Today is the 5th anniversary of my brother Gerard’s death. I think it is time that I tell the story of this intelligent, charming but also very troubled man. He died in a terrible way which will stay with me until I die.
But let me start at the beginning.
On the 27th of November 1952 my parents had a shotgun wedding, only attended by a few close relatives. My mum was 25 and my dad 28 at the time. My poor grandparents had to attend the third wedding that year of one of their children because the bride was pregnant, In those days and especially in devout Catholic circles still a scandal preferably kept secret.
My parents first shared a room in my grandparents’ house and my brother was born there but soon moved to a house of their own.
My brother Gerard was nearly 1 by that time. He was a very energetic child who in this day and age would probably have been labeled with ADHD.
My mother not really prepared to be one did not cope very well and according to one of my aunts, her much younger sister, gave him some sound beatings when he did not what he was told. Looking at the picture above it is hard to imagine how anyone could hurt that little guy.
When he was 5 months old they found out they were expecting another -undesired- baby, which did not much for my mum’s nerves.
They were practically penniless and another mouth to feed. Lucky for me I was a very quiet baby and grew up quickly.
We played with each other I am sure, but my memories of our time in the Netherlands are too vague. But I do have a pcture of us looking rather sweet together shortly before we left for the Antilles.
In the summer of 1957 my parents moved to Curacao where they had a more luxurious life and we had a happy start in life.
The main thing of those first years I remember was that Gerard always managed to get into trouble if there was some around. Like one day he was playing with a box of thumbtack and managed not to spill them over the floor, but he also managed to slip and fall on them and get about 20 in his knees!
The first years in primary school came and went without too much trouble, He worked hard and was the apple of my dad’s eye. The fact that he was very similar in temperament made my dad proud.
Looking at this photo I see that he was left handed which I cannot remember at all. It was probably trained out of him at school as was the tradition in those days. He was very protective of me at our school and because he was a fearless and sometimes aggressive little boy we were never bullied .
Even though we had a lot of families in our neighborhood with children, none of those kids were the same age as my brother which left him often feeling very left out. He could be great fun inventing things to do, but could he fly into a rage when things would not go his way or he felt slighted by one of us. I remember one time he was angry with me as my friend and I would not let him in the tree house we had just built. I probably was quite mean about it. He went away and came back with one of my dad’s big hammers and proceeded to demolish our tree house. We were shocked.
This sort of behavior and his tendency to make friends with some rather delinquent local boys made my parent sdecide to leave him in the Netherlands at boarding school when he was 10 years old. We were on a 6 month furlough and he sort of agreed to give it a go as it seemed an adventure. We all brought him to the school, run by nuns, but when I saw the large dormitory he would have to share with about 20 or so other boys I remember feeling very sad for him. It took 2 years for my parents to save up for him to come home for the summer holidays. I still see the forlorn little figure going back on the plane when they were finished. The novelty had worn off, but my parents hoped that secondary school would improve things for him. It did not. Later we heard the stories about the dreadful bullying the older boys put the younger ones through and my brother not being one to submit to it got apparently quite a few dreadful beatings, which scarred his lip forever. The second year he decided to give up on school and had such bad marks that my parents finally decided that it was a waste of money and allowed him to rejoin us in Curacao. Having been away from the family for four years he and we other two children found it quite hard to get used to each other again. My youngest brother and I had formed a tight little unit and we still remembered his rages from before.
Though he was so happy to be home again he behaved really well those 2 years we staid in Curacao and as he was kept back a year he ended up in a lot of the same classes as I followed. All was well again.
He joined the football club as a keeper and seemed finally at peace with himself. He had all of us talking when he cycled one day to one of our friends. Something that was ordinary for a Dutch boy but for us islanders seemed like an Olympian feat. I think it was all of 10 kilometers in total but we talked about it with great awe. He and my younger brother had great fun spying on me when I secretly had made a tryst with a boyfriend my parents were not to know about to go to the movies. I did not want the boyfriend to know that I brought my chaperones, being a woman of the world at 14, so I bribed them not to acknowledge me and only to rejoin me when my dad would pick us up. To my horror they went and sat right behind me giggling as the boyfriend tried to get a bit too friendly with me and I well aware of the possibility of all sorts of blackmail afterwards was trying just as hard to keep it all proper and above board. I will never forget it. I was mortified!
The second half of secondary school in the Netherlands he was very happy and finally made some close friends to hang out with.
He made it easier for me to go out in the weekends and covered for me when I was home late again by making sure the backdoor, my suspicious dad had locked, was of the lock so I could sneak in.
We organized parties and generally got on quite well. In the holidays his entrepreneurial skills already showed themselves as during the weekend and in the holidays he first started as a milk delivery man, to end up as the guy with the van who went around stocking up the other milkmen. He was never lazy. Besides this job he used his charm to be a waiter at a Party center. After secondary school he did very well in college and ended up on an oil rig as an engineer.
He has had a very colorful career veering from earning top salaries to being destitute twice. His temper always caught up with him in the end.
He married four times and in between the first two lived for quite a while with a lovely girlfriend, who was wise enough not to marry him in the end. Having a roving eye and a short fuse always ruined it for them.
His first marriage was initiated mainly to keep him out of having to go in the army as all men over 18 or who finished their studies had to do in those days. That one lasted a bit over a year. One day he came home to a totally empty flat with only the album with their wedding pictures on the floor.
Number two was a Welsh girl who hung on to him for 4 years even though they split up after two so he could not marry number three, the girlfriend. The latter had a lucky escape. After that he married a lovely Indonesian girl, a divorcee who had the first of her children at 15, and whose daughter did the same making my brother a granddad at 31. This marriage lasted quite a bit.
His last wedding was a spectacular event as at that moment he was flush again. No expense was spared. Airplane with banner in the sky proclaiming his undying love. Antillean band following a donkey cart brought my brother to the house to pick up his bride. A smashing party which was made extra special by the tropical temperature at the time was duly given.
Alas this marriage did not last and after the demise of it his business followed suit. He was again at rock bottom.
I tried to help him by giving him quite a large sum of money to start again, but he got it into his head he would have a great opportunity building cheap houses in the Dominican Republic.
That plan seemed to have gone south pretty quickly probably owing to my brother not being always as honest as he should be in business and the general climate of lawlessness there. By that time we were not on speaking terms anymore as he was angry I was not willing to part with even more money. So I refused to have anything to do with him anymore.
He lived the last years of his life as a down and out mixing with the lower elements of the island. And that was the the thing that killed him in the end.
After 12 years my younger brother, who had stayed in contact with him got a phone call on the second of January. He was very hard to understand and my brother thought he had been drinking too much. But when he tried to phone back a few days later he got an neighbor on the phone who said they had found my brother lying in bed dying of hunger and thirst. His so-called partner had robbed the house and the bank account empty and left him for dead.
The ambulance took him to the hospital, but as he had no insurance he was pretty much left to die, which he did on the 7th of January 59 years old.
When I got the news the first thing that hit me was a feeling of guilt. I should have been able to stop his self destruction. He was my brother, my family who I had a lot of good times with and who could make me laugh like no one else ever could. I moved heaven and earth to sort out the funeral, but first had a lot of trouble finding where the body had disappeared to. Apparently when a westerner dies in suspicious circumstances there has to be an autopsy so they had moved the body to the coroners’ office in the capital. They found he had died of untreated sepsis and of total dehydration. With the help of the Dutch Embassy we managed to arrange a cremation and the ashes were sent to us in due time.
During this procedure I had the weirdest conversation on the phone with the wife of the ambassador , who told me not to come to the Dominican Republic as I first wanted to do. She was telling me that the Dominican Republic was a hell hole not suitable for civilized people to live in. She told me that you could not even drive with your window open without some bandit trying to rob you. It made a big impression on me.
When my brothers and I went to collect the ashes from the airport at a special depot, we had another weird experience. We were all set up to find his urn in a sort of chapel,being treated with some sort of decorum. Instead we had this sort of postal worker practically throwing this box on the counter taped shut with tons of plastic. We had to sign after showing our credentials and that was that!!
Once at home we found that the Dominican undertaker at least had done his job well and in the carton we found a lovely wooden box with my brother’s ashes. We decided to sprinkle them during a small intimate ceremony into the river the Waal in Nijmegen, where he was born.
So the circle was round. End of the roller-coaster.
He was his own worst enemy, but even though his life was short it burnt bright. He could be awful but he always had a good hart and never treated anyone high or low differently. I will remember only the good times. I wish I could have done more.
Rest softly brother I never stopped loving you.