"You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose."
-Ancient Chinese proverb
"You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family."
-Ancient Chinese proverb
"We need more Calgon."
-Ancient Chinese secret
Forgive me for perhaps paraphrasing the sage words of Confucius, but I feel like at least one of the above quotes is pretty relevant to what I want to talk about today. When you're done reading, I'll let you circle back and figure out which quote pertains most to what's on my mind this afternoon.
Here's something I haven't mentioned as of yet, but it falls into the "insult-to-injury" category: when my dad and I returned from the hospital last Friday, he went to go move my car from its spot in the street in front of my house to put it in the gated back lot. My mom had been staying at my house several days prior to dad coming up to pick me up from the hospital, and she had been parking her own car in the gated lot, so we'd been keeping my car in the street.
Well, my mom went home around Tuesday of that week (the 23rd) and drove her car back to Santa Cruz. When my dad and I got back to my house on Friday the 26th, my passenger window had been smashed in and my car stereo had been stolen. To cap matters, I also got a parking ticket for being on the street during street sweeping hours the day before. Typical.
None of this is my mom's fault; in my drug-induced pain-filled haze in the hospital, reminding her to move the car out of the street-sweeping zone and also take out the stereo (she wasn't ever aware that it had a detachable faceplate) was the furthest thing from my mind. So, oh well, stuff happens.
Actually, the good news is that the insurance deductable is only $100 to replace the window and the stereo, and the estimate will allow me to buy a brand new stereo that has full iPod and Bluetooth support, which the other stereo didn't have. It's almost like I'm sorta coming out ahead on the deal, if you choose to look at it that way. My new stereo will have crystal-clear iPod support for the new iPhone I am going to get get next week.
Back to the point: we moved the car back into the gated lot and have left it sitting there for the last week, with the passenger window smashed in and hundreds of shards of broken glass, papers and other assorted detritus scattered inside the cabin. The thought of cleaning up that huge mess was not something I was relishing; I knew it would have to be done before we took the car in to get repaired, but I have neither the energy or even the physical ability to do such a thing at the moment.
Yesterday afternoon, my brother Nick and his fiancee Amber visited and it was the first time I had seen them since the surgery. It was really great to see them, and we all went and had lunch and then came back to the homestead and hung out, chatted, played some video games, watched TV, and generally enjoyed some quality time together. But at some point during the afternoon, Nick and Amber grabbed a ShopVac, a broom and dustpan, and without making any sort of fuss about it, went out and cleaned the car's interior spotless.
I didn't ask them to do it, nor would I have ever expected it from them, but they did it nonetheless -- and this is one of but many examples of how my brother is stepping up during this difficult time in a completely selfless way to help out however he can. Especially given the own path he's traveled throughout his life, to see such amazing acts of his unconditional loving behavior means the world to me, and I find myself unable to describe precisely how much I admire him for being the special human being he's become.
Nick and I were never close when we were growing up. We are fairly different people with different interests, and the three-and-a-half year age difference meant that we didn't hang out a lot when we were in school. I was always into football, put a decent amount of effort into school, and was pretty good socializing with groups of people; Nick was more introverted, sort of a skate rat, and academics was the furthest thing from his mind.
My high school years passed into college and I'd see him only occasionally, on random trips home, and even then, we didn't have much to talk about. I'd ask him questions, and get a lot of one-syllable answers in return. He didn't seem too interested in what was going on with me, so as a result, I sort of switched myself off and stop trying to reach out to him. We spent the better part of our twenties only seeing each other a few times a year and grunting out cursory salutations on those occasions when we were forced to interact.
Then, shortly after I turned 31, my family got a real bombshell -- Nick had decided to check himself into a drug rehabilitation facility. I'd always known Nick was very involved in doing certain kind of drugs -- pot, mostly, from what my guess was -- but it turns out that was just the tip of iceberg. In the course of his therapy, Nick told us that he had begun smoking pot in his early teens and then graduated to many, many other types of drugs over the next 15 years -- including some very serious stuff. In 2001, he finally hit rock-bottom and decided to do something about it, and began a 12-step program to get himself clean.
(I should note here that I asked Nick today if I could mention his drug addiction on this blog, and he agreed, so I'm not violating his trust here by writing about it.)
That was seven years ago. Since then, he's fallen off the wagon once, maybe twice (I'm not sure, but regardless, it was fairly early on in his rehab), but for the past several years, he's been completely clean -- and he's been a completely different person.
As callous as it sounds, the fact is that the pre-2001 Nick is not someone that I really wanted to associate with. As the aforementioned saying goes, you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family, and Nick is not someone that I would have ever voluntarily chosen to be one of my family members. I'm sure this is a two-way street and he might be saying the exact same thing about me; my stance towards him back then was very condescending, and I was not very supportive of anything he had to do, acting more like a judgmental nag than anything else.
But that was then, and this is now.
Since becoming clean, Nick has developed into a caring, mature, responsible, intelligent, witty human being. He is someone I genuinely enjoy being around. When the family gathers for dinner back in Santa Cruz, or we get together for a group function of some sort, or he comes to visit me, or whatever the case -- we don't need an excuse, really -- I really look forward to seeing him. He's got a great sense of humor; he's very quick and subversive, and some of the things that come out of his mouth make you think a bit before you realize that he's making a joke on a slightly deeper level than some throw-away silly statement.
Nick has started his own contracting business in Santa Cruz and is trying to drum up business, and I have no doubt that he'll be successful in his endeavour. He's very talented when it comes to construction and has been invaluable in helping my mom remodel parts of her house as she gets ready to put it on the market (when the housing market finally begins to rebound a little bit, hopefully sometime before Spring 2064).
Anyway -- a couple months ago we had Mother's Day, and last month there was Father's Day, but unfortunately there's no such thing as Brother's Day. That's not going to stop me from declaring today Brother's Day and dedicating it to my brother Nick. Ever since he learned of my condition, he's been there at every turn, asking what he can do to help, calling to check in, and he's already make a very major sacrifice in his own life to help facilitate my mom being able to come up and live with me five days a week to take care of me. It's impossible to sum up how that makes me feel.
To me, Nick is living proof that people can and do change, and that things have a way of working out for the better. The evils of addiction cannot adequately be described to those that have never dealt with them -- I fortunately count myself among those lucky people that do not have addictive personalities -- but Nick has battled, he has overcome, and he's become an amazing human being that I am proud to call my brother.
Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention that a big reason for Nick's growth and transformation is the presence of Amber, an amazing, strong, beautiful woman in her own right. Amber is a single mother of a darling six-year-old, Alex (one of the best-behaved kids I've ever met, and I'm really looking forward to coaching him in football someday), and she's a recovering addict as well. She's extremely strong-willed individual and she has a way of kicking Nick in the butt when he needs it the most. It's not an understatement to say that I think she's the best thing to ever happen to Nick, and I'm looking forward to having her be an official part of the Scoppettone family when they get married next summer.
Nick and Amber are coming back up to visit next Saturday and I'm already looking forward to spending the day with them, just the three of us, with nothing on the agenda. I'm sure we can figure out some sort of trouble to get into between now and then.
That's all for me. Thanks for taking the time to read this particular post; it's very personal, but it needed to be written. Those of you that know my brother but haven't seen him lately should know that he's doing great, and for those of you that have never met him, well, I hope someday you get that privilege. I can pick my friends, but not my family -- but in this case it doesn't matter because Nick is someone I'd choose to have as a friend even if he wasn't a blood relative.
And just so long as I don't have to pick his nose, everything should be just fine.
With much love to Nick and Amber, and to everyone else,