Show Up When It Counts

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Most of you reading this will probably recognize me here on the left. This must’ve been around early 2001. If I remember right, I was on one of my first trips back to Louisiana after living about a year in San Francisco. I thought I looked cool as hell with my black hair.

The giant on the right holding the bass guitar was my cousin Colby. He passed away last year from a drug overdose, likely some sort of methamphetamine or bath salts. He was raised by the same crazy grandmother who raised me, except he never got out of Denham Springs, Louisiana. He never really had a chance.

He was a sweet guy, but deeply troubled. When our Maw-Maw (that’s grandma to all you fucking Yankees) yelled at him to “get over here so I can beat your ass” he would shuffle on over and she’d let loose the dogs of war with her wooden spoon. My other cousin and I would run for the hills, but this weirdo would march up and take the beating like a champ. That mean old woman was no joke either, she was country strong and whipped that spoon through the air like she was the Kurgan trying to take heads in Highlander. 

Colby and I weren’t really close as the years got on. He was in and out of jail for various petty crimes. His longest stretch was on account of burning down nine acres of protected forest and a historical home that sat adjacent to it. We never got the full story, but from what we pieced together, he and some friends had been smoking in this old wood house and it caught fire.

During this stretch in prison, he met a female corrections officer and they fell in love. After his release they were married for a time. He called me up one day and we talked about his nuptials. I wish to god I had asked him more about the particulars of their engagement because he must’ve had some serious fucking game to be able to pull any female action in a prison. I never met her, but I did meet his next girlfriend at our Maw-Maw’s funeral.

I was already in town because we knew Maw-Maw wasn’t going to last more than a week. Her untreated cancer spread straight to her brain and she was barely more than a vegetable. It was strange to see such a powerful woman so reduced. She had put Colby through some real sinister shit and he was in and out of the house as she was dying, acting manic, likely not knowing whether to be happy or devastated.  I was in my first year of community college and tried to study for a science exam while he snuck around, probably trying to steal shit from the house. I found my grandmother dead on the third day and we made arrangements to have her buried the next because she already owned the plot and it would help us save on the embalming costs. Her body looked like a tiny scarecrow in her cheap wooden coffin.

I knew she was going to die, but for some reason I didn’t bring anything appropriate for a funeral, so I had to go buy some black clothes from Wal-Mart. I didn’t pull all the tags off. I remember my aunt popping one off my shirt while I was standing by the coffin.

Colby’s new girl looked like she was no stranger to the glass pipe. She brought a couple of friends with her to the funeral. One was a slightly older lady who had become friendly with my grandmother while visiting her own son in prison. I guess Colby and her son were friends inside and ran with the same crowd on the outside. The younger woman turned out to be her daughter. She tried to hook me up with her at the funeral. I was already with my future wife by then, so I declined, but honestly, meeting a crazy girl at a funeral is totally my brand of insane.

That week was a real shit show and Colby was no help at all. He came around each day after the funeral, obviously high. My mom is a card carrying enabler and gave him money for cigarettes and whatever dope was available to the rural punks and juggalos my cousin spent time with.

The funeral was the last time I saw him alive. A few years later he called up and asked what the weather was like in Los Angeles near the beach. I’ve never been anywhere near there, so it was an odd question. I asked him why he wanted to know and he told me, “well, I’m dying and I thought it might be good to go out near the beach where Black Flag used to hang out.” I didn’t press him about why he was dying because he was never quite a fan of the truth. I advised against him coming out to California. I was going through another period of financial uncertainty and had just about had it with the Golden State. I didn’t think he’d make it out West, and he never did.

He did some really heinous, fucked up, evil shit to our family over the years. My other cousin Pud (that’s his nickname, I’m not sure if he’d want to be associated with this blog)  and I were not keen to let him in our lives, but a few months before he passed he called up my cousin and told him how well he was doing and how he’d just like to see him. Pud called me up and we talked for hours about family, redemption, recidivism, and all the crazy shit we lived through.

Our family is legitimately disturbed, not in an “oh, my fam is so crazy” kind of way, like a real deal “how are all these people alive and not in jail” kind of way. Colby was the most extreme example, but we both ended the call leaning towards seeing what our estranged blood kin was up to. I remember being excited that the family might come to some peace after all the hard years. A night or two later Colby was picked up near Pud’s home by the police. We both decided we were done with him. Some people you just can’t save.

Colby found himself in the county jail for a few weeks shortly after we heard from him and when he got out, he went over by a friend’s house. All we know is someone dropped him off at the ER while he was having some sort of seizure. He lasted a few more days on a respirator but his brain was gone from lack of oxygen. His mother made the decision to shut the machines off and his body died choking a few hours later.

I was in New Orleans, an hour away, and I didn’t go to see him at the end. I think about that decision all the time because I believe it was a bad, selfish one. I should’ve been there for my aunt’s sake. I should’ve been there to send his soul off or to offer prayer or something. My life was so close to going like his, but my father (step-father to be technical, but I’m not one for technicalities) brought me home and saved me from a life in a part of the South that’s terrible and always will be.

Don’t get me wrong, Colby wasn’t easy to love. If I told you more about him you’d probably think I was stupid for caring. The way I feel about all this really doesn’t have much to do with him. He’s gone and in a few years no one will even remember he lived. It’s really about what kind of person I am because of it. Not showing up to that hospital room is about the weakest thing I’ve done and I’ll go to my grave regretting it. I hope I never make that kind of chickenshit move again.




1 Comment

  1. A little compassion for yourself might be in order. Many of our feeling and reactions to family members, especially those prone to fucked up behavior, are hard wired. Sure, you can “I should of done this” yourself all the fuck you want, but the God of Compassion, a wily, creative bitch, decides upon final images of family members for us. There’s no use in arguing with her, she’ll make you cry.

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