My cousin Peter died yesterday. He was 57.
His father, a virulent alcoholic and big-time New York attorney, treated him miserably and died of alcoholism at 49.
His first stepfather was a brute of a man, frequently violent with Peter.
Peter’s birth father pulled some strings and somehow got him into Choate.
Peter was smart enough to hang there, but after the emotional and physical abuse he had suffered, he couldn’t handle the social pressure.
He had a nervous breakdown at age 15 and never recovered.
His second stepfather, Hal, is a wonderful man, but given the theme in Peter’s life of nothing ever going right, Peter’s mother passed away only a few years after they had gotten married.
She died of lung and lymphatic cancer. She was actually the second wife that husband #3 had lost to cancer.
One time, when Peter’s mother was dying, that third husband was driving me back to the train station after a visit.
“Everybody’s concerned about Susan,” I said. “How are you doing with all of this?”
I can still see the tall trees along the southern Connecticut country road rushing by as he stared through the windshield and pondered his response.
“Michael,” he said, at length, “for me, there will be another day.”
He’s been happily married to his wife #3 for more than 30 years.
But back to hard luck Peter.
He was in and out of institutions before he was stabilized enough to live independently, which he did until about 6 years ago.
He ran through the inheritance his mother had left him, since no one was minding the store in terms of his spending habits, which ran to lavish gifts to impress girls he would meet in mental institutions, filet mignon delivered to his door, and lottery tickets.
Did I mention he was also brilliant, wickedly funny like his birth father, and an eclectic reader with wide-ranging tastes, from Time Magazine to Tolstoy?
What a waste.
Peter’s temper ran hot, and his mental illness would cause him to call his psychiatrist, the police department, or my father’s office a hundred times a day.
No one was amused.
He was repeatedly arrested for harassment, became persona non grata at the neighborhood diner and drug store, and otherwise alienated anyone who tried to care for him.
He spent his last years in several state institutions in Connecticut, all but abandoned by blood relatives, getting into scrapes with his fellow patients, and never really getting better.
He burned out everybody who loved him, including me. After weekly calls that were practically identical in content for more than 30 years, and occasional visits, I couldn’t take it, either.
I’m ashamed to admit I had no contact with him in the last year of his life. A sin of omission, not commission, but a sin nonetheless.
Last night I got a text from my sister that Peter had “expired,” as the group home put it, due to a lethal combination of COPD and pneumonia.
Hard luck dogs him even in death. His last wish was to be buried in a family mausoleum my great-grandfather had built in the mid-1930s, but all the remaining spaces are reserved for members of another branch of the family.
(You wouldn’t catch me dead in a place like that, but that’s another story.)
He will most likely be cremated and interred alongside his beloved grandmother, in southern Connecticut, where he grew up.
In life, it seems as though some people get all the breaks.
I don’t know whether that’s true, but I can certainly tell you some people get none of them.
Peter was one of those.
He knew he’d gotten the short end of the stick.
Now he’s free.
We aren’t, but he is.
Photo: Getty Images