Today is November 4th. It is the birthday of my little brother, Bayard Hypolyte Lake, would have been 46 years old today. He was 15 years old when he died, and the fact and the circumstance of his death simultaneously haunt and uplift my life.
My brother couldn’t bear pain – this was his massive misfortune. For pain was the prevailing energy in my Father’s house. Emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, sexual – Pain! It was everywhere, everyday. Bayard was this light little soul, he only wished to be loved, and from his conception – there was no love available for him. As an embryo in my mother’s body, he was subjected to a growing terror as the cycle of abuse between her and my father increased. She did not welcome the arrival of this baby, and she was growing increasingly concerned for her life in her marriage. She was beaten in the pregnancy, and so there again, my brother received his own version of her terror. He was pickled in it. Perhaps that was why he had such a low threshold for the emotion – so much of his pre-birth life was steeped in it.
After his birth, he became a particular pet of mine. He was such a happy little baby full of smiles and fun. He loved to be tickled and held, he was such an antidote to my own misery and he filled many happy hours for me. I loved him deeply as I would love no other human being, until the births of my own children. If it were not for him – I would have had no memory or experience of pure and unselfish love, nor would I have been aware that I was capable of giving love.
After my mother’s and older sister’s departure from our house, my relationship with Bayard became increasingly maternal. When there was thunder and lightning outside, it was my bed into which my little brother would creep to find a sheltering arm. it was me to taught him his prayers and stroked him to sleep when he woke from a night mare . it was me who cooked diner for him and my brother, Gus. Helped them with their home work and over saw their house hold chores. While I, beginning at 9 years old, was the caregiver for both of my brothers, Gus and I often disagreed and fought. This due to Gus being an intelligent and strong-willed little boy, who often defied our father and attempted to stand up for himself. His strength ran afoul with my more UN approach to my father which was mostly to attempt to avoid conflict by attempting to follow the rules.
And the fact that, in his hands, every toy or possession of mine seemed to self destruct didn’t endear my poor bother Gus to me either!
Bayard was easier to love, always smiling, always joking, always caring, and always needing me.
As I said earlier – he could not handle pain. So Gus and I learned to keep certain things from him – for example there was a time when Gus and I , invited some fiends over the house to play. Guests were prohibited in my father’s house. Gus and I had our friends come into our basement and occupied our brother upstairs with television. Gus and I knew that we were talking a tremendous risk – for if our father found out – we would be severely beaten . However, if he found out, but Gus and I could concoct a lie that our father would believe, we would be spared. However, if our father smelled a rat, he would commence to beat all of us children until – someone fessed up. Poor Bayard would spill the beans at the first blow! And so many an operation was executed without his knowledge.
The most pressing such operation was started when I realized at 13 – that I was only going to survive to live a life of any meaning if I was able to escape my father’s clutches I planned my escape for years – every minute of it was meticulously arranged, my escape was my reason for living between the ages of 13-18. On the stroke of midnight on my 18th birthday, I went to my baby brothers and told them that I was going to leave. Both of them burst into tears. Bayard clung to me and begged me not to go. Gus turned and walked away from me. I held my little brother and wept – I begged him to understand told him that I was sorry. I told him that if I could, I would take him with me. But that dad was able to come take him from me and put me I jail as he was still a minor. I knew my father and his vindictive nature and felt assured that he would not hesitate to do this. I promised that I would get word to him as soon as I could and that we would work out some way to stay in touch with each other. After I had calmed him somewhat – I called a cab, retrieved my suitcases which had been hidden in the basement, and left my father’s house.
After I left and got myself situated, I got word to my brothers through my mother of my location. My brothers often got on their bikes and came to visit me. I am proud to say that the first and only bits of a peaceful family life my brothers got to experience was during this time. Bayard came by more often than Gus and we talked and had a good time. Both of my brothers found a way to attend my wedding – and were delighted when we found out that I was expecting twins! “I want to teach them the true meaning of humor!” Bayard said. There is a picture of Bayard, his arms full of my children, sitting in an easy chair looking over joyed. He loved my babies so much…
My husband and I took my brothers, then 15 and 16 years old to the first and I believe the only Yankees game of their childhood.
One day I received a call form my mother telling me that my brother Bayard was missing, and that he had been missing for a week! I waited anxiously for word. I received a phone call from him that felt strange and disconnected – I asked him to tell me what was going on, he didn’t respond. I became angry with him. I shouted at him – “what’s going on Bayard this is selfish. Mom is worried to death – you must call her and tell her that you are ok. if you need some where to go some to my house – don’t just be out on the street! ”
He said ok and he said good bye – and that was the last time I heard my brothers voice. I wish that I hadn’t become angry. I wish that I had listened…
The next day I received a call from Cumberland Hospital, which was the hospital where my siblings and I were born. The nurse was calling to tell me that she had a Bayard Lake in her emergency room and that he had given my name as one who could authorize his treatment. Through tears, I told her that unfortunately I was not able to give such permission as I was not my brother’s legal guardian. I gave her my father’s contact information. I asked if I could speak to him, she said that he could not come to the phone at the moment. So I and begged her to relay a message to him from me. I exacted her promise that she would give him this message word for word.
I asked her to tell him that I loved him and that I was sorry that I had to give her dads information. I told her to tell him that I was coming – that his sister was coming- and that I was not going to let dad hurt him. I asked her to repeat this message to me, and she did. I added that she should tell him that I felt stronger now – that I wasn’t afraid of dad anymore – to hang in here and that I would protect him. After she repeated all that to me – I bolted to get childcare for my infants and to get to the hospital which was on the other side of Brooklyn from where I lived.
I don’t remember if I called my mother – I believe the hospital did. I called her home and was told that she was on her way to the hospital. When I got there I asked to see my brother. I was informed that after he had been given my message – he experienced cardiac arrest. They attempted to resuscitate him but to no avail – he was dead within a half hour of hearing that message. The message that told him that the monster – the bringer of pain, was on his way…
All of the medical persons were shocked – he seemed fine, he was laughing and talking with the emergency room people. He had been hit by a drunk driver on Flat bush Ave .
He seemed fine until he knew our father was coming…
It took a long time for me to forgive myself – I blamed myself for saving my self at my bothers’ expense – and now I am grateful for the happy times Bayard was able to experience and that he got to hold my babies in his arms. He wanted to teach the “true meaning of humor.: I wish he had had the direct opportunity to do this. But my sons are pretty hilarious young men, so perhaps their uncle has visited them in their dreams… I hope so…
I love my brother – what a splendid man you would have been. Rest well – I will see you again!