It seemed as if everyone had been trying to keep this secret from me for as long as they could. But Samantha was tired of fighting Jacob over whether to tell me or not and had to make the call. It was my worst fears come true. My brother was sick. He was not using drugs again. No matter how many other people I knew that had succumbed to this horrible disease, when it hit your family — when it was your flesh and blood — it was a different story all together. The dreaded virus was attacking my brother and his fight would not be an easy one. His medicines had stopped working and he had been in and out of the hospital a few times. Samantha and Jacob had managed to keep it from everyone except Rachel, but now she needed me to know.
I went to Samantha’s apartment to pick her up and ride down to St. Vincent’s Hospital. Even though they lived on the Upper West Side, Jacob’s doctor was associated with the hospital in the Village and she would constantly take the long subway down. I told her that this time she was worth the cab fare.
“How are you, Sam?” I asked, as we rode downtown.
“We pray,” she said.
“Sam, I want to know about you,” I said. “Don’t give me all the church crap right now.”
She looked into my eyes.
“I’m exhausted. It’s tiring on my body to come down to be with him each time he goes in,” she said. “I have the children. Thank God that Mikey is in school all day, but Ronnie’s preschool is only half a day.”
I felt awful for Samantha. It’s not fair that she was handed this lot in her life, but I didn’t want to pity her, even though she looked tired and fragile herself.
“Please let me help more,” I said. “I can go sit with him. I can pick up the kids. Just call me.”
“Thank you, Noah. I appreciate that,” she said.
“How long have you both known?” I asked.
“I hate telling you this. You are family and we’ve never shared it with you.”
“It’s fine,” I said.
“Four or five years now,” she said.
She had found out right before she had Veronica. The thought of what she had gone through made me extremely sad. I pulled her into my arms. I wanted her to feel safe, if only for a short while of riding down 7th Avenue. We didn’t speak. She just looked out the window, as we passed Madison Square Garden. I wondered if she was thinking about Jacob, or about herself, if there was a life before Jacob that had made her happy?
“My whole life has changed,” she said.
“I’m sure you feel angry and misled by it all,” I said as the cab pulled up and we got out.
“Noah, your brother is not the same man anymore,” she said. “If he says something to you, just go along with it. Dementia has set in, the doctors say.”
“I understand,” I said. “And I won’t hold it against him. Or against you for standing by his side. You are an incredible woman.”
Samantha gave me a huge hug and turned to lead me through the front door of the hospital. We walked to the elevator and took it to his floor. I hated walking those hallways, with its sterile smell and noisy monitors. Sickness, death, endings — it all flooded my mind.
There was my older brother, barely taking up much of the bed, looking weaker than I had ever seen him before. There had always been a frailty to him, but only in his build and demeanor. A misconception, for he had always still been strong. But not now, now the illness was ravaging his body like a coyote feeding on its prey.
He looked like a vampire in his gauntness and paleness. I thought the parallel was strange. A vampire feeds on blood and Jacob had a time bomb running through his blood that could eventually kill anyone that came in contact with it.
“Honey, I’m here with your brother,” Samantha said. “Are you asleep or just resting your eyes?”
Jacob opened his eyes in a slow and deliberate way. “I’m asleep,” he said.
“I see the hospital hasn’t taken your sense of humor,” I said.
“Why are you here?” Jacob screamed. “How did you know? Sam?”
“Don’t blame Sam for anything,” I said. “You think I don’t know when something is wrong with my own brother?”
“The walls are green with spaghetti,” Jacob said.
I caught Samantha’s eyes, which seemed to say go along with it, so I didn’t miss a beat.
“We’ll have to get that cleaned up then,” I said.
Samantha sat on one side of the bed wiping Jacob’s forehead with a wet cloth. I walked to the other side to my brother and put my hand on top of his.
“You have Dad’s hands, bro,” I said.
“Funny. I thought I would have Mama’s,” he said.
Samantha stood and picked up the water jug. “I’m going to go get some more ice water.”
I smiled at her as she walked out of the room. I looked back down at my brother and settled into a chair, sitting right up next to the bed.
“My little Bubba … what am I going to do with you?” Jacob asked.
“With me? I’m not the one in a hospital bed,” I said.
Jacob turned to look out the window.
“What do you think Mama looks like?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure if that was a real question or if it was his dementia.
“I think she’s probably just as beautiful now as she ever was,” I said.
“I think she is sitting next to God,” Jacob said. “Between him and Jesus and holding court.”
I smiled. “That would be Mama all right.”
“I want to see her,” he said.
This made me feel very uneasy.
“You will see her,” I said. “Someday. We both will.”
“My back hurts,” he said.
“It’s called bed sores,” I said. “You’ve been in one spot too long.”
“My finger wants to fall off and walk across the hall,” he said.
His mind was slipping. Is this what would become of the last conversations I would ever get to have with my brother?
“If it does…I’ll go get it and bring it back,” I said.
Jacob started singing.
“She’s 41 and her daddy still calls her baby. All the folks ‘round Brownsville thinks she’s crazy.”