When I’ve told the story of my brother to people in the past, they don’t know how to respond. This is probably because they can’t even imagine anything so awful and unsettling happening to anyone. I can see the immediate desire to sympathize in their faces, their heads often cocked down, trying to come up with some words of satisfying assurance after being hit with something they can hardly wrap their heads around.
I can hardly wrap my head around it, and I’ve lived it.
Born in Houston, Texas on April 30th, 1979, Daryl Vaughn Lindsey was actually my half-brother, the product of a relationship my mother had with some guy I don’t know and who didn’t stick around for the birth. (I found out this bit of information when I was 11, when I accidentally broke a rented VHS copy of The Couch Trip with my knee and my grandmother was trying to console me. I don’t know how we got to talking about it, either.) He was born both mentally handicapped and autistic. He could never fully talk, often yelling and making sounds that often sounded like words. No matter how old he would get, he would continue to have the mind of a four-year-old.
Whenever my mother had to go somewhere, it was often my job to stay at home with Daryl and keep an eye on him. My only sibling, Daryl was the epitome of unpredictability. Along with being mentally handicapped and autistic, he suffered from intermittent explosive disorder. He would have instant fits of rage – violent, destructive fits of rage. Many things were smashed and destroyed in my family’s homes because of my brother: windows, plates, TV sets. My family and I had to make sure he was never near anything valuable. But we also had to keep an eye on him because we didn’t know where he would wander off to. As he got older, he began to run off on his own. One Monday afternoon in 1991, he fled the school bus he was on and escaped out the back emergency exit, bolting out into the streets. By the time my family found out about this, he was already laying up in the hospital, resting after getting hit by a car and luckily receiving only minor wounds.
When my mother moved to a home the following year with burglar bars on the doors and windows, she thought she had the advantage on her slippery son. But she soon learned how much she underestimated my brother, whose skinny, rubbery frame would find a way to slip through the bars and out into the open air. I remember asking my mother during this time what’s going to happen to my brother when he gets older. She informed me not to worry and that he would probably be living in his own apartment. As much as I wanted to believe that at the time, I knew that wasn’t going to be a possibility.
My mother’s home eventually became a fortress. (It should be noted that I didn’t live with my mother at the time. I lived for most of my life with my grandmother, who lived nearby.) There were keys to every door in the house. There were no windows in Daryl’s room. They were all boarded up. Even though my mother had the keys and my brother was essentially imprisoned in this home, I couldn’t help thinking they were both trapped.
In October of 2005, my mother died of endometrial cancer, a cancer she didn’t let anyone know she had. My mother was intensely private to the point where she didn’t let close relatives know about the dealings of her life. Even though I knew something was going on (the last time I saw her, she lost a lot of weight, which she chalked up to working out and being on a diet), I knew I wasn’t going to get a straight explanation from her. Eventually, I was informed through hospice workers the week before her death that she had cancer, and it was terminal. I flew from Raleigh, where I was working as a film critic and reporter for a daily newspaper, to my mother’s home in Houston the day before she died. Even skinnier than she was the last time I saw her, my mother was on her deathbed, moaning in pain. My brother was in the next room, all locked up, practically oblivious to what was happening to her.
The day she died, paramedics came to put her in a bodybag and wheeled her away. I didn’t let my brother see for himself that our mother was gone.
For four months after that, I took care of my brother, trying my best to feed him, medicate him with all the pills my mother left and find a proper facility that could look after him. Since my job mostly consisted of reviewing films, I had contacts in Houston who would hook up with screenings I attended so I could review the films and send in my pieces via email. I’ll always be grateful to my former employers for letting me do that for so long.
My mother didn’t exactly leave a plan for me in putting this together, so I was basically winging it the whole time. After weeks of talking to different people involved with taking care of mentally handicapped children, I was directed to this mental care facility far on the north side of town. This facility had wide, warehouse-like spaces full of people they took care of during the day, people like Daryl. They also provided housing, as they drove me out to this group home near Houston where Daryl would live after spending the day at the facility.
I was a bit apprehensive. I remember I spent one Saturday night watching Freaks and Geeks on DVD, contemplating just how are these people going to take care of someone me and my entire family could hardly look after. The home I went to didn’t have burglar bars. He could instantly pull a fast one on them.
Nevertheless, I had to go back to Raleigh for my job. So, I reluctantly drove my brother to this facility. I led him by the hand through the door, where the gentleman whose job it was to look after him was ready to take him back to the warehouse space with the others. I let the guy know about all his medications and other sundry matters before I left. I don’t think Daryl even knew what was going on here.
Several days later, I flew back to Raleigh. I did all I could do. Every now and again, I would call the guy and see how my brother was doing. I sent my brother DVD sets of old ‘70s sitcoms on his birthday. (My brother was a big fan of TV and TV theme songs.) When I got back to Houston during the summer, I visited Daryl, who had a room all to himself in the warehouse space. I hung out with him and took a couple a pictures on my cellphone before I left. As I walked to my car, I could hear him calling me and saying his address, wondering if we were heading back to my mother’s house.
One day, in 2009, one month before his 30th birthday, I got an email through Facebook from someone asking if I was the Craig D. Lindsey who had a brother named Daryl. I responded, and was informed that my brother was missing. He apparently slipped out of the group home early one Wednesday morning, oddly going past the people who were supposedly working the night shift at the home. I was later informed this wasn’t the first time he escaped the home. When I tried to contact the guy who I was always talking to about my brother, it turned out he didn’t work there anymore.
When Daryl slipped under our family’s watch, it usually took up to a day to find him. What stretched into one day turned into several weeks, with search parties combing the area near his home and missing fliers posted all over the place. By the time I eventually got back to Houston, my brother was still missing. The facility said they did all they could to find him. Since Daryl was of legal age, they weren’t technically responsible for his whereabouts. They held their own investigation as to what happened, which was documented in a heavily redacted report that was later sent to me. To this day, I don’t know if the person or persons who let my brother slip away were reprimanded or fired.
When I called up a lawyer at the time to see if legal action could be taken against the facility, maybe a case for negligence, they said it would be impossible to prove since, with Daryl being gone, there is no physical evidence of harm or negligence.
Eventually, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years. A few years back, a detective informed that she found a femur bone around Daryl’s home and asked me to take a DNA sample to see if it was a match. The detective reached out to some police in Raleigh (thankfully, the police station was across the street from where I worked) to swab my mouth for a sample. A week or so later, I got the news that the femur didn’t come from my brother. I was both relieved and disappointed. My brother wasn’t dead, but he’s still missing.
In the middle of summer 2012, I got a phone call from a forensic scientist while I was at a pizza parlor. The scientist informed me that they found a skull near a ditch near Daryl’s home. They checked Daryl’s dental records and my DNA and found it was a match. My brother was officially declared dead. They went back and rechecked the femur they found and discovered that it belonged to my brother after all. They also found a rib bone that turned out to be Daryl’s.
I didn’t know what to do at this point. I checked back with lawyers to see if I could sue the facility now, since people who’ve been following the story wanted to see the facility pay for what they did. I consulted with several attorneys – one told me that the statute of limitations may be up for me to file a suit, while another informed me that since I’m not a spouse or a parent, I have no authority to make any sort of suit.
For a while now, several of my colleagues have begged me to write about what happened, but I usually refused. I didn’t feel like trudging this whole ordeal up in print. But my associates said that it might be cathartic for me. Well, I’ve written it, and I don’t feel cathartic. If anything, I’m a bit pissed I have to bring this all up again.
The whole reason this piece you’re reading exists is that an editor friend of mine asked me if I wanted to write a first-person essay piece about my brother for this magazine she works for. Since I was unemployed and broke, I said sure. She asked for a brief pitch of what I was going to write. After I sent her a few paragraphs, she sent me an email the next day saying to forget about the whole thing. Basically, she found the story to be too sad and tragic for her magazine, which recently had a cover story about the best burgers to get in town. She apologized for passing on the piece and even bringing the whole thing up.
Soon after that, I posted the pitch on my Tumblr blog and sent it to a few of my friends (including RogerEbert.com editor-in-chief Matt Zoller Seitz, who was the first to express interest in posting the story) to see if the pitch was actually too depressing to become a story. They all agreed that I should write the story anyway.
I have to admit my editor friend had a point. This is a horrible, hopeless story. My brother is dead, and it’s very likely I’ll never find out what happened. It seems that no one was held accountable for his death and no one will get their comeuppance. There still is no happy ending to this; the funeral home in Houston still hasn’t sent me his remains.
I’ve consulted with several of my past and present editors about this story, and they’ve all given me notes on how to tell it. One felt that I should investigate further into the facility I left my brother with to see if there have been any cases of negligence and wrongful death against them (since investigative reporting was never my strong suit, I didn’t think I would do as thorough a job) while another, who recently wrote about the tragic life and death of his mother, told me I didn’t need to write about how hard it’s been to get this printed, citing that it’s too “inside baseball.”
I was in group therapy not too long ago, and I was discussing this story and how I seemed to be writing it more for other people than myself.
This whole experience has left me emotionally numb. Then again, I always knew my brother would meet a demise that would be tragic. My family and I spent years making sure he was around to see another day, but with my mother and grandmother now gone and me in Raleigh and the rest of my Houston family – I don’t know where the hell they are (as you’ve probably guessed, we were never a close unit), it was only a matter of time before my brother’s days were numbered.
I don’t know what I can tell you at this point. I’m trying my best not to delve into self-pity as I write this. But considering where I am in life – a middle-aged, single, unemployed freelance writer with a dead brother and not a lot of family to speak of (although I am beginning to get acquainted with family members in other parts of the country I didn’t know much about) – it’s quite impossible not to go into full-on, woe-is-me mode.
I wish I could end this on an optimistic note. For 30-or-so years, I had a brother who came into this world with so many things stacked against him. He was unfortunately a burden to many, but this wasn’t his fault. It was simply how he was made. And he met an end that he – or any person, for that matter — didn’t deserve.
I’ll end this the same way I ended my rejected magazine pitch, which is, I believe, the best fitting way I could pay tribute to my dear, departed brother: I only hope my brother is in a better place – because this place wasn’t right for him at all.
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