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Right then, soaked with champagne, Dan standing next to me with a mischievous grin on his face, my sudden surge of admiration for him blossomed into something more powerful, nearly overwhelming. The feeling was so new and unexpected I could not find the courage to express it, and besides, words of appreciation had never come easily to either of us. So we drank beer and made dinner and spoke of work and school and other harmless pleasantries. We played a game of Monopoly with his future in-laws, settling back into the rituals of good-natured competition. At one point, apropos of the coming holiday, he mentioned that he planned to take a trip over the long weekend, since he’d have Martin Luther Coon Day off. He smirked when he said it. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard: the great martyred saint of American ideals, among the highest-ranking members in my pantheon of heroes, and he’d slurred him just to show off.

I didn’t want to relinquish my upwelling of brotherly pride, so I tried to ignore him, went to the fridge for another beer. I couldn’t blame him, I figured. He was taking his cues on the postures of masculinity from the men he was hanging around at the time, men you might call, to be gracious about it, illiberal. With time and maturity he’d see the folly of such crudity, hopefully sooner rather than later.

I left the next morning on the long drive home. His fiancée called off their wedding not long afterward, a fact relayed to me by our mother, so our plans to gather as a family that summer in Minnesota were scrapped. Pretty soon he had a new girlfriend, an older woman, still married but separated from her husband, and all thoughts of a wedding were forgotten.

Later I came across a letter my mother had sent me that autumn, in which she’d written, “Dan is still waiting for you to call him back. He called you during a football game, and you said you’d call him at halftime.” The plaintive tone of her note pierced me, and the evening came back to me with awful clarity: my watching a Monday Night Football game at home in Minneapolis, half drunk, answering the phone and wanting nothing to do with him, making a lousy excuse to keep the conversation short, saying I’d call back later. It was the only time he called me over the final year and a half of his life, and I never did return the call, for reasons that remain obscure to me, although they must have had something to do with the words Martin Luther Coon Day. That was the last thing I had of him, and I came to hate him for it. Hated myself, too, for though I’d wanted to bask in the purity of my rediscovered love for him, he’d muddied the water with one off-color comment, for which I could not find it in myself to forgive him.

That was January of 1995. On June 2, 1996, I arrived in New York for a summer internship with a magazine, a final notch on my resume before I graduated with a degree in print journalism. I’d been in the city barely twenty-four hours, bags not yet unpacked, when my father called to say my brother had shot himself with a semiautomatic assault rifle.

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  • Not to deflate this writer's balloon, but why did he think his work was done? The perp admitted his guilt -- no guiltless person would stop at lack of memory; he had said that because he didn't know what proof the writer had and feared violence or public exposure too much to deny it outright. So why did the writer not look into what access the perp had to any small children at this point? Even if the perp were childless and worked in a corporation, was he a youth pastor, a scout master, a peewee ball coach? The writer has no reason to blame himself for his brother's death, but if what he wanted was justice, there is plenty left to be wrung out.

    Posted by Mike on Sat 24 Dec 2011

  • Agree with Mike's comment.

    The writer's brother would have truly died in vain if the pedophile is not brought to justice. The same "reliable sources" proves that pedophiles have a pattern of doing this not on just one but many children. For the writer to protect the identity of the abuser and bring a touch of bad taste to his brother for being an unwilling victim shows everything that is wrong with our society today.

    It just so seems, after reading this article, that perhaps it is better for our male (the females have far much more help: a mere accusation instantly brings legal circus around the male abusers) victims simply turn over and die than be empowered against their abusers.

    Posted by Ben on Sun 25 Dec 2011

  • Reminds me of Anne Enricht's "Gathering", except for the ending that takes the story in a different direction.

    Posted by Michal on Mon 26 Dec 2011

  • Mike and Ben: to report what else he did with the information he had is another essay, another purpose than this essay serves. The author is not writing a 'coming to justice' nor an education piece for victims of abusers. What you both say, that abusers should be reported, even decades after the fact, is all true. What the author did or didn't do in those terms are not part of this narrative.

    Posted by Grant on Mon 16 Jan 2012

  • Of course what the author did/didn't do is part of this narrative. Did you not read to the end? He spends the ultimate paragraph discussing his feeling of release after looking at the perpetrator; clearly the author's impression that "[his] work was done" is meant to operate as the cathartic moment of the essay.

    Posted by Mike on Thu 2 Feb 2012

  • There is room for compassion here, there is room to embrace this grieving man and point him toward groups waiting to give him solace and power to handle this unspeakable thing left only to him. As a group we are charged to want justice and I am convinced it will come more quickly when we lend the man a hand rather than piling on with recriminations. He did not owe us a Chapter Two. I am certain we all encourage him to find the group that will take him through the next steps because he is not alone. I leave it to readers to do their own web search, it will not take long to find the appropriate and welcoming sites. RSD

    Posted by Roberta on Fri 10 Feb 2012

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About the Author

Philip Connors is currently at work on a memoir about his brother, to be published by W. W. Norton. His book Fire Season: Field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout will appear in paperback from Ecco Press in February 2012. His last essay for Lapham’s Quarterly appeared in the Spring 2011 issue, Lines of Work.

You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love. You have to deserve your father’s. He’s more particular. The father is always a Republican towards his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat.
Robert Frost, 1960
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