I am in a book club with a few of my girlfriends. This summer we read Seabiscuit. I enjoyed it. To follow up my reading satisfaction, I checked out the PBS documentary on the famous Horse of the Year from 1938. It really is an amazing underdog (or underhorse?) story. Lastly, I rented the Hollywood version of the story with Toby McGuire. All three of narrative perspectives: the journalist/author who shared fascinating tidbits about the life of jockeys and our culture during the Depression in her novel, the documentary facts and and archived pictures added dimension to her words, and finally the melodramatic license used by the directors tugged on my heartstrings in the academy winning movie. I feel like I am an expert on all things horse racing right now.
But to be honest, I would not have read the book unless I had to. I am not a natural animal person. Some people are dog people, some folks love tennis, others are gourmet cooks, I love people. So I don't usually chose books about animals. But I had to for the book club. Anyway, how does all that relate to Bryan? Be patient, I'm getting there.
Bryan loved underdog stories. And the story of the broken horse and his broken jockey making a remarkable comeback fits the bill for an amazing down-and-out tale with a triumphant ending. Incredible courage and tenacity against great odds. Bryan read the book when it came out in 2001. It was a sports book. It won rave reviews. Bryan was an avid reader. He had the movie in his collection. I know he liked it. He told my parents to go see it. So last night when I was watching the movie, and the actor playing Tom Smith, Seabiscuit's quiet and reticent trainer, said his line: "You don't throw a whole life away just cause he's banged up a little. " I immediately thought of Bryan. And Daisy.
We used to have a kitty named Daisy. Actually, when we were newly married, we practiced our parenting on our two cats, Baxter and Daisy. Baxter was neurotic (thank goodness I practiced on a cat first!) but Daisy was sweet and snugly. She was a gentle lap cat. Right before we moved into our first home, Baxter ran away and sad Daisy was left to mourn the loss of her companion. Awwww! We proceeded to have babies three and four within months of moving in and I confess that I was overwhelmed. Four kids, all three years old and under. And a depressed, needy cat.
Bryan to the rescue! He took our sad cat and spoiled her rotten. I mean it. His girlfriend and he overfed her, gave her Evian water, and spent hundreds of dollars for her at the vet. Daisy cat loved to sleep on my brother's back. Bryan liked her quiet, comforting companionship.
At the end of his life, Bryan faced hard times. Hard choices. One of them was about Daisy. He was trying to get a new roommate and not everyone wants to live with a shedding, snuggle cat. A sick cat, at that. Daisy had tummy troubles. She vomited several times a day. Medication hadn't helped her. First Bryan called me and asked me to ask any and all of my friends if they wanted a cat. A quiet, cuddly cat. Who vomits regularly. No takers. Then he called again and asked if we would take her back. "No way Bryan!" was my incredulous and emphatic answer. "You are going to have to decide what to do with her, little Brother. Be a man. Either take her in an put her down since she is so much trouble. Or find a new home for her." That was my ungracious and unmerciful response. I am ashamed to admit it here. But I need to tell this story. It is cathartic.
Bryan started crying. He refused to even consider ending the life of a cat who had been his comfort through so much. Just because she was banged up a little. I didn't understand then that he was in despair and was struggling just to stay above water in the ocean of troubles that was overtaking him. He was tormented. But I didn't understand that then.
Bryan WAS a man. One of the BEST men I know. He wasn't complaining or seeking my pity for the difficult consequences he was facing. He just wanted me to help him. And I told him to be a man. It is one of the greatest regrets of my life. This conversation that I had with him. Oh to be able to take all the words back and do it all over again. Right. With wisdom, knowing what I know now. I thought I was giving him tough-love. I believed that I was avoiding enabling him by bailing him out of his self-made troubles. He was fierce in his proteciton on Daisy. What Bryan was doing, what he was showing me, was his heart. His broken, overwhelmed, desperate heart. And I missed it. Completely. And there is no way to go back. So I am writing this as a reminder to myself that things aren't always what they seem. And you can never fault with too much love, too much grace, too much mercy. I don't think you can ever have TOO much of those things. To turn back time, and take it all back. But I will press on towards the finish line in my race and learn from my mistakes. Maybe you will too.
When I think about it tonight, it makes me so sad. It almost makes me physically ill. He was being a man. A better person than I ever could be. He knew that you don't throw in the towel on others just because things get tough. I didn't understand that he identified with Daisy. They were both broken and banged up. They needed someone to help them. Bryan instinctively fought to protect Daisy, even if keeping her didn't make sense or wasn't practical. He was so loyal like that.
Daisy lives in Carlsbad with Bryan's very good friends Gary and Carrie. I am so grateful that Bryan didn't give up on her even though she was banged up a little.