I remember when I first learned of my special powers, finally it all began to make sense. Invisible! I was invisible! Not all the time, but yes that explained it, I had the power of invisibility. Seven years old and I finally understood – they were not ignoring me, they were not forgetting me, or even neglecting me. I just was not visible through the turmoil of life that surrounded me.
In our family there was me, Timothy, the youngest son gifted with the power of invisibility or cursed depending on how you look at it. Next was Sean who had a disease called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, then there was Kevin who had the complete opposite of what I had, he was visible and apparently my parents saw him and what he was up to even when he wasn’t up to anything. The last and oldest of the boys was Mike, who also had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a disease which I knew very little about. We also had another brother Patrick, who was in between Mike and Kevin, but he died in a tragic accident when he was about 16 months old in 1958. There was my mother Margaret who was busy being a caretaker to my brothers and my father Francis who was always working hard at building the family empire, and last but not least there was my dog Misty, a Labrador Retriever whose only enemy was the neighborhood cat population.
In the beginning my invisibility was empowering and even handy at times. I realized that other than Misty who was sixty pounds of black fur attached to a tail that operated somewhat like the propeller of a small plane, there was only one person who seemed to see me no matter the situation and that was my brother Mike who was eight years older than me and my contact to the world of the visible. Mike would spend hours entertaining me with stories and prophesies of things to come and he did all these amazing things from a bed tucked away in a small bedroom full of gizmos and wonders only we could understand. Mike talked to me and included me in his world, I would be his arms and he would be my contact to reality as a visible being. As with all things there must be an end and the end did come.
I was eight when I fell off the deathtrap out on the school playground that we called the monkey bars. I had to go to the hospital to get stitches. Mind you, this was not my first rodeo when it came to minor head injuries. To my surprise a family friend picked me up and took me to the ER with little explanation other than my mother was busy with Mike who also had to go to the hospital. I knew Mike was sick, that is why he lived in a bed and rarely went anywhere. I had asked to see Mike when I was done getting stitched up and received a hard and fast no. It was not until the next day when I got up thinking school would be a kick with the cred of having survived yet another injury on the playground that I noticed my mom was home. I ran to Mike’s room to show off my wounds and there was no Mike, but Misty was there laying under his bed so I showed her my noggin and let her do her thing…sniff, sniff and a wet tongue to the face. I went to ask where Mike was but there was no response from Mom. Dad was away on a trip and there was some hubbub going on trying to get him back from wherever he was. What was going on? What was happening? I hated being invisible, I just hated it! The silence in the house was deafening so I asked Sean who was still in his bed what was going on, where was Mike? With what I now know was fear in his eyes he replied that he didn’t know. When I tried to ask Kevin, he just said “You’re not going to school today” and went on about the business of keeping out of the line of fire.
Later that day some family friends came over and met with my mom. They all spoke in hushed tones and acted mysterious and then my mother announced that Mike was not coming home and that was that, no explanation, no talking, just “Mike is not coming home.” What? What did she mean not coming home? Kevin told me to go play with Sean and to stop asking questions. What was wrong with these people? Had they all been body snatched or had they gone insane? Play with Sean? Play what? Where was Mike? Where was my connection to life as I knew it? What had they done with him? Why wouldn’t anyone talk to me? I was real, I was right there wishing someone would please tell me where Mike was! Later I heard someone tell my mom that they were sorry for her loss. Loss? She lost Mike? How could she lose him? And then someone said dead, Mike was dead! I did not understand and no one would tell me anything and when I tried to ask, I was told not to talk about him, that he was gone and there you have it he was gone, and we were not to speak his name.
My father cleared out Mike’s stuff and cleaned out his room. I was able to grab a Matchbox car and a model of a bird that had hung from the ceiling of his room on a spring that gave it the appearance of being in flight. I hid the stolen treasures in my room along with a pillow from his bed that still smelled like him. Life carried on like nothing had happened and I was confused and at a loss. Mike had been erased from almost every aspect of our lives. In the days to come I missed Mike so much. I would hide behind the shed in our back yard and cry alone in secret, afraid and ashamed. I came to understand that Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy was hopeless and that there was no cure, no reprieve, no hope, and no future.
Life carried on – me with my invisibility, Sean with his anger and fear, Kevin in his avoidance of the wrath of the all-seeing eyes, my father in his usual absentee, workaholic nature and of course, my mother in her misery and martyrdom of motherhood.
One day when I was about nine Sean and I were in the garage playing and by playing, I mean Sean was teaching me a few choice curse words and I had a revelation that Sean was going to die just like Mike and I got scared and then sad. I hated that I was so powerless and that our life was so unfair. I wondered if I were good enough, strong enough or did enough could I change it? Could I protect Sean in a way I was unable to protect Mike?
Kevin was gone! Oh no, not Kevin! Was he dead now too? My parents huddled in the same manner and acted as if any questions on the matter of Kevin’s sudden absence were an inconvenience. Kevin and I were not close, and he had his battle with visibility, so I really did not know what to say or how to feel. Sean told me he had escaped and not to worry about him.
Sean and I became inseparable from that day forward. I became Sean’s extension to life. I pushed him in his wheelchair up and down our street. We would spend time together with other kids on the block and play with the gang. When we had to get Sean’s chair out to a fort that we had built in the woods, the other kids would help so I wouldn’t dump Sean out of his chair. I’m not saying we never dropped him, but he was tougher than you would imagine. Oh, he would cuss and call us dirty bastards and assholes. That was just Sean’s way. He sure did have a mouth on him, but he was always up for an adventure. Life went on, we were partners in crime, two peas in a pod, double-trouble. That was Sean and me and even though back in those days we were separated during school because Sean went to a special school with other kids in wheelchairs and I went to a school in the neighborhood, after school we would not miss a beat, and off we would go on another adventure. Then Sean started having trouble breathing and couldn’t stay in his chair very long before having to lay down. At first, we still got to go out and if he got wore out the gang and I would get him out of the chair and lay him in the grass where ever we were. He would tell me not to tell Mom because she would get mad. It got to the point where he had to have a breathing machine and a tube up his nose that we would push a paste food goop stuff up with a big syringe. Sean was getting worse every day.
Every Sunday morning like clockwork my dad would send me to the Mr. M’s convenience store up on the corner for a newspaper. One Sunday as I was riding my bike up to the store a guy with long hair like David Cassidy in the Partridge Family was walking along the street. When I got back to the house he was standing across the street and as I rode up, he yelled “Tim!” I was surprised by this guy who knew my name and a little leery as he called out again and said “It’s me, Kevin.” I froze because for several years in my mind and heart I had wished for and thought that Mike would come back and when he never did, I gave up hope, so the surprise that this long-haired guy was Kevin hit me like a ton of bricks and as I got closer I realized under all the 70’s cool with the hair and bellbottom jeans was my brother Kevin. Kevin was home. I figured it was best not to ask questions and to just be happy that he was back. Maybe there was some hope for us after all. Later I realized he came home for Sean, not for any other reason, just to see Sean and at the time I did not really understand.
We were all going to have Christmas together. Sean and I were laying on the floor in the living room one evening after my mom had turned all the Christmas lights on. We were laying there looking up through a coffee table with a crystal glass top that made the lights on the tree look psychedelic cool. We were talking about what we thought was under the tree for us, planning the future when he began to cry. It scared me. I was going to be 12 in January, and he was going to be 14 in March and in that moment we both knew that there was no future. I hated him for ruining it, for stealing the dream and killing the future before it was even dead. On May 26th, 1976 the dream was gone along with Sean.
I remember going into Sean’s room the day after he was buried and making the decision to never care again, to never let anything or anyone get close enough to know me, hurt me, leave me, care about me, or love me and not long after Sean was buried, Kevin was gone again this time for good, followed by my father not too long after that. To add insult to injury, Misty had also died.
There we were, Mom miserable and me at fault for not being everything she missed about the life she thought she should have had, so not long after that I too was gone, opting to sleep on a chaise lounge at an apartment complex pool rather than go home to face the misery.
I quit going to school and started smoking weed and drinking to the point of blackout. I soon found Meth or what we called Crank back in those days and by the time I was fifteen I was shooting crank and living on the streets or couch surfing and hiding out in other teenager’s rooms, getting high. I realized I could profit from this and began selling as much Crank as I could get my hands on. Before too long I was selling blotter acid, weed, pills and no matter how much money I would make and how much of my own stash I would consume I was still so lost and empty inside. I hated everything, I hated everyone, and I hated myself. I felt guilty and couldn’t understand why.
I had a few people around me that genuinely seemed to care about me and were concerned about the destructive nature of my life. I was shooting Tuinal (a sedative/hypnotic also called Christmas Trees because of their color) and blacking out for days at a time when I discovered Chiva (Black Tar Heroin) and that was it, the thing that seemed to make life better and for a time I spent my days in a happy delirium. I would cheat, steal, lie and verbally abuse those around me. I would drift through people’s lives like a hurricane destroying everything about them before I moved on to another victim.
I began to realize that as a person I would never find any success, but instead of changing my life and the way I treated others I changed my tact and the way I presented myself. I began to use the talents I had learned as a kid dealing drugs on the streets. I was selling a lie and pretending to care about the thoughts and feelings of others and in short order found that I could manipulate my way into the mainstream and even found my calling as a high-pressure salesman. I couldn’t function and continue to shoot heroin. I finally gave in and decided to go to rehab. I played it through just long enough to kick heroin. I was still drinking, smoking weed, taking pills, and occasionally chipping heroin on the weekends. I finished school with the help of some people I met along the way. I got married and had my first child. I never grasped the underlying issues of my addiction or the thought process errors I secretly lived by, so I would fail time and time again, cause some more destruction and move on. Same pattern, same destruction. I failed as a husband and as a father on multiple occasions, treating others as if they were disposable and abusing everyone I came in contact with, the whole time selling the lie of my ability to play by the rules.
I was able to keep a job long term as a salesman only because I was a closer, a real earner, and the bottom line was more important than the hassle of employing me even when my boss would have to bail me out of jail at four in the morning. Every time it was always the same thing, him telling me to go take a shower and get straightened out. He would tell me to cut the BS, because he thought I was better than all that. He may have really believed what he was saying, but all I could think was “What a sucker!” and off I would go to the next major catastrophe. My life got so bad that after twelve years at the same job he finally got tired and that was that. I bummed around and continued to wreak havoc at every turn. I spent time in state jail for a minor possession charge and a DWI and still did not get it. When I got out, I couldn’t get a job and had settled for work selling carwashes and detail services at an upscale carwash. I excelled just long enough to do something else in a drug and alcohol induced blackout to get myself fired. My life was out of control and no matter what anyone said or did to try and help me I would in turn do or say something horrible to prove it was a waste of their time.
I collected DWI’s along with an assortment of other violent and drug related crimes the same way a kid collects baseball cards. I ended up in prison on a probation violation from an earlier assault and my seventh DWI. I served eight years of a 12-year sentence in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, during which time my mother and father died, my children understandably cut all ties with me, and I became just another number. As you can imagine the process of prison is filled with tests, psychological among others, to categorize you and identify any underlying reasons for your past criminality and incarceration. Of course, I treated the whole thing as a joke and lied my way through a bigger part of the process only to be told that I was an A-type Sociopath and that my prior criminal history along with my antisocial behavior was proof that I had no empathy or remorse. Inside, deep down I knew this was untrue.
After my father died, I got a visit in prison from my brother Kevin and Catherine, his new wife-to-be who I was meeting for the first time. Now to say it was a stressful visit would be an understatement. I felt ashamed of who I was and what I had become. I was filled with fear and anxiety over seeing them, yet this visit was the best thing that had happened in my life in 30 years not because of the family contact, free world snacks, or the idle chatter between us, but because I had to stop and look at myself and evaluate why I felt this way, who cares, and why care? I had spent a lifetime not caring, destroying and abusing everything and everyone within my circle. I had not thought of the why in so long that I had forgotten why I was so angry. I had forgotten the reason for the pain. I had not really reflected on the day I made the decision to leave polite society in so long that as I did begin to look back, I saw the events of my youth in a new light.
I had not understood as a child that my invisibility was not my own, it was ours, my whole family’s invisibility. How can you be on the outside looking into our situation and truly see us for who we were, what we were? My mother had a hard life, a hard job being the mother to two terminally ill children and losing a toddler to a tragic accident. My father was at a complete loss of control, when control was his business. My brother Kevin was dealing with his own issues while attempting to live up to an impossible expectation, while Mike and Sean never had a choice in the outcome of their lives. And then there was me being a seven-year-old child caught up in the abnormalities of our life, which I took to be normal in my seven-year-old world. How could anyone truly see us for what we were – a family in need crushed by a disease no one could be blamed for or even explain.
I may not have been rehabilitated in TDCJ, although I did wake up from a nightmare that I had created for myself in the bedroom of my dead brother forty years earlier. When I woke, I realized how scared I was and that guilt, fear of loss and loneliness is what fueled my rage as a child. I know that fear is not real and that I created my own loneliness as well as my own happiness. That is not to say life’s ups and downs are not a reality, it’s just so much easier to see life for what it is when the darkness has gone and taken the nightmares with it. Addiction seems to be a family affair for us. I hear the phrase “living life on life’s terms” and think of the question that has been asked so many times – is addiction genetic, learned, environmental or is it that I was just too young to understand the terms? Who knows? One thing I do know is that believing in a God who can control all the things I never could even though on occasion I still just don’t get him and having a family that cares and understands my nightmares and darkness makes it easier to lay my head down at night and sleep easy knowing that when I wake, I can just be me. I don’t have to feel guilt or live with shame. I can face any storm and never have to hide behind the shed in fear and shame to cry alone again.
by Tim Hyland, 28 October 2021
One thought on “On Life’s Terms”
Thank you for your touching life story. I didn’t know any of the details about your painful life, being invisible, loosing Mike, living with Sean who knew his fate would be the same as Mikes.
Bud was silent and closed off in so many ways. I loved his humor, and prodigious intelligence.
I never got close to his pain, only with his way of coping. I regret all the damage he did to you and Kevin by not dealing with his own sorrow.
I’m glad you are making such a good life for yourself, as is Kevin. We all trust in redemption, be it religious or secular.
Love to you,