My parents, Domenica and Nicholas Contino, had three kids—Roberta, who died three days after she was born, me, and then my brother Robert (Bob for short). Bob was born two and half years after me. He was named after the actor, Robert Taylor, whom I, like lots of young teenagers at the time, adored and saw all his movies.
Bob’s life was not as fruitful as it should have been. You see, my brother was a handicapped person, and at the peak of his life, he was suddenly cut down by a mental illness that changed the course of his life forever. Not a single friend stayed with him. And I know the value of friendship because I lost one friend of forty-two years, ironically, because of Bob.
During his teens, Bob was popular with the girls. In fact, he was the most eligible bachelor on the block. After he graduated from high school, Bob attended night college because he wanted to get a job to fill his pockets with cash. As my father suggested, he took the exams for civil service jobs and passed. Soon, Bob got a white-collar desk job and was happy as could be despite his hectic day job and college schedule. All seemed well until my brother turned twenty-three years old in 1963. Within a month’s time, he changed. He dropped a lot of weight, and it was very obvious, because he was thin to begin with. He couldn’t sleep, didn’t shave, and made my parents nuts by pacing up and down the house all night. Somehow I was spared, as I slept through many of these emotional scenes and rarely heard these outbursts. My father called my uncle, a doctor, who assured him Bob was OK. However, Bobby’s condition did not improve. On January 25 of that year, the night before my mother’s birthday, my brother became a full-time resident of the psychiatric ward of Pilgrim State Hospital in Deer Park, Long Island or as my father said bluntly, “He’s in the nuthouse.”
My brother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. And nothing was the same afterwards.