Posted inEditor's Pick

My Brother, My Self

Katie Prout | Longreads | December 14, 2018 | 6,270 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

My Brother, My Self

Katie Prout tries to untangle the story of her brother’s complicated, life-long battle with alcoholism against the backdrop of her family’s history of addiction.
Illustration by Eric Peterson

Katie Prout | Longreads | December 2018 | 25 minutes (6,270 words)

Every addict is a lawyer and my brother is no exception. On the first winter day that feels like spring, the boys next-door get too rowdy. Beer cans fall to the ground under a faint February sun. Frat boys slur-shout along to Drake and make my thin walls quake. I huff and puff, and I consider putting on my boots and crunching over through the melting snow to tell my neighbors I have a sick kid (“Will you please turn it down?”), but instead I pull my bathrobe tighter and text Hank. I feel like you know about noise complaints, I write.

Huh? he texts back.

I know it’s only 5:30 and a Saturday, but I’m trying to work on my thesis, I have a deadline, the undergrads next door are having a party. I’m about to cut their wires.

It’s not too early to call in a noise complaint, he writes. It just depends on how loud.

I thank Hank and call in my noise complaint, and as the sun goes down I screenshot our text exchange and go back to writing, as I always do, about him.

Every addict is a pharmacist and my brother is no exception. In June, our mother asks for Hank’s take on a new pain medication before allowing our youngest brother, struck by spina bifida in the womb, to be put on it. I am less inclined to take his advice when it comes to my own medication: “Xanax is as bad as a drink,” he says, and perhaps for him, that’s true. Like my mother, I go to Hank for his take on medicine in general, on how various pills may or may not interact with one another, even if I don’t always follow what he says. As an addict, he’s come to know the law, from its loopholes to its nooses, as intimately as he knows how ADHD meds mix with benzos, or how much vodka can steady withdrawal shakes until he can figure out his insurance for the hospital.

Every alcoholic is an addict, but not every alcoholic is taken seriously as such. I think about this every time I refer to Hank as an addict in conversation with others or on the page by myself: I think about this a lot. “Addict,” I say, and the faces of the people I’m speaking to grow still in sympathy; “alcoholic,” I say, and their faces are blank. The word alcoholic doesn’t mean much to them, or maybe it’s that the word alcoholic could mean anything. “I’m basically an alcoholic,” a man said to me once over drinks, laughing, and then frowning when I didn’t laugh too, when I stood up from my barstool and asked him if he was OK. It’s a joke, he said, you should joke more. But words matter to me, and that one matters in particular.

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