The narrator copes with his pain and fear by ignoring it and pretending it does not exist.
The story begins when the narrator reads an article telling him that his brother Sonny has been arrested on drug charges. He tries to cope with it as he always has, by ignoring it.
It was not to be believed and I kept telling myself that ... And at the same time I couldn't doubt it. I was scared, scared for Sonny. He became real to me again.
The narrator remembers several times during his life when he has used this same strategy. When remembers his mother asking him to look after his brother, he regrets not having done so. There were seven years between them, and he did not feel that close to his brother.
The use of flashbacks and memories in the story demonstrates an approach many of us take to things that are uncomfortable. We put them off and retreat into ourselves. We focus on our own lives, and try to leave our relatives’ problems behind.