(Right now, I’m focusing on my memoirist work that I’ll call, simply, “Pictures of Tommy” -- mostly about my psychotic brother and his legacy. It touches on my fears, too. Here’s the part that I talk about my experience growing up, and some of the factors contributing to my early teen breakdown. . . This is the painful stuff for me, bad choices, stupid moves. . .)
My brother, Tom, wasn’t much for sunbathing, either -- which was good once they put him on thorazine, stellazine, whatever else. Meds and exposure to sunlight aren’t exactly happy cohabitants. I also don’t know anything about Tom’s dating life, and whether he had girlfriends when he was a teenager. In his twenties, I once saw him with a young hippieish looking woman, with long, blonde, wavy locks and wild eyes. . . but that didn’t last.
Although for the most part uncoordinated, Tom tried his hand at tennis. He’d go across the street, to the parking lot by the St. Anastasia’s rectory, and hit the ball against the wall over and over. I remember the “thwock!” sound of the ball hitting the racket, and the “pong” sound of the ball hitting the wall. Every now and then, when nobody else was there, I’d borrow a racket and some balls and try my hand at hitting the tennis ball against the wall.
It seemed like half the time, a ball would bounce up high and get stuck, up on the roof in a crevice between roof sections of the old rectory building. That was discouraging; it was hard to come across more tennis balls, us being kids who couldn’t easily get to a sports supply shop. Dad or Tom would grab a ladder and climb up to retrieve balls from the roof once in a while. . . it seemed dangerous and comical, at once. I even went up on the ladder, but was scared: I don’t like heights.
We lived in Douglaston, Queens. About two miles away, in the Douglaston manor section of our town, a young tennis player named John McEnroe was burning up the court, so to speak. I don’t think brother Tom ever got over there, though: the Douglaston Club was pretty exclusive, and we were solidly middle class, not upper middle. We were on the wrong side of the boulevard. . . Northern Boulevard.
Actually, our house was within 100 feet of that busy, four-lane road (the only way to get to northern Long Island until the Long Island Expressway was built in the 1930s or so). At night, we could hear the cars rumble by, almost like a lullabye.