When the family business treats you poorly and your damaged, homophobic brother is your boss, untangling the mess for one gay Atlanta man includes letting go of more than your job.
By Chris Vizzini
THE FAMILY YOU LAND IN is like gambling, only you have no choice in the game. It’s random from the moment sperm meets egg, one cell divides and life begins.
Some people come into the world with a healthy, stable and supportive family. Some don’t. I ended up in the “don’t” category. Being gay can increase the chance that us “don’t” families have an even bumpier ride.
My brother and I have a complicated relationship. He is a few years older than I, which means we grew up in the same house with exposure to the same chaos. He’s always been withdrawn and haphephobic – the fear of touching and being touched. My brother has never been a warm person.
TO COMPLICATE THINGS, his wife was ill for years with an autoimmune disease not unlike AIDS. We lost her in March. I can’t fathom watching a spouse decay for nearly fifteen years until she could no longer rage against the dying of the light.
The pain must have had a profound psychological impact on him as her illness progressed. He became more withdrawn then developed a mean streak. Understandable, given his experience. He’d never been an easy person to talk to, so texting became our mainstay of communication. I’ve offered myself to him as someone to lean on countless times only to be met with an eerie silence.
I also work for him.
MOM BEGAN THE COMPANY IN the ‘70s then gave it to my brother. We rehab foreclosed homes. When the market crashed, he became wealthy. I was happy because that would ensure the best care for his wife.
The more my brother amassed, the less he came into work, finally stopping altogether. His job is to price jobs via email, and we handle the rest. No one begrudges him, as that’s the goal as a business owner, right? To have a business that makes lots of money and people run it for you.
But when the boss achieves wealth, longtime staff is usually rewarded for their devotion. Nothing unreasonable, but a raise here and there, additional vacation time accrued throughout the years, that sort of thing.
For us, the situation is more like the difficult times before a crash. Employees get ten days a year, sick and vacation combined, nearly non-existent raises and no benefits. The last raise was a quarter an hour in 2014.
It’s a shit show. I deal with my brother’s personal and business financials and know he could certainly afford to take better care of us but chooses not to.
OUR MOTHER IS OFTEN REDUCED to tears from his cruelty – the same woman who gave him the company. The hurt has been a slow burn for many of the employees, almost imperceptible as time has a tricky way of dispersing taps to the heart.
Health issues recently burned through my remaining time off. It left me with a lot of medical bills and little pay. He denied additional time off and a check advance to pay the doctor. That was the final trumpet that blasted the wall between what’s true and what I didn’t want to believe: He doesn’t care.
That was the final roundhouse kick that, this time, couldn’t be explained away by his pain. Even his wife’s death is not a license to steamroll a frightened human being.
I STARTED REMEMBERING HIM before his wife’s sickness. He’d always been cruel. Speaking of anything gay, he’d stick out his tongue as if to vomit. That’s a definitive statement.
It was there all along. I have no choice but to disengage emotionally. I won’t be hurt by him again. I’m saying goodbye to you, brother. I’m letting you go.
Should you ever return to blood, I’m here with open arms.