There is an old saying that goes “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
But what happens when the link cedes its hold and the entirety of the chain goes tumbling end over end down into the dark abyss?
Monozygotic (“identical”) twins
Comparison of zygote development in monozygotic and dizygotic twins. In the uterus, a majority of monozygotic twins (60–70%) share the same placentabut have separate amniotic sacs. In 18–30% of monozygotic twins each fetus has a separate placenta and a separate amniotic sac. A small number (1–2%) of monozygotic twins share the same placenta and amniotic sac. Fraternal twins each have their own placenta and own amniotic sac.
Monozygotic (MZ) or identical twins occur when a single egg is fertilized to form one zygote (hence, “monozygotic”) which then divides into two separate embryos.
Regarding spontaneous or natural monozygotic twinning, a recent theory posits that monozygotic twins are formed after a blastocyst essentially collapses, splitting the progenitor cells (those that contain the body’s fundamental genetic material) in half, leaving the same genetic material divided in two on opposite sides of the embryo. Eventually, two separate fetuses develop. Spontaneous division of the zygote into two embryos is not considered to be a hereditary trait, but rather a spontaneous or random event.
I was born on April 3, 1966 in Astoria, Queens, New York City, to my loving parents Kitty and Donald .
We lived on 20th Street in Marine Terrace.
My childhood was memorable for playing many street games such as strikebox, marbles, trading baseball cards, catching bees in jars, playing skelly in the street, ringalario, kick the can, kill the carrier, two-hand touch football, tackle football, playground basketball and many, many more street games.
We enjoyed hot summer days by playing in the “johnny pump,” otherwise known as the fire hydrant.
We used to cut off the top of aluminum cans and use them to spray the blasting water rushing out of the johnny pump.
Everyone tried to make their johnny pump spray go as far as they could go; up the building, across the street about 100 feet away.
Admiration was given to the youngsters who could get their spray up to the second floor windows across the street.
The love was not always reciprocated by the apartment owner’s whose windows were being given a free cleaning.
My friends and I always thought it was a good deal.
Marine Terrace was made up of poor to middle class families of all different stripes.
Blacks, whites, hispanics, chinese, indians, greeks, jews, arabs, mulattos, catholics, muslims, and many others of differing nationalities and creeds; all lived in the community.
All the children played together.
Six three-story apartment buildings made up each block; each had five hallways in each building, leading to six to nine apartments in each hallway.
My childhood in New York City was the scene of some of the happiest times in my life.
Little did I know, later on in my teens, it would be the place where the most devastating disappointment in my life would take place.
But as a kid it was a wonderful diverse place to grow up, play and make many long-lasting friends.
Growing up I remember the day the first rap song was ever played on the radio; the Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, and the strange syncopated beat that sounded so groovy alongside the rhyming rhythms of the rappers.
My time as a teenager was the time of: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, The Bee Gees, Billy Idol and George Michael.
The Eagles, Run-DMC, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins, The Beastie Boys, Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, U2 and Mariah Carey.
We spent a youthful teenaged bliss; gallivanting around the neighborhood with local friends, partying and trying to be “cool.”
Feeling as if we owned the whole world; which to us, consisted of the streets of New York City.
There were gangs back then, but they never seemed as outwardly violent as the gangs are now; at least that is my recollection of them.
We went through Mayors: Abe Beame, Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudolph Guliani.
A truly eclectic bunch.
Back then: ‘bad” was good, if you were tagged you had the “cooties”, if you lost a street game you might be subject to “booties up” retribution, everyone wanted to be “cool,” cheap sneakers were “skippys,” anything not “cool” was “whack”, everyone wanted to whip butt like Bruce Lee, be “cool” like The Fonz, The Planet Of The Apes was a must-see and everyone had their own personal “tags,” graffiti names that you gave yourself, even if you never actually spray-painted it anywhere.
Rock tee-shirts were ubiquitous, eight track cassettes still around, walkmans were the rage, cassette tapes used to record your favorite jams, people carried around heavy “boom-boxes” to blast their music, leather jackets with graffiti “pieces” on the back were popular, street corners had telephone booths, dial rotary phones were your only choice, there was no credit cards, computers were said to be the next “big thing for the future”, Atari video games were only found on arcade games in candy stores and pizza shops, betamax video tapes were a new invention to record old movies, the video camera was a milestone technology breakthrough, big yellow telephone books were found beneath everyone’s rotary telephone stand as they contained all private telephone numbers and there was a smaller blue telephone book for business numbers, photo albums were the only way to store cherished memories, cross earrings were a fashion statement, break-dancing and rapping were on the rise especially in the inner cities but also in the suburbs, beepers were another technological breakthrough, rap and heavy metal music was the rage, we used tokens to get on the subway, satellites were being placed up in space, and 3-D movies was a new, though not nearly as effective, movie experience.
Girls wore their hair in bouffants, blacks wore afros, chinos were popular pants, punk rocksters, heavy metalers, and b-boy breakdancers were on the scene, Pro-Keds were the must have sneakers, Eddie Murphy was the hot comic, Polo alligator imprints on your shirt were considered upper crust, Jordache tight jeans blew up, Michael Jackson multi-zippered leather jackets were worn by the brave, while guidos tried prancing around like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
Scooby-Doo, Hong Kong Fuey, Magilla Gorilla, the Bowery Boys, Abbott and Costello, Creature Feature, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Carol Burnett show, Monty Python, Benny Hill, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Baretta and the 4:30 Movie were some of our favorite television shows.
The Gong Show, Candid Camera, Hollywood Squares, Name That Tune, and The Dating Game were some of the memorable game shows.
Still with all that entertainment most of the time kids were outside.
Thank goodness we were always busy as kids; so we never really thought much of the ongoing turmoil between our mother and father as their relationship went from bad to worse.
My father’s daily visits to the bar; his lack of emotional support, combined with his disinclination for conversation at home, only made matters worse.
There were countless mornings where the only conversations that went on when my father was at the breakfast table consisted of the sounds of him eating and the occasional grunts and groans.
A typical conversation with the old man went something like this: “Wow! Pop it really snowed last night.” The news is saying ten inches fell last night.”
“That’s on account of the weather.” Pops would mutter.
“Their talking about a snowstorm next week,” I would venture fearlessly. Knowing all the while I was now riding into enemy territory.
Offering second lines in conversations was seen as taboo around my father.
Especially early in the mornings.
“Yeah,” Pops would offer sounding slightly annoyed as he looked down while chewing on his food.
“Yankees win?” I would then ask waiting to see how long it would take for the kettle to boil.
“Can’t you see I am trying to eat,” Pops would say in a measured tone. Looking up from his plate wild-eyed as if he was wondering why you had not seen the period in his demeanor from the last sentence.
I would silently count the amount of sentences I had gotten to before he could not take the conversation anymore and silently vow to surpass it the following day.
My mother raised my two brothers, sister, and I by herself after I turned 10 years old.
My father was having a tough time getting a job as a construction worker.
He spent the majority of his days commiserating at the local taverns.
My father was like a carbon copy of him.
Except he drank a lot more beer than Archie.
Archie Bunker was a uber-macho, racist, easily agitated working stiff, who would have fit in better in the caveman days.
My father was just like him; down to having his own special recliner, that no one else in the family was expected to sit on.
As kids we used to like to stick our hands down in the recliner; searching for loose change he had dropped in there, as many times he would fall asleep there after work having went through a couple of six-packs.
It was a game of hit-and-miss.
You might find a treasure of loose change or you could get the dreaded snotty hanky.
It all depended on what part of the recliner you put your hand down.
Our friends from our courtyard would visit our apartment sometimes to play with my brother and I
Pops would make a comment about our black and hispanic friends, many times after they had left.
He always waited until after they had left to express his displeasure over our hanging out with them.
Luckily, for my siblings and I, my mother always straightened him out when he made comments about my black and hispanic friends as they were departing our house after a visit.
My mom, Kitty, would always let him have it in front of us; leaving no doubt as to her beliefs that it was wrong for him or anyone in the family to think themselves better than anyone else.
So strong was her convictions that not one of my siblings or I ever picked up his racist ways.
In fact, my older brother, John Reith, married a fine black woman, Deborah, and his son looks like a young Tiger Woods.
My father wasn’t a bad person, per se, he was just raised that way.
To be extremely prejudiced.
It was important for him to maintain the superiority complex he had always known.
Thank goodness for mom raising us in the proper way.
If not for her wisdom in the face of my father’s sharply honed ignorance; my siblings and I would have lost out on meeting so many great friends from all different races.
Lathers are the ones who install the re-bar needed to re-inforce the concrete.
Since construction companies usually get paid immediately after they actually start pouring concrete (the last step in the construction process), the lathers are involved in that very last process: the re-inforcing of the concrete.
Old timers like my Grandfather Francis and his peers, recognized this important fact years ago; and worked together to form a union in solidarity.
Their fortitude against formidable odds greatly raised their wages and benefits across the board, as concrete companies realized that it was bad business to jeopardize the “pour”(concrete pour), and were willing to pay the hard working lathers and meet their fair demands.
Doing a lather’s job is hard work.
Grueling and taxing on mind and body.
Carrying, placing, bending and tying steel takes its toll on the body.
Alcohol and substance abuse is a natural progression for many lathers; as the grinding pace and physical toll of the job demands a release from the constant stress and too many find it in the bottle, or pills, or worse.
My Grandfather Francis,my father, and I were no different.
My father used to brag after he had passed the age of 52 saying, “That’s why I stay away from the whiskey and stick to the beer.”
“Slow but steady.” Steady as in the bar every day.
It was told in the form of dispensing wisdom.
Making reference to his own Father Francis, who died at age 52, greatly in part to his being a heavy whiskey drinker.
“Pops” as he liked to be called; used to jump down from the roof of the apartment complex we lived in, to the third-story fire escape, and pound on our bedroom window after an especially long night at the saloon.
He would always let out a loud, “Shazam”, after we opened our bedroom window, late into the night.
Imitating his favorite comic book character, Captain Marvel; who would morph from the newspaper boy Billy Batson into the caped crusader upon uttering “Shazam.”
My mother Kitty was a tough, outspoken, no nonsense woman born of second generation Irish-Americans.
Her parents, John and Brigitte Kelly, emigrated from Ireland .
John Kelly, as an Irish immigrant, found it extremely difficult to find a job in those days.
He was eventually hired as a porter for Catholic Charities.
He must have been extremely happy to obtain his position and he spent more than twenty years in service to the organization.
Back in those days it was seen as an outrage by the community if a young woman was to become pregnant before marriage.
It was shameful.
Fate would not be kind to John Kelly as his daughter Delia (my mother’s older sister) would eventually become pregnant out of wedlock.
John was so deeply shamed by this blasphemy that he quit his job at Catholic Charities.
He could not bring himself to be around his co-workers once the embarrassing details had leaked out.
He ended up living out the rest of his would be retirement years as a raging alcoholic.
So consumed with shame was he.
We came upon our poor grandmother on many occasions while paying a visit fending off the now out of control alcoholic brute as he protested in stark naked delirium.
On another occasion I was playing with all of my friends in our courtyard.
I could not have been no more than five years old when I heard my grandfather’s voice singing his favorite Irish ditty behind me.
It was a song that I would later find out is called “The Washerwoman.”
A-diddly diddly, Diddly-diddly, Diddly-diddly, Diddly-diddly, Diddly-diddly, Diddly-diddly, Diddly-diddly, Diddly-a-dee!
He would sing it with emphasis to all of his grandkids on his visits to our apartment.
The curiously strong overpowering odor of alcohol was at once inviting to our young brains yet somehow dangerous too as it wafted from his breath.
This time he was singing it in my courtyard and to my friends as he handed out quarters to them.
Completely stark naked.
My mother always told us that John Kelly was a quiet, decent and wonderful father when she was growing up.
I can only imagine her feelings of sorrow as we never met that man.
My grandmother Brigitte was like a saint to our innocent eyes as we bore witness to her neverending travails at the hands of our grandfather.
Yet she never left him and always spoke well of him.
Surely the situation with her parents left an indelible mark upon my mother.
She was not a person to attemp to give short shrift to who would meekly fade into the background.
She was well known around the neighborhood for looking out for her kids; and for hanging her clothes on the “clothesline” (rope tied to rusty 5′ vertical poles), on the three-story apartment complex roof
There from her perch she would keep watch on us while we played with the kids from the neighborhood.
If a fight were to break out between one of my friends and I; my mother would yell down at me , making sure to let me know that she was watching, and if I did not stand up for myself, I would have to face off with her later.
I took a few ass-whippings behind my mother’s tough sentiment; but it taught me how to fight, and defend myself, and I was not bothered too much after that by the neighborhood bullies.
Besides think about all of the tae-kwondo classes I saved on.
Having an identical twin brother did not hurt in that regard, either.
I remember one time a local bully, who was much taller than me, started a fight with me as I headed down the short-cut alleyway to Immaculate Conception Church.
You should have seen the look on his face when my identical twin brother Mark ran up on him as he was commencing to start hitting me.
Together we beat the snot out of that kid.
He was always exceedingly nice to us after that encounter.
My brother Mark and I loved playing all kinds of sports.
We were very skilled in baseball, basketball, and football.
We even played a little street hockey with roller blades.
Mark was an exceptionally good basketball player and we “held”(stayed on the playground basketball court by winning against opponents) the basketball courts many times playing three-man basketball with Mike De La Paz (a heckuva rebounder).
Mark and I were excellent shooters.
Going into our teenaged years it was becoming harder and harder for mom to keep up with the bills.
My father had gone to live with his mom in the Bronx.
My mother used to send my brothers and I to the saloon to meet him and pick up some money.
She woul pre-arrange the meeting by phone whenever she could get a hold of my father.
He always introduced us to his construction worker friends as “the big guys.”
“There goes the big guys.”
We were always embarrassed by this as we were really only normal-sized kids.
Certainly not anywheres near big.
My mother would scold us at times for not bringing home enough money and or stopping to have sodas with my father in the saloon.
I guess you could say it was a thankless job.
There was never much thought in our family as to going to college.
My siblings and I all well knew that my mother needed help.
We needed to get a job.
I decided to enlist in the U.S. Army.
I signed up for a three year active duty stint in the 101st Airborne Division at the ripe old age of 17.
Looking back there was no way I could see the beast coming.
Not coming for me but for the one person who I was closest to in all the world.
Mark. My identical twin brother.
My brother Mark was born fifteen minutes before me.
Everywhere we went people used to fuss over us when we were toddlers.
Especially since my mother used to love to dress us up in the same clothes.
Everyone in our old neighborhood would tell you; that they always saw us playing, and spending time together.
We were as tight as two brothers could be.
Except when we played sports; as my brother and I were both sore losers, and highly competitive.
We did everything together.
We were as close as all identical twins naturally are.
As perfect playmates as any child could hope to find.
Looking exactly like another person.
Growing up side by side with them.
Going to the same schools and having the same menagerie of friends.
Enjoying together our own hobbies like sending our G.I. Joe doll out on a string after our younger sister’s Barbie dolls on a rescue mission, the silent Barbies tossed out by us to the grass, below our third-story bedroom window.
Brandishing the same sense of humor.
Indeed, we shared the very same birth egg.
Hmm, not sure if I like the sound of that too much; I certainly will eschew the scrambled eggs for breakfast now!
All of this will surely lead down the road to a most cherished and fortified bond.
I used to always kid Mark since I was a breach baby; (turned the wrong way in the birth canal) that he must have spun me around on his way out of the birth canal so desperate was he to get away from me.
Imagine his surprise, (or disappointment), when I was placed later in the same crib with him!
Little did I know at the time I used to spring this joke on my brother that it would always be me who was to be the more fortunate one.
Identical twins develop a very strong and intensive bond.
A bond that is as strong; and at times stronger, than the maternal one.
Mark and I could instinctively tell if either one of us would approve or disapprove of new friends we encountered; immediately, as he knew my personality so well, and I his.
There were many times that we were able to finish each others sentences off; before the other would complete the sentence, so completely in tune with each other were we.
Alas my identical twin brother Mark was stricken with a mental illness at around age 18 while I was serving the country in The 101st Airborne Division.
I had enlisted at the ripe old age of 17.
Schizophrenia arrives like a thief in the night robbing its pre-adolescent victims (teenagers) of their very sanity.
The bond that we had spent 18 years of our life building up was gone.
Just like that.
Poof! In an instant.
Like a memory of past good times now assigned into the dustbowl of history.
My dear brother will never be the same again, and I miss our bond tremendously, (we still make the best of what we have).
I believe his struggle and misfortune has surely helped to guide me onto a more empathic viewpoint for others.
My family and I struggled for many years putting my twin brother into one mental hospital after another.
One time he was supposed to be indefinitely admitted to the dreaded state mental institution called Creedmor.
As I drove him there that morning; trying to hold back the tears, I forced some fanciful conversation to abide the lonely trip, and try to forget for a moment its true intentions.
My brother just listened and made some comments not having a clue as to his real destination.
A place that I was doing my best to make sound like a nice place to stay for a vacation even though I would never wish it upon my worst enemy.
I could have never expected his upcoming rejection by the administrators at Creedmor Hospital that fateful day.
A very happy rejection I must say!
He had been deemed by the Creedmor doctors as not needing to be put in the harsh environment there.
The mentally ill patients at Creedmor are among the most violent and worst cases that you will find anywhere.
Many have been incarcerated there for violent crimes they have committed.
Severe crimes inflicted upon others mainly due to the severe mental illnesses they are dealing with.
The merciful pardon that my brother Mark received that day contained in it a rare success against the schizophrenia illness.
Even though it was against a backdrop of even greater suffering.
We celebrated at a McDonalds on the drive home after getting the unexpected good news.
There has been some humorous times as well.
I can never forget the time I called the superintendant of our apartment building on 20th Street in Astoria to fix the toilet as there was something stuck inside of it preventing its use.
On arrival the superintendant explained to me that he would try a snake first.
To try to get out whatever was blocking the toilet.
After unsuccessfully utilizing the snake he proceeded to let me know he would have to get my permission to remove the toilet bowl completely.
If he found something that I had put into the toilet was the cause of its blockage then I would have to pay an extra fee for his extra labor.
I assured him that it could not be from anything I had put in the toilet.
A few minutes later he called me into the bathroom, and showed me what looked like a million pennies that had been thrown into the toilet!
Mark had inexplicably felt an urgent need to throw the pennies, unbeknownst to me, into the toilet.
Why you might ask? Who knows? Mark could not even tell me why.
A few weeks later, the whole scene repeated itself, except for this time, the superintendant shot a knowing glance over at my brother before asking me if I was sure that we had not put anything into the toilet that could cause its blockage.
I replied with a forceful, “No way!”
He proceeded to pull out the biggest ham bone I have ever seen then and ever since in my entire life!
Mark used to regularly duck his head when he passed pictures we had hanging on the wall in our apartment.
He also used to yell at the television.
One time he opened the door of the bathroom as I was using it and walloped me with a haymaker to the jaw.
Furiously yelling about something his voices were telling him that I was saying to him.
Another time he colored our poor dog Sparky’s balls blue.
I wondered why normally happy looking Sparky had been looking glum the last few days until I happened to get a gander at his blue balls while playing with him.
One night, the very first night of my leave (leave is vacation time in the Army) from the U.S. Army; I went in to take a nap and woke up with my brother Mark standing over me with a hammer.
My mother had just seen him and told him to put it down as I was awakening.
This was actually the very first time that I realized that something was seriously wrong with my twin brother.
There were many difficult times trying to deal with my brother’s schizophrenia.
Times of great anguish and hopelessness.
It is funny how in looking back at those first few years when my brother’s illness was at it’s worst, (due in large part to his unwillingness to take his medicine, and his constant smoking habit, both of which, he has now thankfully discarded), I still prefer to remember the more comical times.
Such is the human brain hard-wired to look back with fondness.
I being Mark’s identical twin brother was tasked with the duty of admitting him into the mental hospital when there was no other solutions to be found.
Having held out hope for as long as we possibly could as a family.
Many times we waited too long.
Did not act prudently.
Having a general feeling that he would “snap out of it.”
Yet the illness had consumed far too much of my twin brother’s constitution than we initially ever wanted to recognize.
His situation was always worse than what we wanted to admit.
I admitted my twin brother into different local mental institutions far too many times to count.
It seems like it was at least a thousand times.
In order to have someone admitted in those days I had to tell the emergency room personnel, as well as the psychiatrist, in front of my brother, that he was a danger to his own self.
That he would try to kill himself.
Even though this was not true most of the time it was the only way the psychiatrist would allow for the admittance of my twin brother into the hospital.
He desperately needed to be stabilized; so scarce was the availability of beds for mentally ill patients, that the suicidal testimony was an absolute imperative if the patient was to be admitted.
At times, when I think back on those terrible days, I still feel guilty, even though, ostensibly, I know I was doing the right thing.
It is just hard to forget the look on my brother’s face as I purposely lied in order to secure his admittance.
He never objected or held it against me.
Those days prepared me for the time when I lived with my brother who had schizophrenia and my father who had developed Alzheimer’s.
My mother and sister had moved out of the house as the dual afflictions of my brother and father had become too much to deal with.
Along with my growing drinking problem.
I can’t say that I blame them.
Those were heady days.
I was working the night shift as a yellow taxi-dispatcher.
And drinking alcohol constantly on my days off.
One time that sticks out in my mind was the night of my father’s birthday.
I had bought a few six-packs off beer for us to celebrate.
A friend of mine came over a bit later after I drank a few with my brother and father.
I went into the bedroom to talk to my friend and left my brother and father outside in the kitchen where we had commenced the drinking party.
All of a sudden I heard my brother screaming at the top of his lungs; cursing about things my father had said to him in his voices and he started apologizing to me that he “could not help it.”
I went to the kitchen where I found my father perfectly laid out with his hands stretched out over his head; knocked out cold.
Some birthday present.
I never knew what I would come home to.
My shift ended in the morning and some days I would come home and would see my father and brother combing the streets looking for cigarette butts.
At other times I would hear music blasting a block away and think; “Boy that is playing loud for this time of the morning.”
Only to discover a little while later it was blasting from our open apartment windows at 7 A.M. in the morning!
Occasionally the non-English speaking Italian handyman for our apartment complex used to stop me in the morning.
Invariably as I was coming home from work and start complaining to me in Italian about something.
He would then proceed to walk me up to our apartment beckoning me to follow him.
Him babbling away in Italian and me sheepishly shaking my head in pronounced agreement.
As he led me to the usual destination which was our second story kitchen window and then asked me to look down.
I got used to seeing the mountain full of cigarettes butts strewn all over the bushes.
Assuring him that I would take care of it this time; I would then go frustratingly off to lambast my father and brother.
After getting all of the aggravation off my chest and warning them not to do it again my father would always listen patiently and offer his support.
“It won’t happen again,” he would always say assuredly.
The problem was that he always said that.
Every time I found out about the cigarette butts from the Italian porter.
Which had become almost a weekly ordeal.
The Alzheimer’s that had taken over my father erased the previous memory of the prior instances.
All I could do was shake my head.
Taking care of the two of them for a twenty-something year old kid was too much for me to handle
I have an enormous amount of empathy for all those who are struggling with family members with severe illnesses; and those struggling in general in these hard times.
I know a bit of the hardships you are facing; not in their totality, for nobody can know another’s total dilemma.
Enough to have some understanding and to let you know you are not alone.
I found it hard as a young adult to find anyone to talk to about my brothers situation, for to others, he was just “crazy.”
Most people were under the false assumption that schizophrenia was like the movie, Sybil, which starred Sally Field in the title role, as a woman who had multiple personalities.
Nobody it seemed knew that schizophrenia had nothing to do with multiple personalities and strikes individuals as they are turning from teens into adults.
There was not much the doctors could do back then for schizophrenics as nobody knew what caused schizophrenia.
They still do not know conclusively and all they could do was pump my brother with anti-psychotic drugs to stabilize him.
Mentally ill patients were treated like guinea pigs back then.
Psychiatrists experimented with all kinds of medication to see what worked best.
My mother and I approved Mark to go into a ECT program on the advise of his psychiatrists.
In the ECT program they would zap the mentally ill patient with electricity to the brain.
We were told it would be good to stimulate Mark’s brain and it would help him to have longer periods of stabilization and improve his condition.
We later regretted the decision as Mark ended losing most of his long-term memory.
Much later it was confirmed his memory loss resulted from the ECT treatment program.
We followed the advice of the professionals.
Even though I had made many visits to see my brother during the the numerous times he was admitted to the mental ward at various hospitals and I had seen all kinds of degrees of mental illness from the rigid comatose, to the severely agitated, to the sedated overly calm, I always hated when somebody would refer to Mark as “crazy.”
To me he was my twin brother.
Plus, it is a very disrespectful thing to say to a family member of a person who is afflicted with any mental illness.
It is a word that does not put forth any empathy.
Empathy is like a dirty word in America nowadays.
Everything being all up for competition as it is.
I have been homeless before (I spent three months in the millenial year on the street from September to December) due to undergoing difficult times, and drinking far too much alcohol compensating.
That was an experience that I will never forget; and in many ways, has colored me even to this day.
Being homeless , that is.
In fact, the most spiritual moment of my life happened when I awoke freezing cold, trembling, on an October morning from sleeping on a park bench in New York City, and raced towards the arising eastern sun, desperate to feel its superheated rays, and the remembrance of the warm, soothing energy that coarsed through my whole body.
It was a feeling of satisfaction that was unsurpassed to this day for its total and complete deliverance of heat to both body and soul.
I have partaken in all the merriments of youth that lead down the rosy red path to ruin, and worked on many menial jobs, so lacking in funds was I, for many years, barely able to pay for the rent and to put food on the table while trying to take care of my father and brother.
I even spent a three year stretch of my life, working under my twin brother Mark’s name, as a Local 46 ironworker, or lather as we are known in the construction parlance in New York City (a lather is in charge of all types of construction utilizing re-bar), a rather wayward plot that was initially contrived by my mother to help save my twin brother’s job (he was a 2nd year apprentice when he was hit with the dreaded schizophrenia).
My father, before he was stricken with Alzheimers, was a Local 46 ironworker (along with my grandfather as well), had gotten him into the union.
My father and mother were separated for a long while, since our Junior High School days.
Not knowing what was exactly wrong with my twin brother when he first became schizophrenic; and never suspecting, or as happens to many families, not truly wanting to believe he had come under such a ghastly illness.
A plan was hatched and explained to me at the discharge of my 101st Airborne tour by my mother (For my mother never truly told me the extent of my brother’s illness during my three years enlistment, although she surely knew he was regressing rapidly).
She needed a favor of me, since she needed help in paying the bills, a responsibility my father had abdicated,(which my twin brother had been paying a great proportion of when he was well) and my brother’s job was too good of a spot to give up on.
Would I work under my twin brother’s name (Mark) until such forth the time came (and we naively thought it to be soon) when he could take back over his rightful role as a Local 46 union 2nd year apprentice?
Of course I said “Yes!”
As it was the only appropriate thing to do; seeing as I could not let my dear mother down, and there was the not so quite small matter of paying the bills.
My mother brought my father in on the plan, and since at that time, he had over 30 years in as a Local 46 member, we all thought it a good move to hold my brother’s 2nd year apprentice position in the union, temporarily until he got better.
I was to go along with my father to the union hall the very next day.
He would take care of all of the business of getting me back to work as my twin brother Mark; who not so incidentally because of his schizophrenia had been labeled as a safety hazard, due to his losing his paycheck many times, and wandering on the high risers with nary a clue, endangering his own life as the illness was slowly invading his mind.
Well, my father was always a quiet man, who went to the local saloons everyday, and hardly said a word to anyone, outside, or in the family, when he was home.
But he did have 30+ years as an ironworker, so I expected him to take complete control of the situation once we got to his union hall.
Imagine my surprise when he told me on the way to the subway to the union hall; the very next morning after hatching the plot with my mother and I, that he would point me to his “favorite” delegate so as I could explain the entirety of the situation to him.
So much for fatherly assistance.
And that is exactly what he did when we got to the union hall.
He pointed to the gentleman working behind the glass union office windows and said, “That is Eddie O’Connell, go and talk to him.”
I was flabbergasted to say the least, but not quite surprised at all, at my father’s abdication of his responsibilities
My father had made a history of not paying too much concern to family matters, bunking them up frequently, pissing off mom, and I knew he did not like to make any kind of fuss about anything, or speak up.
I held a lot of anger towards my father for not sticking up for me for years.
I was never able to resolve the situation with my father, after he was hit by a car walking to the supermarket, left there and he had to undergo major brain surgery.
It wasn’t too long after that he developed Alzheimers which was also greatly bought on by his life-long alcohol dependence.
The Alzheimers washed away his whole memory of my working under my twin brother’s name in Local 46 caper and his non-assistance in the matter.
I ended up forgiving him.
That’s life sometimes.
That was just his way.
Just like he would cry openly as he watched old James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart movies.
This fascinated my siblings and I as he would barely talk to anyone in the family normally.
We would kid my father and ask him if he wanted us to get a bucket to put beside his Archie Bunker recliner.
So he could cry into it when he put on the old movies.
I let go of my anger at his dismissal of my dilemma.
You had the sense he felt the whole thing was beneath him anyways.
The plan to try to save my twin brother Mark’s job at Local 46 that is.
I believe he went as far along with it as he did because he was just appeasing my mother by even taking me to the union hall.
As she could be a major thorn in his side.
As well she should be.
Seeing as their were four kids she was raising, for all intents and purposes, financially and emotionally, on her own.
Anyways, the job of trying to keep my twin brother’s job had quickly been left up to me.
A 21 year old kid straight out of the U.S. Army with no personal ties to anyone in Local 46.
Other than my father who had 30+ years in the business,.
But wanted no part of my mother and I’s plan to save my identical twin brother’s job.
When my father and I got to the union hall that day he just pointed towards the big glass window in the union hall’s office and calmly said, “There’s Eddie O’Connel go up and talk to him.”
My father then sat down on the benches where the other local men waited to be called for employment.
I moseyed up to the window wondering what the heck I wa going to say?
I remember thinking quickly as Eddie O’Connell, my father’s favorite delegate, told me in an excited voice, “Mark you look great!”
“Your eyes look so much clearer.”
Referring to the far-off look that my brother Mark now wore daily as do so many of those unfortunate souls tasked with the mask of the mentally ill.
That lost look they all have when hearing voices, confused, and searching for answers.
There was a baseball player during those times, named Jim Eisenreich.
I will never forget him.
Jim Eisenreich could no longer play in the outfield as the crowd noise and excitement had manifested in himself a particular mental illness.
The mental illness caused him, initially, to bow out of his outfield position for the Minnesota Twins.
Due to his overly heightened sensations and fears, that rendered him incapable of playing his position.
His irrational fears of dealing with baseball crowds made headlines in all the newspapers.
That is how I knew of his plight.
Eventually he was diagnosed with an acute mental ilness, given medication, and was able to return again to the national past-time.
I promptly told Mr. O’Connell that I was just like the ballplayer, Jim Eisenreich.
I informed him I had been seen by psychiatrists.
Who after diagnosing my illness dispensed me the proper medications, and just like the Minnesota Twin Jim Eisenreich, I was now ready to return to work.
He sent me to work that very same moment.
There started my three-year odyssey of working under my twin brother’s name Mark.
I took over for Mark as a 2nd year apprentice and made it all the way through the Local 46 apprenticeship training to become a journeyman.
While working tying columns, which is usually done with a bunch of men/women, It would always happen that my co-workers would be surprised at my lack of knowledge for the trade as a 2nd year apprentice.
Most times a worker working somewhere on that very same column I was working on would exclaim, “Mark, what happened it seems you have forgotten everything.”
“When I worked with you on such and such job you knew what was going on?” was the typical conversation.
I would then wait for coffee break and go up and “re-introduce” myself.
When asked what had happened to make me forget so much of what I had knew of the tricks of the trade I had hesitantly blurted out “pneumonia” upon my first encounter with this line of questioning.
I was surprised at how well it was received as it became my staple line and it would many times be greeted with retorts from my fellow construction workers of “Ha! I always told you you needed to dress warmer.”
I would knowingly and assuredly shake my head and agree.
This was how I was able to blend in and regain confidence in “Mark.”
Due too the fact that my brother was not progressing enough to come back to work, nor would he ever be able to again progress enough to ever work again, the quick fix that I or my mother had envisioned never materialized, and our plan morphed into a much more protracted game of what to do now.
Can we go to the union officials and let them know the truth?
Would they be kind enough to transfer the job into my name?
The only one who could pull such a feat off, if it was even possible, was my father, he had 30+ years in the business.
It was our only real chance to finally resolve the situation.
But it would prove to be a futile one.
My meetings with my father, always in his favorite watering holes, the local saloons, in the three years following my taking over of my twin brother’s job at Local 46, trying to get him to assist me in trying to resolve the matter with the union officials, preferably with me taking over my brother’s job, and his job turned over to me, were always ended by my father disappointedly, him eschewing any real discussion on the matter, and always ending them with his rather dismissive throw way line of: “Just keep doing what you are doing kid.”
Ensuring that no attempt would ever be made on his part to clarify the matter with the union officials.
The gentleman delegate Eddie O’Connell, who had been delighted to see “Mark” doing better, and who had sent me right out to work as a result had always took a special delight upon seeing me at union rallies.
He made a point of coming up and asking me how I was doing at these organized protests.
Always with a proud twinkle in his eyes.
During the three years I worked under my twin brother’s name Mr. O’Connel always conveyed to me he through his demeanor and the special attention he paid to me that he felt a special pride in being part of helping out such a tortured young soul and then assisting in his recovery.
He was absolutely flabbergasted when I finally told him the truth of the matter.
Around a year and a half later after our initial meeting.
AfterI had tried and failed to get any assistance from my father.
To intervene on “Mark’s” and my behalf.
I eventually arranging a meeting with Mr. O’Connell.
Informing him that I was not actually Mark; that I was in fact his twin brother, and of the plan my mother and I had hatched to save my brother’s job .
I explained to him as best I could how my identical twin bother had been swallowed whole by the person robber, schizophrenia, while he was a 2nd year apprentice, and was incapable of ever working again, much less be able to come back as an ironworker (lather).
I apologized to Mr. O’Connel and explained to him that we were a third generation ironworker’s family; and could not bear to lose my brother’s union book, especially since it was my brother through his Metal Lather’s job that had been paying a majority of the bills and jobs were just as scarce back then as they are now.
He wore a confused look of astonishment.
Mr. O’Connell was absolutely floored.
He stared at me for a few minutes composing himself.
Finally, he said to me, “If it was my twin brother I would probably have done the same thing under the circumstances.”
I have always appreciated his sentiment and his understanding of our families dilemma.
In the end he explained that there was nothing he could do to rectify the situation, and basically all that was left, was to keep doing what I was doing.
There was no way he could give my brother’s book to me, he explained.
We had different social security numbers and the union hall was having problems then with the government.
Having been sued by some of its minority members. (Local 46 had been a predominantly Irish father-son union up until the 1980s, the only way to get into the union was if you were related or knew one of its members who were all Irish-Americans).
Nowadays, that has changed as the apprenticeship openings, “picks” as they are known in the business, no longer just go to union members children, or their friends.
The process has been opened up for everyone (as it should be) of all nationalities, due to the federal government stepping in, and directing the more open enrollment program for apprentices.
Some members have told me after the fact that many union delegates routinely get their family, friends, and acquaintances union books.
That my brother’s book, once surrendered was probably used for this purpose.
I do not know if this is true or not, and I will probably never know.
I’ll leave that one up to the gods to decipher.
I know that Mr. Eddie O’Connell was a decent man.
I believe he had mine and my family’s best interests at heart.
As to whether he could have gotten the book changed into my name; I choose to believe it was not possible and he would have if he could have.
He was a good man, Mr. Eddie O’Connell, who decided his only option now left to help me was in his tacit silence of the truth.
He looking the other way of my working under my brother’s name after I had told him the truth enabled me to continue helping out my mother in the upkeep of the family business.
I worked for another year and a half as a Local 46 member working under my brother’s name.
Making it from a 2nd year apprentice, all the way to a journeyman.
I would eventually have to undergo another apprenticeship, ten years later, when I finally got into Local 46 under my own name.
One of the few persons, I believe, to have ever undergone two apprenticeships for the same Local 46 union?
Or any other union, for that matter!
Finally, I gave up on idea of the job ever being handed over to me.
My brother’s situation becoming clearly hopeless, as far as coming back to work, as a Local 46 member, or anywhere else.
With my mother’s prodding, as she needed to get my brother going on his disability payments, I went back to the union hall to confont once again the union officials with the truth.
I went to see the President of the Local 46 at the time.
A man by the name of John Williams.
I told him outside the bustling city sidewalks outside the union hall on 76th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan the whole story of my brother’s illness and our plan to try to save his job.
By having me, his identical twin brother, work under his name until the time he was well enough to return to work.
Which was sadly now impossible due to the ravages of the disease on his mind inflicted by the illness schizophrenia.
Mr. Williams explained to me that I would have to give up the gig and they would close out my brother’s union book.
Thus ended the three-year caper of my working under my twin brother’s name as a Local 46 ironworker(lather).
I tell my story to illustrate that there are a million such stories out there in the naked city.
Some of you have stories that would put my story to shame!
The point is that there are many unseen and difficult hardships that we all bear.
Yet these particular problems bear an even greater mendacity when they are visited upon persons of meager means, or broken families, who may live in treacherous environments, where the means of escape are few and far between.
What adventures we must undertake just to ensure a decent mode of living for our families.
There was no way we could let my brother lose that job.
It was too good of a job and there was nothing else even close to it on the horizon at that time.
It was the only thing that afforded my mother any sense of security.
Raising four kids on her own basically as she was.
I still chuckle at times thinking back on all of the ironworkers (lathers) who had worked previously with my twin brother Mark during his two years working as a Lather before he became schizophrenic who had absolutely no idea that I was not Mark but his identical twin brother.
Even though Mark was left-handed and I am right-handed.
Such was the identicalness of our looks and nature.
There would be other hardships to bare.
My wife Eva suffered a major stroke at the Sunday breakfast table.
Thank goodness I was there as I was able to rush her to the hospital.
She was paralyzed completely on her left side immediately afterwards.
This after spending a few days in the emergency room on touch and go status.
The doctors letting me know that due to the enormous pressure building on her brain that I would soon have to make a decision as to my wife undergoing major brain surgery.
And that she might not make it.
Thankfully she pulled through with the help of a new medicine that was administered to her by a Russian doctor who had assured me that it would work.
He was right.
My wife’s painful rehabilitation finally saw some results at the ever so slight movement of her toes 3 months later.
It would take six months for the faintest of movements in her fingers.
The physical therapy she underwent was for me like watching an Olympic weightlifter go for the gold medal.
Such was the force she exhibited trying to get her extremities to move again.
Our first son was born mere months ago and our daughter was a year older than him.
I kept a constant schedule of work, then to the hospital with the children, and then back home again.
We were fortunate to find affordable baby-sitters and house cleaners to help out with the household chores.
My beloved wife was very fortunate in that she recovered all of her movement in her left side that was lost after months of grueling physical therapy.
The brain cells lost to a stroke never recover.
My wife’s indomitable will to regain the movement of her extremities was a deeply moving experience.
I believe it speaks to the unadorned grit that lies beneath many women’s feminine exteriors.
My mother and grandmother had exhibited the same sort of incalculable willpower just under different circumstances.
Ten years later I was able to get back into the union.
After being employed in many low-paying jobs throughout the intervening years.
I have worked on many high-rises, water treatment plants and other assorted big projects, like the World Trade Center Memorial Museum.
Of which I felt especially honored to be a part of the rebuilding process after 9/11 in New York City.
I am now a college student in New York City School Of Technology seeking to earn my Bachelor’s Degree in Construction Management Technology.
I started The Appeal because I became aware of the economic destruction The Free Market Frankenstein Monster was wreaking on ordinary American families throughout the nation.
The savage economic inequalities that were being visited upon all throughout the lands.
The cruel and unusual disdain that our politicians show for those who are struggling in the “culture of competition.”
At The Appeal, we seek to educate and raise awareness of these
profoundly immoral economic policies by building a rising class
consciousness, of rightful indignation, against the class war
being waged upon working people, the poor, the elderly,
veterans, students, single mothers, schools and teachers, and
anyone else that finds themselves economically disadvantaged in
the “profits over people,” fundamentalist hyper capitalist,
Plutocrat and Corporatist’s dream society that the United States has constructed since the Reagan years.
An economic situation and policies where the most important
tenet in life is the accumulation of profits.
I am a married father of two beautiful children, Catherine Cecilia and Donald Benjamin, and am eternally grateful to my beautiful and supportive wife Eva Cecilia.
I also write for my Facebook Page “viewspaper” called The Appeal as an activist firmly in the hopes of creating a grassroots citizen’s movement to fight back against the forces of plutocracy and corporatism, and reversing the scourge of income inequality that has been created by The Free Market Frankenstein Monster.
I would be honored to have you join us on the frontlines.
I also have written my own poem book called D Ditty’s Poems So Witty.
By promoting our message of empowering the citizenry to fight
back against the monied interests of plutocracy, corporatism,
and consumerism we endeavor to eviscerate and evict The Free
Market Frankenstein Monster from the now immoral lands, and
reverse the scourge of inequality coarsing throughout the
economic lifelines of struggling ordinary citizens blinded in the
dark cloaks of consumerism and bring back the return to the
ideals of a true democracy.
For the people and of the people, and
a path forward to a more fairer, egalitarian and equitable American Dream.
Join us and help us make The Appeal!