My Brother’s Keeper, My Brother’s Killer Part 1

First in a series of five. If you’ve already read this, here is Part 2.

On December 31st, 1991, John Edward Hastings was a handsome, bright young 28 year old. He was known for being gregarious, spontaneous, and generous, and had a large circle of friends who loved him. He also happened to be a cocaine and heroin addict, an addiction that started in earnest when he was 26. After losing a great job and burning through his savings, his drug supply was funded by a friend of his in exchange for companionship. And on a sunny day 22 years ago, John Hastings was watching the New Year’s Eve parade in Phoenix, Arizona, when he suddenly became fatigued, stumbled against a wall, slid down it, and died. It was later presumed that he died of heart failure, brought about by the effects of drugs on his system. How do I know these details? Because John Hastings was my big brother. I have decided to find my brother’s “killer”, the woman who supplied my brother the funding that fueled his addiction.

To be fair, calling her John’s “killer” is an overly dramatic convention that only some people in my family adopted (and for the purposes of this series of posts, I’ll refer to her as Mxxxxx Bxxxxxxxxx). I called her that at first, too, when I was an confused 18-year-old trying to make sense of his death, and assign blame for John’s decisions on anyone but him. I don’t call her this anymore, but she did enable him to acquire drugs much more easily…and I find it completely understandable that my family members refer to her this way. Would John have found a way to pay for drugs anyway, had Mxxxxx not been in the picture? Absolutely. I have many memories of John, towards the end of his life, sneaking into the house I lived in with my parents, and stealing things to later pawn for drug money. Ultimately, he was responsible for his own choices. But I wonder, sometimes on his birthday in late March, and sometimes on the anniversary of his death on New Year’s Eve, what that parallel universe would look like, the one where Mxxxxx chose to cut John’s funding off and help him seek treatment.

One thing that my mother reminded me of when speaking to her about this piece was how angry I was when John died. I don’t remember this at all, but she insisted: she had never seen me that angry before. Angry at John. Angry at the role he thrust me into when he left. Angry with his hypocrisy, that he made me promise one day, in a hospital bed after a particularly bad overdose, that I would never, ever touch drugs. I’ve never broken that promise my entire life, never even smoked pot (haha, I called it “pot”). There’s something to this. There’s something behind this anger that I forgot about for so long. I’ll look into this some more, later. Not now.

A few things I do know about Mxxxxx Bxxxxxxxxx: She was 13 years John’s senior. She was known by my family, and we had her in our home several times. Mxxxxx disappeared after John’s death, and rumors placed alternately in another country, and, more recently, back in Albuquerque.

Clearly this begs the question: What do I want to get out of this? The short answer is: closure. 2012 reminded me of John a lot. The first time was when I left my career, and I thought often of what he would think, as illustrated in this post. But the much larger reason is a recent, intense courtship of mine with someone who was still mourning his last relationship, let’s call him “Joe”, his middle name. I was trying to seek a romantic connection with him, invited him to see me in Los Angeles, and we spent a weekend together. I fell in love with him almost instantly, ignored his warnings about “no expectations” before his trip to see me, and his rejection of me at the end of the trip made me experience anxiety and depression on a level I’d never felt in my life.

After Joe returned to Seattle, he and I had a self-aware discussion of our abandonment issues from our youth, how that affected how and who we love, and how we process loss, too. My own abandonment issues possibly stem from losing John at an early age; I think because of this, I feel compelled to take on a “mentor” role in my relationships. I am typically, but not always, attracted to men younger than me, maybe in an effort to become that which John was to me: a mentor, a guide, a sage.

A common theme in the communication between Joe and I was the concept “We become the love we have known.” And as quickly and deeply as he and I connected, maintaining the friendship when we were in two different places emotionally was too painful. The separation has been more painful than I have been willing to admit, despite my optimism. Some days, I am so hopeful, and I think that all I need is time, and friends to spend time with, and travel. And some other days, the depression from losing my friend is so profound that I can’t think; those days, I swing a sledgehammer of grief through my life. And that unusual level of pain calls to mind those same abandonment issues about John, that I discussed with Joe. I miss him, and I have to look inside and find out where I first got badly hurt in my life. It may have had a domino effect on everything else.

Over the next few months, I will connect with, and interview, people who knew and loved John. My next post will cover how the search is going, and what the conversation with Mxxxxx will look like. After initial conversations with my sister and mother, I have a pretty good start on where to begin looking. I have no idea what I’ll find, or who she will be when I find her: what if she is the same? What if she is in recovery? What if she is dead? This won’t be easy. It already isn’t. And I am constantly second-guessing my motivations for doing this. It could seem so self-serving, so narcissistic to put my grief on display for everyone to see. But in the end, I’m compelled to do this publicly because there is power in having my community, friends old and new, support my efforts. And personally, because of working through my grief about Joe, and making myself an open unbroken vessel for the next person who I let into my life, I need to solve this. I need to get right with this. Everything may be on the line.

The stakes are never higher than when you take a stand for your own happiness.

To continue to Part 2, click here.

At the time, taking this pic seemed incredibly cheesy. Now, however...

29 thoughts on “My Brother’s Keeper, My Brother’s Killer Part 1”

  1. I found your blog on Apartment Therapy. My brother was an addict and died in a very similar, tragic way 2 years ago. Today is my birthday, and his 35th birthday would have been 2 days ago. This was so healing for me to read. I’m still trying to make sense of everything. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Oh WOW!.. as i read this tears run down my face of all the memories of John Hastings and the influence he had in my life… He was one of my First Loves before i understood how to truly LOVE… I remember taking you to the movies on our dates with us sometimes.. There are people who unexplainably shift us inside and change us whether we are related to them or not.. and your brother will always be that for me.. and now you as well since you and your family always treated me like family for all those years that we were together off and on.. Thanks for your courage.. it took years to find my peace with the loss of John… but i never forget him… he is with me at all times.. and I’m here to hold your hand too if you need one.. Hugs Siobhan

  3. Dia de los Muertos is a day to honor and remember departed loved ones, in Mexico, and here as well….it is common to keep a home alter dedicated to the memory of those that have passed… just occured to me that just as I have my small alter, you are in the process of creating yours, just in a different form and he is manefesting in your art….in this case, the written word, And yes, he would be so pleased to see the incredible man his “little brother” has become,

  4. I only remember John as an innocent little boy. So sad that his life ended at such a young age. If you feel so compelled to take this journey then it is definitely the right thing to do. May you find some peace and answers. Good luck and God be with you!

  5. This was so beautiful and well done Michael…I loved John and miss him so much. He was a great guy! I loved that smile of his and his gentleness. I hope you find all your answers and I will be behind you every step of the way. John would be so proud of you today. I do believe he’s watching you always. I’ll be following your progress. I love you Michael.

  6. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. I lost my big brother at about the same age and it’s something you never truly get over. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about him. Good luck with your journey.

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