My brother Chris Monson was in a horrible motorcycle accident in 1969 when he was 21 years old. I was 13.
He broke both arms and both legs in two places, and also suffered a skull fracture, a concussion, and a bruised heart.
He stayed in the ICU for two weeks. The first three or four nights, I believe, the doctors thought he might die. But, he did not die.
Eventually, he was transferred out to a hospital called Rancho Los Amigos in Long Beach, California, where he underwent extensive rehabilitation
Then, he was released and came to live with my parents and I in our house in the walled-in Orange County community of Rossmoor.
Before this, Chris and I were not close. I did not like him. He used to torture me when my parents were gone. He’d take a belt and wrap it around my neck and choke me. He’d put me in a closet and keep me there for hours and hours no matter how much I begged. He called me ‘stupid,’ and ‘shrimp.’
When Chris was in high school we lived in Coalinga, California, a town of about six thousand. Coalinga was in the San Joaquin Valley, about 70 miles from Fresno. Chris weighed about 375 pounds then and I remember being embarrassed by him and his fat. He was the manager of the football team because that got him out of having to attend P.E. Chris did not like P.E.
What Chris liked was books. He read and read and read. He always had a paperback book in his back pocket. He also read his school books and got very good grades in high school. So good, in fact, that he was chosen as one of three Coalinga High School students to go on a local show on the Fresno CBS affiliate that was patterned after College Bowl. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for Chris, Coalinga had a hyper genius named Dana Powers (who eventually got a scholarship to Caltech) who answered nearly every question correctly. Except for the two Chris answered. I remember it was weird to watch him on TV.
So Chris liked to read. He was fascinated by poetry and philosophy and classical music. He listened to opera, he listened to Beethoven symphonies. Even before he was 20 he was an expert on Classical Greek literature, history and philosophy. He loved Dylan Thomas, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot.
When Chris enrolled at Long Beach State he majored in Philosophy, with a minor in Classics. He made friends with other intellectual, artistic students and joined them in anti-war protests – this was 1967-68. And, he became a huge, obsessed fan of Bob Dylan – an obsession he maintained until his death in 2011.
After his accident, when Chris was released to our home in Rossmoor, part of his therapy was to go out on his crutches and take long walks. Now, I still did not like Chris, but, I was fascinated by him and, I believe, looking back on those days, in desperate need of some kind of role model, some parental type figure who would take an active interest in me. Chris, I think, needed someone to talk to, he needed someone to share his thoughts and ideas with, and, he needed someone to go on walks with him.
So that is how our relationship as brothers really started. Long long walks around the block in beautiful Rossmoor, California, right on the LA/OC county border. “Chris,” I’d say, at the beginning of one of those walks, “what is … philosophy?” And he would slowly and patiently over walk after walk answer this and any other question I’d ask. It was great to have a big brother, and it was great to have someone to talk to and someone to learn from. However, in spite of all that, for reasons that may become clear, I’ve often wished I’d never gone on those walks and that Chris and I had kept our distance.