Strangely independent

It’s a strange thing, having a missing family member. I don’t usually think about it, except I just looked at the date and noticed that today is my brother William’s birthday. I last saw him in 1994. He was living in a half way house in Takaka. It was nice. A river flowed past the back yard, crystal clear, with golden stones shimmering under its fast, shallow water.


I was living in Wellington at that time, so I saw William a few times that year. We’d hang out. In the house. In the hills. In the pub. Once I visited him in Nelson Psychiatric, which was also in pleasant surroundings, and which also seemed like a relaxed kind of place. But I recall being annoyed at an apparent lack of counselling services.

William hated that too. Or rather, he hated the pharmaceutical alternatives they provided. Not so much the drugs themselves. Just the never-ending, incredulous disbelief that a pill could solve his problems. It’s ironic really, that his treatment was unacceptable to him because of how it interfered with his ego. He barely seemed to have an ego.

I know the drugs work for some. They didn’t for him. Maybe he had the wrong kind of diagnosis: a loose one. Something was clearly wrong. But nobody was ever quite sure what.

Anyway. The last time anyone saw him it was 1994 and he was hitch-hiking east from Takaka towards the hill, which is really the northern end of the southern alps, with Motueka beyond. Yes, there are some plausible theories as to what happens next, but I’m not really here to discuss those.

I believe William’s dead. That is, I choose to believe it. It’s simply simpler. Is it possible to choose your beliefs purely out of convenience, like this? Must be, because I have. But regardless of what I believe, today is his birthday. Let’s celebrate.

What do we know?

  • He could do anything with his hands: art stuff, food, making, fixing
  • He could tune a guitar – perfectly – without a tuner and without knowing anything at all about how to play it
  • He found relief from the world in a range of Asian religions
  • He could live off the smell of an oily rag, preferably sandalwood
  • He was a sort of super man, who could do all sorts of insane stuff like leap off tall buildings in a single bound, or do a pushbike wheelie the whole length of the road
  • He sometimes applied his skills to things which were illegal
  • He was a vegetarian, at least for a while
  • He once contested a general election as an independent in Mt Eden electorate

Yes, it’s sad. But then, so was he. That’s also part of my choice. I think I think it’s best this way.

I think of my family, especially my parents. I think of my other brother, and my cousins, and the kids from our neighbourhood. I think of the very small number of people I met who knew William as an adult, and I wonder where they’re at these days. I think of some of the homeless shelters where William stayed and ate sometimes. And I think of some of my own friends who spent quite a bit of time with him. Pretty sure he loved that.

It’s a failing of mine that I try and fight the sentimentality of all this. But my daughter is correct: she says I should give William a secret present. It’s his birthday after all. William, I give you a promise: I’ll spend less time doing pointless shit, and more time doing cool stuff like we used to.



7 thoughts on “Strangely independent

  1. I never fail to think of William when I think of you and Michael and I am very glad you have written about him. We have a photo of him on a visit to Wendouree standing just as he is in your photo – essence of William!!


  2. A great little slice of life Jimmy. Your brother William seems like a really cool guy. I would like to meet him one day. Wouldn’t that be the cake! I like the way you describe the process of discovering and dealing with your thoughts and feelings given the situation. I too have lost my brother – it will be 16 years ago on June 3rd. I know the moment like it was yesterday. The after shocks of grief go on for years to come. Actually, I find they are mostly nice and sweet. The loss is not so acute. Just the love is left. And it’s private and personal. No one is around to share it with. But here you have shared your moment, bro, and you’ve done a damn good job of it. Cheers.



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