My Brother thought it would be a good idea to "borrow" Mother's 1973 Vega, for a few weeks...
One of the bizarre stories in my family (and there are many, it gets worse) was the time my Brother decided he had to steal Mom's car.
He had recently flunked out of the Northfield-Mt. Herman school, at age 17, as a Junior, and was smoking pot big time. He was starting to lose his mind at this point, but of course, no one explained that to me at the time - if indeed anyone knew what was going on.
You always look up to a big brother when you are a kid, and when we were younger, it seemed like he was the smarter of the two of us. He was always studying science and math, and had a huge collection of model airplanes that he built from Revelle kits that my parents bought him, hoping he would be an Engineer or Scientist. I remember him and some of the other kids, bringing home slide-rules and building model rockets. He even formed a model-rocket club, and every year, we would shoot off a few dozen of them.
But at the beginning of high school, the trouble started. And the trouble started when my older sister, home from college, thought it would be a cool idea to "mellow out" her younger brothers by introducing them to pot. Overnight, my brother's grades (and mine) went into the toilet. Model airplanes and rockets were out, bongs were in. And my brother found a group of new friends, who didn't hang around with their slide rules.
My parents didn't know what to do. After a couple of brushes with the law, they decided to send him away to a private school. That didn't last a year (nor did it for me) and smoking pot was part of the problem (and the official reason for both of us leaving our respective schools).
Returning to our home town, he was restless. And he decided he wanted to go visit some friends of his from Maine, who he met at the Northfield school. One of them was a "close friend" and he had promised to visit him, and it was, he said, very important to him.
He asked my Mom if he could borrow her yellow 1973 Vega, and at first she seemed receptive. But upon reflection, they decided that maybe letting a 17-year-old, with a spotty track-record of responsibility, go off on a booze and beer-filled jaunt across New England, was a bad idea - at least with her car. Why not take the bus?
By my brother would have none of that. Bus, schmuss, he was taking the car. So, early one morning, as I was getting ready for my paper route, he swiped the car keys, some money, and our can of lawnmower gas, and took Mom's car after I had left for the route.
I had a hard time on the route that day, as I was exhausted. We had been up all night. I had argued with him not to do it. He had told me of the plan, and I told him it was idiotic. What was the point of getting into more trouble now? It would not end well, of course. But for some odd reason, I could see that at age 14, and he could not, at age 17. And many 17-year-olds think along these lines - they don't think about outcomes at all, but rather instant gratification.
Actually, that describes our whole population, doesn't it?
I was, at this point, starting to think that perhaps I was a little smarter than my older brother. And I was thinking that perhaps, he was starting to get a little unhinged. Schizophrenia sets in about this age, and there is some evidence to suggest that marijuana may help the process along. More research may be necessary, but it seems to me there is a causal connection.
So, off he went, and for the next week, I bore the brunt of my parents' fury. Why hadn't I warned them? Where was he going? They wanted a punching bag, and the primary target wasn't around.
He stole gas by going to gas stations and then driving off without paying. My Dad hired a private detective to try to find him. I am not sure that they did. I didn't know where the guy in Maine lived, so I couldn't tell them.
He returned a week or so later, and of course, my parents were furious. But since they had a week to take it out on me, their reaction was a bit subdued. My brother brought back a couple of grainy Polaroids of his trip and his friends in Maine and told me what a great time they had, drinking beer and smoking pot.
But a funny thing happened after that - and even today. My brother never mentioned his "close friend in Maine" ever again. By the next year, he had moved on to even more odious friends locally (including one dishonorably discharged drug-addled 25-year old, who liked hanging around with high school kids to act the big man). But I never heard about his friend. They never called, as far as I know, or wrote or anything. Two years later, it is like it never happened.
It was so important at the time to see this "close friend" - but like most drug friends, once they stopped hanging out together, they pretty much drifted apart. And maybe the trip was not about the friend, but just some form of idiotic teenage rebellion.
What made him do that? I did not understand it at the time and still do not, today. It is just one of a number of really idiotic blunders with predictable outcomes that my brother stumbled into - throughout his life. These were not matters of simple bad luck or a bad break, but things he did intentionally than ended up going very wrong - that even a 14-year-old could see would go very wrong.
And trying to find an explanation for them is futile. It made no more sense than Mother's periodic fugue states or alcoholic binges. It was, just, the onset of adolescent Schizophrenia, a mental condition he would struggle with for the rest of his life. And perhaps one that was hereditary.
I don't know what made me think of this story. At the time, I felt solidarity with him, as he was my brother, and we felt a need to "stick together" against the parental authority. But in retrospect, it was yet another act of selfishness on his part (such as when he would steal my paper route money to buy pot) that ended up leaving me with the short end of the stick.
It has taken 50 years or so, but I have come to realize that mental illness is the ultimate form of selfishness, if you think about it. The mentally ill person is so self-centered and thinks only of his own needs - and views the world only from his point of view. Other people are just wallpaper to them - whether it is my Mother screaming at me in one of her alcoholic rages, or a rampage shooter gunning down people in a movie theater. Others just don't register, with them.
And what I have learned, over the years, is to just walk away from Crazy - as you can't fix it. You have to look after yourself - which is, ironically not being selfish, but an obligation to society. It is a kindness to the world to be a functioning citizen and not impose on others. And it is funny, but many people get this the other way around - falling down when it comes to taking care of their own needs, but running to "rescue" others at every available turn.
I wish my brother had learned to take better care of himself - to be kind to himself - instead of doing one foolish thing after another which would end up causing him - and others - no end of grief.
Maybe there is a lesson there. Maybe it is just a bunch of bad shit that happened. You pick.