Steve looks rested, has all his teeth and his shirt is immaculate; you would never in a million years think this guy was on welfare. He’s my brother and we meet once a year for my birthday treat at the restaurant of his choice. This year, he’s chosen Olive Garden.
Aside from this splurge, I supplement his upkeep with a monthly check which he demands with the punctuality of a landlord. I’ve paid him thousands in what might be called blood money.
What else can I do? Certainly, no person in his right mind wants to end up like him. According to his caseworker, he’s anti-social. His life has been one long con job though he was shrewd enough to avoid jail by making all his victims those who loved him; people who’d never go to the police.
“You look good,” I tell Steve knowing how important his appearance is to him even at this stage of the game. One of the symptoms of his disorder is narcissism.
“Really?” his shady earnestness is still winsome. Another trait that marks his pathology is charm.
That compliment launches him into his routine diatribe about loneliness and the crushing indignities of subsidized housing. His room is not even equipped to handle air conditioning. In this heat, I can’t help wincing. It’s too painful for me to use the word ‘poverty’ when I tell others about him. ‘He’s living on SSI’ dilutes the brutal reality.
He resorts to a hard sell. “Why can’t I move in with you? A month at the most till I’m on my feet, again?” He’s sixty now. I’ve heard this for ten years, since he went through the last of what my parents left him.
“You can’t move in with us,” I tell him. “Eric would never allow it.” Eric is my husband.
“You have all that space, for God’s sake!” he says accusingly.
“What can I tell you? Eric would leave me. I can’t destroy my marriage.” I hold fast to what Eric told me, once. How a parasite’s overriding instinct is always to devour its host.
We finish our lasagna and I leave the restaurant feeling mainly relieved that I won’t have to see him again for another year.
When I get home, my two cats greet me. Except for them, I live alone. My husband died two years ago, but Steve doesn’t need to know that.