Coming to closure took almost 10 years. A decade of agonizing, of questioning, before Gregory G. Allen penned what started as a cathartic short story about the passing of his brother John.
Over time, Allen's story expanded in size and scope: From a third-person narrative, he became his brother's voice in “Proud Pants: An Unconventional Memoir”, a tale that unfolds through the eyes of his sibling across his final days before he died of a brain tumor in 1998 at the age of 34.
“That's why I call it an unconventional memoir,” said Allen, 42. “It is a memoir, but it's a memoir of someone else's life. Basically, the book is a man coming to terms with his life as he lay there dying.
“Memories are what we make of them,” Allen continued. “This is how I chose to remember what we went through and the stories he would share with me.”
More than 18,000-plus words – Allen calls it a “novelette” because it is too long for a short story, but too short for a full-on novel – he guides readers along John's gripping journey from a self-destructive spiral into anger and drugs to his last breaths on his deathbed.
Growing up in Texas – they had the same father, but different mothers – Allen shared a bedroom with John (he doesn't give a last name, just as he didn't in “Proud Pants”) and remembers hearing the stories of his brother running with the wrong crowd and cutting classes … and worse.
Meanwhile, Allen molded himself into a stark contrast of John at an age when most younger brothers would shadow their older siblings, describing his evolution as becoming “this overachieving, OCD, what-else-could-I-accomplish-person.” Eventually, Allen moved to New York City and became an actor before writing 10 musicals and a catalog of poems and short stories.
“It's just amazing that people could go different roads and different paths,” said Allen, a Hawthorne resident who is currently the managing director of Bloomfield College's Westminster Arts Center. “The story came out of me as I was trying to come to terms with who he was.”
Ultimately, writing “Proud Pants” – named because Allen's mother brought John a pair of “wild striped pants” in the 1970s his sibling loved – provided catharsis for the author (who is a minor character in the manuscript) and, after all these years, some redemption for the story's protagonist.
“Do I completely understand everything he did?” Allen said. “No. But I feel like for where I am there is more of a peace. If this story can help someone else – I've had several people write to me through my website saying I have a family member dealing with this or dealing with this – I think it's wonderful.”
On both his website and on Amazon.com, where “Proud Pants” is selling for 99 cents, the feedback has been effusive. Ten of the 11 reviews on Amazon give Allen's novelette five stars, with reviews ranging from “raw, gritty and a darn fine read” to “beautiful”.
Meanwhile, a therapist named P. Milam who praised the book under the accolades section of Allen's site, said: “I would recommend this book to my clients who are struggling with addiction or who have an addicted family member as well as any person who wants to think deeply about the value of all human beings. This story shows the power of human empathy...it illustrates the depth of compassion and profound kindness.”
Allen's next novel, “Well With My Soul”, also deals with brothers of different outlooks – one is a gay liberal who moves from the south to New York, the other is a conservative who stays behind with their family. This story also reflects the author's personal path and will be released Oct. 11, which is also National Coming Out Day.