DAHL PARTS TWO

part 2 of 3
Jonathan had spent most of 1990 talking about Jeff, and his conversation with Mrs. Watson convinced him that he was closer to finding his brother than he'd been all year. He thanked her, then drove to Kitty's, where Gary was working that day. As Jonathan remembers it, Gary greeted him warmly, noting that Jeff had spoken frequently about his little brother. But when Jonathan asked where he could find Jeff, Gary revealed that the two friends had fallen out after an argument: Jeff had been mad that Gary wound up with his handyman job at the University Club after the suicide attempt. Gary didn't know where Jeff went after that, but he suspected that he'd left town again.

Back at his hotel, Jonathan tried to resign himself to returning to New York and starting his hunt all over again. But that night, Gary phoned with a tip: A musician called Skinhead Bob claimed that Jeff was still in Denver. Jonathan met with Bob at 2 a.m., and at the end of what seemed like a fruitless interrogation, Bob gave him Jeff's phone number. Jonathan drove around for the next six hours, wondering what he was going to say. When he finally dialed--and Jeff answered--Jonathan hung up. Five minutes later he called back and said, "Hello, Jeff. This is Jonathan, your brother."

Jeff invited Jonathan to the Capitol Hill apartment he was sharing with musician Darin Kavanagh. In his Journal article, Jonathan described the place in dour, neo-Dickensian terms--peeling paint, a roach-infested stove, a mattress on the floor, a Christmas tree festooned with condoms. (Kavanagh, for one, found the description overstated: "He made it out to be some kind of druggie's crash pad, which was absolutely not the truth. But I guess he needed some fodder for the public.") Jeff, drinking vodka from a jar, his hair swept into the same quasi-rockabilly pompadour he'd worn when he was a teenager, seemed as awkward as Jonathan, and his first question--about his mother and father--only added to the tension. When Jonathan broke the news about Ted's passing, Jeff was remarkably stoic. Gary says one of the reasons Jeff never returned home was his fear of learning that Ted had died. But Jeff didn't let his guard down in front of Jonathan--at least not to the degree that Jonathan wished. Jonathan had been devastated by Ted's death; his father's birthdays were particularly difficult to get through. Jeff's reaction damaged him profoundly.

Outlining his time in limbo (the stays at drug rehab centers, mental hospitals and jails) left Jeff aching, too--and his poor physical condition only compounded the situation. His marijuana smoking had damaged his lungs, but Jeff didn't want to go back into drug treatment, which hadn't worked in the past. He was just as reticent to undergo more psychiatric tests. When Jonathan gave him $40, he gladly accepted it. But he wasn't yet ready to take much else.

Dwayne and Sheila were just as cautious about the notion of inviting Jeff back into the family. They were thrilled that Jeff was alive, but his continuing use of drugs particularly unnerved Sheila, who by that point had moved to her current home near Annapolis, Maryland. "The last time I'd seen Jeff, he'd been violent with me," she says. "So I was very frightened, and I was not eager to get in the middle of a drug scene. One reason I never moved him here was because Maryland is very hard on people into drugs, even if it's only pot." Neither did she want to travel to Denver to see him--not yet, anyway. Jonathan, too, was unprepared to put his life on hold in order to become his older brother's de facto guardian. He felt that he couldn't solve Jeff's problems for him.

But Jonathan needed Jeff's help. His superiors at the Journal had been very patient with him throughout the past year, but they also expected him to write a memoir about his quest--one that would link his personal story with the nationwide epidemic of homeless adults. This was a juicy topic, and if Jonathan handled it well, he might wind up on the fast track with other reportorial stars launched by the Journal--like Alex Kotlowitz, who turned an Eighties article on public housing in Chicago into the book There Are No Children Here. Oprah Winfrey had made a television movie based on Children. Jeff's tale of woe might have just as much appeal.

So Jonathan decided to stay in Denver through Christmas. He gave Jeff a guitar case and a harmonica; Jeff reciprocated with a cartoon captioned "Man seeking lost brother finds Elvis." Jonathan also got a chance to see Jeff perform at the Cricket, and although he acknowledges that Jeff's tunes weren't to his taste, he appreciated the experience behind them: "They were raw, funny, right to the bone," he says. "And once you learn about the unbelievable cruelty and the lack of affection of his years on the street, it's totally obvious where they all came from." Before they parted, some kind words were exchanged--Jeff told Jonathan, "It's great to have my brother back"--and some caustic ones were tossed back and forth, too, especially after Jonathan declined to give Jeff more money. They also argued about the upcoming article--whether it would publicize Jeff's music or simply exploit him.

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