Sunday, May 6, 2012

5-05-12 Pictures of Tommy - a memoirist’s blog #6

(Right now, I’m focusing on my memoirist work that I’ll call, simply, “Pictures of Tommy” -- all about my psychotic brother and his legacy. If so inclined, please share, and tell me what you think. . . )

(below: Tom was 14 years old in this picture - I think he looks a bit like Lou Reed here) 


I knew of a few friends he’d had, starting with childhood.  Douglas (Doug) Schneyman was a kid from a few blocks away who also went to Saint Anastasia’s school.  Doug was also a smart kid, tall, skinny, bespectacled.  In the modern parlance, you’d call him “nerdy,” as was my brother Tommy, I suppose. 

Something about Doug was very likable; he seemed to understand that Tom was very different, but still liked him and tolerated a lot of little odd things about him.  I’d look at his face when they were together, and a patient, bemused look seemed to play on Doug’s face when he was around Tommy.  I know this because Doug’s sister, Judy, was my best friend at the time, and we spent time together playing in the same house (usually the Schneyman’s house, a large Tudor/mock castle on Alameda Avenue, a cold and formal place that invariably smelled like scrambled eggs and ketchup).

Let’s face it, except for my younger sister & brother, Carrie & Mark, our family was half made up of eccentrics: mom, Tom, & me -- you could definitely see there wasn’t a screw loose but we were “different.”  Mom and I were what I call functional eccentrics (“efficient eccentrics” -- we get the job at hand done, come what may).  On the other hand, Dad, Carrie, and Mark were smart, people-savvy, “popular” types.  They carried a mirthful side, a quiet confidence.  You could tell they liked being around others, and other people enjoyed their company.  They acted almost conspiratorial in those delicate situations, winking at the thief and smiling at the dame to quote William Blake. . . when young, I’d run for the hills and tune out when similarly exposed.  I guess I’m better with people now. . . I know how to be “lighter,” though the intensity hasn’t gone.

 So, there was Doug Schneyman, Tommy’s first good friend.  Then, as a teenager, Tom had a shy, cute friend with long, shaggy hair named David DuBrule, with whom I flirted shamelessly and had a fling.  I couldn’t help myself, being an excitable teenage girl. . .

I don’t know about friends in between, but the last good friend Tom had was named Frank, and he was a parishioner of Tom’s Church, Saint Thomas the Apostle, and the editor of the church newsletter.  A fellow poet and devout Catholic like Tom, Frank was a mysterious man, a name only to Carrie & me (Tom talked a bit about people in his life when we occasionally saw him, and I didn’t know what to think about this “Frank” character).

True to his nature, Tom would crave friendship and love, go out and seek it: at church, at his group home recreational functions, even in the Village.  Tom liked to hang out in Greenwich Village, between 6th Avenue and LaGuardia Place, West 4th Street and Houston.  Interesting that he never visited me (I lived a half block away, on Thompson Street between Houston and Prince), but that’s beside the point.  Perhaps he “haunted” these places more than would hang out. . . Carrie and I heard Tommy say he liked to go to Washington Square Park, and to the Back Fence and some other hangouts in the Village (the touristy, NYU village), and he’d make friends there.  I’d scoff to myself -- never to him, not to hurt his feelings -- “friends”!  I’ll bet they let him buy them drinks and talk a blue streak, not making sense necessarily, laughing privately to himself, not able to drink because of the massive doses of antipsychotic medications, Stelazine etc.  Being diabetic, too, made Tom only able to drink diet sodas and the like.

Anyway.  Tom would cultivate friendships for a few weeks or months -- then tear them apart.  He’d go in cycles.  Same with his relationship with his family: we’d be in, then we’d be out.  After a while, I didn’t want to take part in the paranoid “one week in, one week out” game he always played. 

So I stopped talking to him for months, years at a time.  When mom died, Carrie was named co-trustee to a small nestegg of a trust that mom left Tom.  Carrie became his friend, confidante, and bitter enemy when he was on the outs with the universe.  Carrie became my hero, doing something I never thought I could do: love him unconditionally and weather his raging storms.  She is still my hero.

At the funeral home, our sister, Carrie, cried the hardest and longest over him just before they moved the coffin out to go to the funeral service.

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