I was just thinking. If Dale was still here and was able to open up a business on the islands, it would have been destroyed. That would just be the exclamation point of his business decisions...Just saying.
Our older brother, Dale, whose 64th birthday is next week, will have been dead two years come this October. At the time of his death, Dale was underwater and delinquent on two mortgages (his residence and a rental property that I have written about before) and owed tens of thousands of dollars on overdue credit accounts, utilities, and my parents. Along the way, he had depleted every retirement account he had—not that he had huge sums in them—presumably feeling the tax hit was worth getting the cash.
It was the sort of debt that at 62 he would never climb out of, what with the real estate market soured and his only real income being hard-earned as a car mechanic.
But Dale had a plan, along with several others. Now whether he or the others or he and the others came up with it is immaterial. The plan was to turn his back on his mountain of debt and the creditors dunning him, and move to St. John Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands to open a bar along with those others. They had found a willing investor and Dale no doubt saw himself living a worry free, cheap Island life.
Ans while our brother had a string of business busts dating back some 30 years, he at least had the right personality for that line of work. Dale was funny, congenial, and a good listener. No wonder he was so angry whenever anyone mentioned the gravity of his situation (Stage 4 metastasized lung cancer). His dream was just right over there, just a plane hop away.
So when I got the text from Mark, I texted back: Word. The final act of the play.
Mark agreed: Yep, the curtain came down.
Without looking at a computer, I figured St. John Island was hit hard by Irma. After supper, I went online to find out. Words like "devastated" popped up immediately.
Mark was right. Had our brother made his escape, and assuming he'd been able to pull off the bar dream (and actually keep it a viable business), it would have come to a crashing end with Irma.
All that came to mind was Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and that magnificent Requiem at the end. What was our older brother but a later version of Willy Loman, chasing a tired dream and coming up short?
In the end, our brother's estate was insolvent and messy. I resented the toll it took my my brother Mark, the executor, who saw it through to the end. It was Mark who got stuck tracking down all the debt, the scant handful of assets (old—not vintage—vehicles, small change in bank accounts, some furniture). Every get-rich plan and every get-rich scheme, because Dale had both, had come to naught.
Over the last several months, I have been thinking about our family trajectory and narratives. Dad came out of harsh Appalachian poverty; my mom came from a working class poor family. It was our dad who broke the poverty cycle by becoming a skilled machinist. And so I scratch my head at my brother, a skilled mechanic in his own right, searching for Easy Street, hoping for a golden ticket when he unwrapped the chocolate bar.
In the end, it didn't make any difference. Dale is almost two years gone and the bar dream died with him, rather than getting flattened on a hurricane-ravaged island. He got out from under his mountain the debt by dying, not by skipping off.
There is nothing funny about the destruction of Hurricane Irma. Nor was there anything funny about the mess my brother left or the fact that he was willing to walk away from the mess without taking responsibility. But as Mark and I went back and forth, he texted me this:
I could picture him thinking, well I got one over on everyone I owe money. In my mind he is saying that as he is hanging onto a flagpole with his feet straight out behind him.
And that is funny.