My Brother’s Keeper

Chris Owens
Human Parts
Published in
11 min readAug 11

“Come on!” I shouted in whisper as I stared from the utility room window at the yellow Jeep parked in the driveway. It was Christmas Eve in the early 1980s. My dad and oldest brother Robbie had parked a while ago but hadn’t gotten out and come in the house yet. All day I had been fixated on the presents under the tree, trying to decide which one I would open. It was our Christmas tradition that we got to open one present on Christmas Eve. Finally, the doors on the Jeep opened, and I ran back into kitchen.

“They’re coming!” I said excitedly, and bounced into the living room, ready to open presents.

The back door opened, and Robbie and my dad came into the house. Robbie joined us in the living room, and Dad took a seat at the kitchen table. Something was so off, though, that even a child of seven or eight could pick up on it. Dad sat silently at the kitchen table, not even bothering to take off his coat, and stared at Robbie, who was sitting on the couch in the living room. Suddenly, Dad stood up and overturned the kitchen table in one movement and then launched himself at Robbie.

Robbie at our house on a happier Christmas

What happened next was a blur. The Christmas tree got knocked over, as did our houseplants. Garland, ornaments, and potting soil were trampled on the floor. I was whisked away by my older sister Karen and her boyfriend and taken to my Uncle Ira and Aunt Shirley’s house.

I don’t remember us ever talking about that night again, I only knew that Robbie didn’t come back to that house ever again.

Robert Dale Owens, born in 1962, was the eldest child in our blended family. I was born in 1974. Twelve years separated us until he died of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 25. Being so much older than me, coupled with the fact that he didn’t live with us, meant that he was on the periphery of the family with whom I lived. He graduated high school in 1980, when I was six. I don’t have a lot of clear memories of him.

My mom and dad separated in 1984, after my dad had an affair with a teacher at my school. Dad married the schoolteacher, and my dad and Robbie had started speaking again. Robbie and his “friend” Larry came down to visit one time, probably in 1985 or 1986. Later, we went up to visit them in St. Louis. I remember nothing of the visit, except that the adults were in the kitchen talking and I amused…

Chris Owens
Human Parts

Chris is a signed language interpreter, product manager, musician, and writer living in Columbus, Ohio with his partner Dan and their collie, Cooper.