It always begins… and ends… with my brother. If it wasn’t for him, I would have never escaped a life that was sucking me dry. Our father was relentless and determined that I would become everything that he desired without ever once considering that my wishes were different than his. Only my brother understood… only my brother cared. When he realized that I’d had enough and could take no more, he helped me in the most daring escape that we’d ever planned. If it wasn’t for him, I would have never succeeded. I owe him my life… and now it’s time to pay my marker.
I ran away many times, but I was always found and returned to my father or to school. There was no escape from my father. The laughter was always the hardest part… he’d laugh at my attempts to escape him and never acknowledge that I preferred a life of poverty to being with him. Instead he just laughed and reminded me that I could never escape myself… and that I was so much like him that he’d be with me even from beyond the grave. Let me tell you, for a young man who hates his father that is a curse from which there is no deliverance… but it also gave me the idea of how to escape him.
My brother and I talked many times of how we’d escape the old man and make our own way in the world. Always together… partners… us against our father, us against the world… we were invincible. Only we weren’t invincible and as every attempt to escape him failed, we realized that we were powerless against his control. Until the day that I killed myself… our plan was perfect and my brother sacrificed his own freedom to grant me mine. Even though he hated the old man as much as I did, he actually wanted the attention from him that I tried so hard to escape. He stayed so that I could leave… and helped me to make sure that our father never even thought to look for me.
Life on my own was hard but still satisfying. No matter how tired, hungry or cold I became, I never considered returning home. No turning back… that was our promise to each other. He promised to protect my secret, and I promised to stay away. We spoke briefly of meeting again one day… after the old man was dead and buried… but as the years passed by, I knew it was an empty wish made by boys. The men who replaced those boys would have never risked revealing our secret even after the old man’s death. Each of us had too much to lose and probably nothing to gain. Every year apart was a lifetime, but still I missed my baby brother every single day.
I kept an eye on him, though. It was pretty easy, actually. As the newly crowned heir to our father’s empire, he was eligible and visible. He made a success of himself. It was plain to see that he was happy in our father’s attention and in his choice to stay… just as I was happy in my choice to leave. Everyone got what they wanted… except our father, of course. He deserved every terrible thing that happened to him – may he rot in hell. I do not regret his passing. I only regret that he didn’t suffer more.
I’ve wondered more than once if my brother knew about Zach… if he knew what I did. He wasn’t at the funeral… but then neither was I. However, no one expected me to be there since I’d predeceased him by a decade. When he died in that accident I saw it as my opportunity to rejoin the human race… to become a real person again. I took his name and made a life for myself as someone only my brother would remember. There was no way that our father was going to notice that an old roommate had died… much less link my brother’s old roommate to me. But Michael would know… and if he knew about Zach’s death… then he probably figured out the rest. That is, if he had time to notice anything at all. Because it seemed that my brother’s life was not as idyllic as I’d hoped.
For more than two decades I lived my life without regret and without worrying over anyone’s opinion. Freedom… exhilarating, intoxicating freedom… was mine after a childhood of restriction and imprisonment… a slave to a tyrant’s whims. Then, in a matter of months, it all came crashing down. I watched my brother disintegrate on a public stage. First he was accused of white collar crimes – bribery, extortion, corporate espionage. Things that didn’t entirely surprise me… considering the way the old man operated… except for the fact that he’d been caught. Fortunes were made in my family on the blood, sweat and tears of others… and on the mistakes of others. But our father did not tolerate mistakes… not even from his sons. So instead of being the golden son, he became the scapegoat. That was when the crimes for which Michael was accused turned violent. It started with assault and attempted rape, and then he was accused of accomplishing what he’d attempted… to a young and innocent girl. But was she so innocent? It was her mother and sister who were his biggest accusers. Could she have been persuaded to testify against him so that they could recoup their losses to Michael and our father? Or was there more that wasn’t reported by the media? All I know for sure is that our father abandoned my brother in his time of need and left him to wither and die in that cold and callous town in Pennsylvania.
And what did our father do next? He came to Las Vegas… to my town. Did Michael finally reveal the truth that we’d hidden for so long? When Father rejected him, did he taunt him with our perfect retribution… that the son he had mourned for so long was very much alive? Or was it merely a strange coincidence? All I know for sure is that my father ended up in Las Vegas, in a hospital where I served on the Board of Directors, and he was dying. It certainly felt like it was planned… and that finding me was my father’s objective.
I agonized over what to do. Do I confront him? Show him the proof of our lies? Or do I remain quiet and wait for his next move? After so many years… having lived more of my life away from him than with him… did it really matter what he thought of me or what he did? I was no longer the young man who escaped in such a spectacular fashion. I was a man who had earned my own power and position. I had made myself into someone who could not be manipulated or controlled by anyone, certainly not the tyrant who drove me to escape my life. I had nothing to fear from him, yet I hesitated one moment too long.
By the time I had decided to see him… to confront him with my truth… it was too late. I went to that hospital, I saw him lying in that bed, but he was not alone. A man was with him. I was told that he had saved my father in the desert… but something about that man did not ring true. What I’ve found out since then has only proved my instincts right. He is a con artist and a thief and this was the score of his life… my father… old, infirm and grieving both the son he thought had died and the son he thought had betrayed him. He was looking for a replacement – for me. It was easy to turn around and walk away, which is exactly what I did. But now I’ll never know… did he die grieving the son who had died too young? Or angry with the son who had rejected him so entirely? And why did he leave everything that my brother deserved to this opportunistic stranger?
Despite what our father obviously believed he was capable of, I cannot accept that Michael betrayed me any more than I can believe in the charges against him. If he had broken down in the early years of my exile, I would have understood. No one knows better than I what the old man was like and how hard he was to fight against. To be honest, I was always surprised that no one found me… not that Michael would have known how or where to locate me – our separation had been total. However, all it would have taken was a picture, the offer of a reward, and some well placed articles to see my independence taken from me. That never happened, and I can’t imagine why Michael might have chosen to betray me after so many years.
I will not regret turning away from our father… then or now. I did not want him, and I certainly don’t need his absolution for my choices. If he died knowing my rejection of him was so complete that I gave up my life to escape him… then perhaps he died knowing the enormity of his crimes against me. But I doubt it. Men like that never accept their own failures, and certainly don’t accept their own mortality. He probably died just as arrogant as he was in life… and it was that arrogance that caused him to disinherit my brother. Now, though, I have to find a way to pay my brother back for his sacrifices and to get back what was stolen from him. That in itself will be no small feat since I am still unwilling to reveal myself or my own agenda… but the con artist is no match for my flesh and blood. In the end, the curse will win… either I’ll wrest it away from him, or he’ll succumb just like my father and brother did. There is no option… that innocent child proved it for all time.