
that never learns to live.

When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been to long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong,
just remember in the winter
far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed that with the sun's love
in the spring becomes the rose.

I'm sorry Dan missed so much of his life. I'm sorry he looked for love in the wrong places. I'm sorry that he wasn't here when I came out, just as Dad and Mom weren't. They all never knew the real me.

But as I think of Dan, I also think of my dad, who never turned his back on Danny. Despite many disappointments, those two shared a sort of love that I think all of us kids knew was somehow special. So I also pay tribute to my dad, a father who has taught - and continues to teach - me much even though he is gone.

This part of this post is for my family. In the closing months of his life, Dan wrote a couple of letters to Dad and Ruth that bring (many) tears to my eyes even now.

"You know," Dan wrote, "I have let you both down so much. Ruth, I want you to know you have been more of a mother to me than the one that brought me into this world. For that, I want to thank you. Dad, you're a father anyone would love to have, and I'm proud to call you my dad ...

"[Dad,] you know it bothers me how much I let you down because, all I tried to do, was to make you proud. Instead I've been a failure. All my life I have always tried to please other people and not myself and ended up helping takers. The end result is that it has cost you. You don't know how much it hurts me to realize what I've done to you and Ruth ... I hope you can forgive me."

Dan, I love you. I'm sure Dad forgives you. He loved you so much. I miss your smile and your love. I so wish you were here now. I wish you could have found the love I now experience. There is so much I'd like to share with you. Peace to you.

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