“You’re dead to me.”
It’s an Old English vituperative declaration that you are disowned, never to be seen or heard again.
Why am I writing this painful story today? Because my own brother declared me dead to him more than four decades ago—and I have just learned why.
Here is Michael Corleone speaking to his brother in the 1974 movie, The Godfather, Part II:
Fredo, you're nothing to me now. You're not a brother, you're not a friend. I don't want to know you or what you do. I don't want to see you at the hotels, I don't want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance, so I won't be there. You understand?
My banishment started when my brother, Larry, ten years younger than I, announced his engagement to marry. Our Aunt Sally put together a backyard picnic at her home in Staten Island, NY, so our small family could meet and welcome Larry’s fiancée, Linda.
We were assembled and expectantly waiting, but they did not come. It was at that time that Larry stopped speaking to me. We never spoke again, and I never knew why.
What do you do when you are the one who has been banished by someone you valued?
Spencer said it to Alison in Season 1 of Pretty Little Liars:
It's not whether we will exist without you but whether you will exist without us. And as far as I'm concerned you are dead to me already.
Through the past forty-plus years, Larry forbade his wife from contacting or discussing me. He never told his children—my two nieces and a nephew—that they had an Uncle Peter.
When he died from complications of diabetes a few years ago, his widow phoned me with the news. She and I maintained contact since then, but we never met.
So last week I traveled to Philadelphia, famed “City of Brotherly Love,” to meet for the first time my sister-in-law and nephew.
I met a vibrant woman who resolved the debt Larry had left upon his death, paid off the mortgage on their house, and is now dealing with aortic problems that mandate round-the-clock oxygen support.
And I finally met my brother’s son, Larry Jr., a handsome and gifted young man, and selfless caretaker to his Mom.
I asked Linda for her candid assessment of why my brother had cut me off so long ago. It was an unhealed wound that troubled me always.
She told me without hesitation that Larry, even though talented in his own right, was jealous of me.
That’s what it was all about.
All I could think of was that jealousy caused biblical Cain to murder his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:1-16).
My brother had effectively erased my presence in his life. Not by physical slaying, but in a spiritually devastating way.
The affairs between brothers make for an ancient tale, ranging from the savagery of Cain’s disposal of his sibling to the pleasures of brotherly concord sung in Psalm 132:
How pleasant it is, how good, when brothers dwell together in unity.
Is it too late for Larry and me? Yes. The years my brother and I wasted cannot be recovered. For it’s only when you age side-by-side with someone that an intimacy is attained impossible by any other means.
I do not judge my brother, because I am also guilty for my hand in our failed friendship. I gave up reaching out to him. Not understanding why he had cut me off, I simply ignored him and the wife and children I didn’t know.
The whole sad story is testimony that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s words remain:
We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.
(Image: Marc Chagall’s 1960 lithograph of Cain and Abel in Drawings for the Bible)
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