American Pie

On my way out the door to pick up my youngest from softball practice, the phone rang. While I typically check to see who’s on the other end, this time I just quickly picked it up.

It was my brother. Out of jail. Claiming that he’s feeling fine and that there never was a good reason for deputies to arrest him in the first place (forget the concealed weapon they confiscated). Out of money, with no more than $4 in his pocket. Worried about freezing to death since he doesn’t own a coat.

Before I could tell him that he needed to find a shelter, a woman, whose phone Joe was apparently borrowing for his phone call, told him that he needed to hang up. I beat him to it.

It’s hard to describe the pit in my stomach that coincides with news from Joe. He’s sad, and scary, and so damn manipulative.

I have compassion and try to show it freely to the people in my life, like my spouse and kids, my parents, my friends, and especially Edwina, who’s had a raw deal most of her days.

But Joe brings out the skeptic in me, the little girl who gradually figured out that Joe never said or did anything truthful. He always had an agenda, usually one that would hurt somebody.

I locked the door and jumped in the car to head to the softball field.

In an effort to take my mind off the conversation, I turned on the radio and heard the opening lines of American Pie. The song was big when it was released in 1971 and everybody I knew quickly learned the lyrics by heart. Of course, most of us didn’t understand what they meant–the loss of rock and roll in the 50s and early 60s and the feelings of lament that those of the current generation felt–but it didn’t matter.

Joe loved American Pie and the entire album of Don McLean’s more than anybody else I knew. He’d play it over and over. He had figured out (somehow) when different radio stations in the area were going to play the title song and savored the moment when he could change the dial and hear it across the airways even though he could have listened to it right on his own record player whenever he wanted. I guess the song on the radio seemed more spontaneous and real.

Looking back, there are genuinely some moments with my brother that make me smile. They come back to me when a song we used to listen to together comes on the radio or I watch a rerun of a TV show that he and I used to sit down to after we climbed off the school bus. Sometimes it’s something crazy that I hear someone say that I know would have made Joe shake his head and laugh.

Day to day, though, I feel nothing but sadness and hurt when Joe crosses my mind. And that’s the worst memory of all to keep tucked inside.


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