With life as short as a half-taken breath, don’t plant anything but Love. – Rumi
At this very moment in time I am at home with an unimaginably agonizing afternoon ahead of me. My dear brother Ross, my baby brother who is now in his fifties, is in ICU on life support after an epic and heroic two year battle with a monster Sarcoma that took over his abdomen and gradually attempted to kill him. He is a fighter, a strong and determined adversary for cancer, and yet after many months of suffering and a successful surgery that filled us with hope he is now on life support. Deadly side effects have been the final determination of his ultimate failing. The decision is to end that support for him this evening.
How do you spend an afternoon like this?
My other brother and sister and I did not grow up with Ross in our lives…he was born to my father’s second wife and we knew Ross only as an adorable baby boy who fleetingly came and went for a window of time in our lives. Then when Ross’s mother and my father were divorced we lost track of Ross and nobody ever acknowledged that we three had lost the fourth – it was overlooked and sadly neglected, during a ridiculously stupid set of circumstances when no one realized he was still our brother. I always felt the loss – all three of us did. No one made any attempts to hold us all together; almost as if they really did not want to.
I don’t remember the year it happened, exactly, but it was probably mid-1995 or so. I was at work sitting at my marketing job desk with internet access and it was a slow day on the computer. I decided to find him if I could. It took just three phone calls and I had his number. So easy. He was emotionally stunned when I called and told him who I was – he said he had always missed us and wanted to have us in his life but had no idea how to find us. He had been about two years old when I had last seen him. WOW! What followed was a reunion of epic proportions that involved Ross flying to Denver to see me and my brother and then another set of circumstances that took Ross and I on a road trip to Scottsdale so that he could meet his long lost other sister. (Ross had a third sister from his mom’s first marriage.) When all this happened it had been a lifetime since I had last seen baby Ross. He was all grown up with three children and a lovely wife, living on the east coast of Florida in the Ft. Lauderdale area.
After that life-changing phone call Ross sent my sister Vicki and I each a dozen roses that said – “For all the birthdays I have missed. Love you, mean it. Ross”
I admire Ross on all fronts. He is a wonderful, adoring husband and father and the most loyal of friends. He is a fine man, one of the best to walk this earth. Of his many noble attributes and his exemplary character traits I choose here and now to celebrate his…..crazy sense of humor…..Ha!
Ross is one of the funniest people I ever met in my life. The Rossiter clan – well – we are story tellers and we have always had enough stories to last a lifetime because we all seem to attract experiences that are outrageous and scary but hysterical in retrospect. It’s that sad/funny thing. You know – the stories where something goes terribly wrong and you are in tears and then the ending turns out to be that sort of spurting, silent-laughing-cannot-make-a-sound-laughing-so-hard-sooo-funny it hurts laughing. We all have this character trait. Every single one of us. Our dad, the common tree from which all we nuts have fallen, was a funny accident waiting to happen, all the damn time. He flew off of galloping horses and broke bones right before my eyes as I rode alongside him on my pony, he fell out of trees hitting limbs on the way down fracturing his back as he landed in a rocky dry creek bed, he was bounced out of careening horse-drawn buggies, he tripped over logs and rocks with the perfect body-roll or face plant of a circus clown and eventually he fell right out of my mother’s life. Looking back and recalling some of his more hellacious accidents for which I was present, which now flow through my memory in slow motion involving danger and blood, well, they still seem like slapstick comedy. Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello type stuff. Dad could tell all of his stories to perfection, recounting one after another after another on the back terrace over a BBQ fire around dusk and into the wee hours.
Ross however took this humor in a slightly different direction, although he was definitely the showman that his father was. Ross loved a good costume party. He liked pulling jokes on people. All of that combined nicely with being a trained chef and wine connoisseur. That man could COOK. He can cook lamb chops to perfection, like an angel. He works for Strauss Foods (grass fed lamb, mostly) and he often did food demos at big food shows around the midwest and the south. He would keep a running commentary going as he seared the meat and artfully presented it for tasting, entertaining the crowds with funny quips and stories. A true Rock Star Chef, a good-looking, charismatic show biz performer whose kitchen help sets everything up for him and he breezes in at the last minute and commands his stage, wows and fascinates the crowd for an hour or so and then leaves. He was a different kind of performer – he was Mr Fabulous Foodie/Stand Up Comedian with a wicked sense of humor that was seldom censored who would serve you delicious food.
A mountain keeps an echo deep inside itself. That is how I hold your voice. – Rumi
I loved it whenever he called me, because I knew that I was going to hear some brilliant and memorable stuff about something or another that was happening to him, and then he would always want to hear what crazy stuff was happening to me. Ask me what is happening to me and you will get a narration complete with sound effects and details and song as if I am the color commentator at a sporting event of some kind. We talked well together. I felt that he truly “got me” and I certainly got him. I spent some of my most hilarious “moments in time” on Planet Earth with my brother Ross. We had a long and winding 24 hour caper together one time when I just flat ran away from a guy I had been seeing for several years, leaving Denver in the darkness of early morning, to move to Arizona where our sister Vicki and her husband Tom lived, awaiting my arrival with a soft place for me to land. Since Ross had just flown into Denver for Part One of our long awaited reunion with my other brother Fred and me, Ross offered to drive the truck for me, full of all my furniture and most cherished possessions, while I led the way in my red Acura to Arizona. Sounded like a great plan to me, a very generous offer, plus Ross wanted to meet his sister Vicki again and use it as an opportunity to see the scenery of the southwest.
Our couple nights in Denver before we left was spent with Fred and his wife Susan mostly in the kitchen watching Ross cook as we all told, and compared, stories of our illustrious family. Ross had arrived lugging a large cooler of all varieties of exotic meats packed in dry ice. As I recall we tasted alligator, lamb, beef, pork and it was all beautifully prepared by our personal chef. We bonded in the stories of our lives and our laughter and our tears. Nothing was sacred – we covered it all. We were all well aware that it was inexcusable to have been apart all the years since Ross was so young. We had been given little information about each other that might have led us to any kind of reunion.
We left under cover of darkness the next morning with a 14+ hour trip ahead of us. Directly south to Albuquerque, hang a right and take it straight into Scottsdale. If you see anything weird, swerve to avoid it. I had made the drive dozens of times. So we set out with me in the lead, but we switched off sometimes so that my new baby brother could be ahead. OH! I forget to mention one detail. Ross had only one good eye – his other eye had been shot out by a kid with a pop gun when he was two years old or less. The other three of us were informed when that accident happened and we could not believe it and were extremely upset by it. Ross grew up with a beautiful convincing glass eye and no one would ever have know if he had chosen not to tell them.
We had no cell phones of course so we had to resort to hand signals out the window or flashing headlights to communicate with each other. That was how we rolled as we leap-frogged our way south and west. By the time we were in New Mexico my snack jar of M&M’s (what was I thinking?) were melted in to a colorful gooey blob of fondue chocolate. Ross was sunburned and and unshaven, hair stiff and spiked straight up from the strong dusty wind coming in the truck window. Ross was a riot – screaming and pointing for me to notice certain bluffs and rock formations – wanting to stop at every roadside stand that displayed coyotes baying at the moon, rubber snakes and lizards for the kids, silver jewelry for Pam and strings of bright red chili peppers. I would see him in my rearview mirror gesturing wildly at me and mouthing “pull over!” “pull over!” “pull over!” as we barreled along at 85 miles per hour. Sometimes I could and sometimes I could not…and if I could not he would go rogue on me and pull over anyway, swerving impulsively off road in this big tilting truck, at the last possible minute into some Indian souvenir stand so I had to make a fast u-turn and head back to him. We laughed so hard at each other. When we stopped at some greasy dump for lunch we talked frankly and long, and I told him my life history with men in a not-so-brief salty and sarcastic nutshell. He told me that he thought the guy – the reason for my escape from Denver – was crazy to let me get away and did not deserve me. I agreed. And I was so gone. A little sad, but funny.
I asked him at one stop how his one good eye was doing, cause both of mine were tired and crusted with red dirt dust, with still a long stretch to go.
“Need a siesta?” I asked.
“Hell no. I’m great! I love this shit! I may only have one eye honey but it’s a muthah fuckah of an eye! It never gets tired! I do better than most two-eyed people do!” And so we continued racing along like bats out of hell.
We arrived in Scottsdale well after dark, not even resembling our former selves. We were red-faced, wind-whipped and sweaty, beat from the incessant heat, stiff and sore but Vicki and Tom revived us and my daughter Kelly was there too. Of course we partied most of the night away as Ross became acquainted with his sister again. That 14-16 hour roadtrip was a great crash course in knowing Ross.
Fast forward to one particular day about a year and a half ago when Ross was in the hospital on one of his 3-day mega doses of chemo, passing time there as it dripped into his system. He called me. We would talk about many things, cabbages and kings, as the walrus said. There was nothing we would shy away from discussing if the mood took us. His illness gave him a burning need, an urgency to discuss life, death, religion, sex, our kids, art, food, jokes, our mom and dad, spirituality and of course the event of dying.
He told me that he would be so fucking bored, with the drip drip dripping and he was supposed to get some exercise every day so he would walk down the hallway, dragging his medical paraphernalia along with him, to the sunny waiting room that looked down on a highway. He would then proceed to press his entire body, nose to ankles, arms widespread and legs apart, a tangle of tubes hanging off of him, against the huge window looking down on the speeding traffic and mouth the words, “HELP ME!” He did it frequently, daily I do believe, and no one ever acknowledged him by honking or altering their direction in even one small waiver from their lane. He thought that was sad. He also thought it was extremely funny. Sad/funny….
And so now we are here. There is nothing to do with a day like this, waiting for the end. It is the most profoundly sad experience I have ever had.
Jo Ann Brown-Scott, Artist and Author
In my second book titled THE CREATIVE EPIPHANY, published in 2008, Ross and I wrote Chapter 14 together titled “Harleys and Old Lace” which touched upon the experience of all of us finding each other again.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. – Rumi