Oh, you have OCD, huh? Well, I have ISD (Irritable Sibling Disorder).

The Male Sibling Unit has caught a cold.

This in and of itself is twice as bad as any man catching some mild virus. 99% of the male population suffers throughout mild maladies as if they are going through a severe and chronic illness. They are convinced that they have the Bubonic Plague and what’s worse than that is if they had a doting mother who took awesome care of them when they were sick little boys because now they have unrealistic expectations about how the females in their lives are supposed to treat them. Excuse me, but Fuck you, all you Donna Reeds of the past. You’ve made it way more difficult for the women of modern times to manage your precious little boys. You were supposed to have our backs and teach us how to be fearless, warrior-like and strong, but you raised man-pussies who can’t handle getting the sniffles and who think they are dying when they do. They groan. They mope. They whine. They turn into 6 year-olds.  Was this all a part of your plan?  Are you passive-aggressively getting back at us for the inequalities of the past by raising your sons to think they married nurses? You’ve greatly disappointed me.

Anyway, The Male Sibling Unit is a man, but not like all men. His disabilities make him unique in the most infuriating, exasperating ways. This, of course, is not his fault; the blame lies within my impatience and inability to just deal with it. I am, by nature, not a patient person. I am, however, mindful with him and I try….oh, how I try. I’ve got a higher threshold for it than our mother did; she of the saintly demeanor with everyone who knew her except for her own children. We knew the real person, and that real person had ZERO coping skills where the Male Sibling Unit was concerned. Hell, she barely had half a nerve where was concerned, and I was a pretty average kid. She moved him into assisted living when he was 21 and never looked back. He was taken OUT of assisted living nearly 20 years later, when she passed away, because I made a solemn vow to always be his protector when he was little and it was time for me to do that. I don’t regret that decision for one second but I do wish that I had a few more ounces of patience when he really gets going.

 

The Male Sibling Unit has many little OCD tendencies. He is a narcissist by nature, which again is not his fault. It’s all a part of the disability. He simply does not have an empathetic bone in his body. Everything in the world that occurs around him is met with an “How does this affect me?” attitude. If I’m sick, he worries about himself. If there’s a natural disaster in another part of the country, he will listen to the little soundbytes about travel and maybe delivery routes being interrupted and worry that the trucks won’t be able to get to us and replenish the peanut butter at the grocery store. He is that self-absorbed. This can be hard to take, and some days, I’ll admit that I am not very good at letting it roll off my back. Some days, I vent on Facebook or I just lose myself in music or I piss and moan to the husband, who has a longer fuse where The Male Sibling Unit is concerned but who doesn’t have to handle his shenanigans nearly as much. See? Men. The fuckers.man-flu2

 

On an occasion when The Male Sibling Unit is sick, though, it becomes much like when a kid is sick and has a big field trip or a special occasion coming up and they are afraid that they might miss out because they are ill. They tell you constantly that they feel fine or that they feel totally better and then you take their temperature and it’s 103.6 and they are sweating and coughing their little fool heads off and you have to make them get back into bed. That’s what it is like with The Male Sibling Unit, except that there usually is no special occasion. In his case, the special occasion is LIFE. Getting up, going to work, coming home, doing his chores, getting ready for the next day, having his dinner, watching tv. Mostly in that order….except when he has social outings. Then it is way worse, because he has to fit all of that and his social activities into the day. Asking him to skip part of the routine is cause for distress. The OCD takes over and before you know it, he has asked 10,000 questions and wrung his hands in worry and on an occasional instance, thrown an actual tantrum. He simply cannot deviate easily.

Tomorrow, he has the day off. That’s good, because he sounds like a cross between a bullfrog and a bleating goat. He is pale, tired, and irritable. He does not like to take medication unless it has been prescribed, and he has an abnormally high tolerance to pain so it is very hard to get him to admit to any discomfort. A few years ago, he had a painful bout of shingles. I have never had them, but those who have relate a pain so awful it is truly distressing to even contemplate. This was back when he was still living apart from us, and so he didn’t bother with telling anyone that he had a terrible rash on his back and sides and stomach. One day, his house parent noticed and took him to the doctor, who diagnosed the shingles and prescribed him painkillers to go with antibiotics. It was so widespread and angry looking that the doctor felt that The Male Sibling Unit must be in agony. Except that life just went on for him and he went to work and did his thing. On a dreary, freezing Saturday afternoon, we were driving home from getting groceries and saw him out walking. We stopped and asked him why he was out, what with having the shingles so bad? He shrugged, said, “I’m taking a walk,” and insisted that he was not in pain. He never took one painkiller, either. This high threshold for pain can be great, but it is also equally bad. I simply have no idea when he is really sick or not. He will insist he is fine, but he won’t be. If being sick means he will have to deviate from his routines, he will lie to me and say he is fine. I really have to be hypersensitive when I hear him cough or sneeze or make an odd noise.

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Thankfully, he agreed with me easily when I asked him if his throat was sore, and he took Tylenol with no resistance. Now, though, the worries are assailing him and he is in turn assailing me with them. In a bullfrog goat voice.

“I’ll feel better tomorrow, right?”

“I’ll take a hot bath, okay? That will help.”

“Should I drink all my tea while it’s hot?”

“I hope I can go to STEPS (community center) tomorrow.”

“What if my throat is sore tomorrow?”

“What if I can’t go to STEPS? What will they say if I am not there?”

“Should I take more Tylenol?”

“Should the tea make me feel better?”

“I drank the tea and now I feel great!”

*Cough cough*  *Throat clearing*

20 minutes later, after I have popped a Xanax, wished for some rum, dug my nails into my palms, and asked him to please please PLEASE just relax in his recliner and watch some tv, I wonder why he is quiet. (Yes. It’s that Mom reaction I will never be able to set aside.) I tiptoe into his room. He is fast asleep, his mouth hanging open as he snore-honks, the tv droning quietly in the background.

Ahhhhh. Peace.

 

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A Momorial, or let’s not do this sad stuff, okay?

My mother died five years ago. This is the anniversary date. You know, I don’t think we should group death into the anniversary category. There should be a separate category, like “endiversary” or “passing day” or “A Fucking Sad Event Occurred Day”.

I’m going to go with endiversary, because I made it up and I like it.

A few days before the endiversary, I start to feel things. Little twinges of emotion, shortness of temper, and the desire to hide myself away. Now, I suppose those in my immediate realm will exclaim, “Wait! You’re like that ALL THE TIME!” but they’re just being assholes so ignore them. Things are somehow magnified in their intensity, and I am not as up to to coping with things as I normally am. Truth be told, I am so caught up in the effort to be stoic that I am likely to crumble under the weight of such a feat.

In the five years that have followed since her death, I have gone through every conceivable stage of grief that could be possible. Hell, I think I may have discovered some new ones. I really think that I cried so many tears in just the week after that this is why I have no tears now. I simply used up my available bank of leaky, salty, eye waters and when the well went dry, I was SOL.

After the tears came the love, profound and crushing in its reality. During that phase, no one could have loved their mother more than I did. I saw only the good, the loving ways, the things she did that were phenomenal, and, in doing so, I crafted a halo to perch atop her head. It was made of silver and emeralds because those were her favorite precious metals and jewels and it was a beacon to all in Heaven that I was honoring my mother. I was beatifying her.

Of course, the halo came crashing down to earth when the next phase of grief hit me. It fell and it hit the ground and it shattered into a million little pieces, and it was not at all repairable. Her post-mortem fuck-you came in the form of an estate utterly lacking in preparedness or the funds to see things to their conclusion. In the end, she took the phrase, “You can’t take it with you” so seriously that she decided that it really meant “You can’t take it with you and you should also leave the bill for someone else to pay because what the fuck do you care? You’re dead.” I was so angry at her for many months following this discovery. Just as her admission, shortly before she died, that I had never been able to please her and that it wasn’t entirely fair….this seemed to be another piece of proof that she really had regretted having me all those years ago.

What do you call a stage like that? To this day, I still don’t know.

Eventually, I struck a sort of happy medium. It was a peaceful cohabitation of love and hate, which I suppose characterized our relationship from beginning to end. I had to give up the ghost, so to speak, and quit providing safe harbor to the demons that terrorized and taunted me, their teeth gnashing as they delighted in tearing me apart from within the confines of my troubled mind. I suppose she had her own demons to fight, too. I suppose she took them with her, silencing them forever. I suppose that she finally found her own peace. But I find that time has a way of wearing down the anger into just a slight twinge. Now, there is really only love.

It has been five years, and so much has happened that she missed. Four new great-grandchildren have been born. The thing about my mom? She adored her grandchildren. She delighted in them and then delighted in their children. We did see eye to eye about the fact that my kids are blessings.

The Male Sibling Unit has really matured and blossomed in ways that would make her proud.

And her granddaughter married the best guy in the world. I do not tell my daughter this, but I see the best parts of my mom in her. Her creativeness, her earnestness about everything she does, the gentle way she has with children. Sometimes, her eyes will light up and she will pop off, make a smart comment; and it’s my mom, as I remember her when I was a little girl. I see the mother who made me something out of nothing; a cardboard box was designed and drawn on and parts were cut and pasted and my 3 year-old self had a play car to sit in and “drive”. Play-dough was made from scratch. Paper dolls were drawn and cut out for me to dress. Every holiday was an event and every day, she found ways to engage me in learning, creating, and being myself. She might not recognize these qualities in her granddaughter as being reflections of her, but I do.

I wore a skirt with a green flower print to the wedding. I had planned on wearing a gorgeous dress I bought months ago, but I the end, I decided that my mother needed to be present in some way. She would have been so immensely proud and that she missed it makes me so genuinely sad that it makes the dull ache of missing her pale by comparison. So I wore green – her favorite color – and I imagined her sitting on the bench next to me, clutching a wad of tissues and smiling beatifically as she watched her youngest grandchild become a wife. If I believed in God, I could wax poetic about how she was “smiling down” from Heaven, but I don’t believe that. Instead, I believe her presence was felt in the whisper of winds amongst the trees and the way the sun was shining upon a bride so beautiful, it took our breath away. She was there.

She was there.

Five years is a long time to be a motherless child. I think about her in some way every single day. Her voice is still fresh in my memory. I don’t feel the need to please her anymore, nor do I have the added stress of a religious faith that indoctrinates Heaven and Hell and cows us into believing “they can see us” after death. I felt her for a long time after she died, and I think that takes time to fade away, like fog in the morning on a warm, sunny, Autumn day. She’s here, yes.

In the whispering of winds in the trees.

Oh, Brother!

The Male Sibling Unit has spent the afternoon at a mental health-sponsored community center he visits at least twice a week. It was opened by the local mental health facility that treats the many individuals in our community with anything from mental disorders to actual mental and physical handicaps. I say “handicap” with no fear of being chastized by someone who has adopted whatever new terminology it is acceptable to use when identifying individuals with a permanent mental or physical disability. When I was a kid, the label “mentally retarded” was quickly going out of style as other, kinder words were being adopted.

Mentally Handicapped. To the point, if a little bit blunt. We used this for a long time.

Developmentally Delayed. I liked that one. It was kinda scientific but seemed sympathetic.

Special Needs. Now, this really takes you to a safe place, doesn’t it? In a vague, glossed-over way. Hell, have special needs. My need for wine at 5pm could be construed as “special”, right? My need for the Skittles to be in pairs of two with different colored Skittles before going into my mouth is obviously special.

The latest, most politically or socially correct “labels” used by those in the mental health/educational community range from Cognitive Disability to Intellectually Impaired. Okay. Whatever. The bottom line? It all means the same thing, and there are varying degrees, conditions, and impairments. I quit giving a shit about how I refer to my brother or his friends and coworkers because at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean anything anymore. I  know who he is and where he has limitations unique to him. The only word I cannot bring myself to use is “retarded” because, when he was 18 months old and my mother had been given the devastating, soul-crushing (for her) diagnosis, she sat me down and forbade me to use any manifestation of the word at all. It was officially a curse word in our family. It would have been better for me to have been caught calling some dumb boy in our neighborhood a “stupid, motherfucking cocksucker” than it would have been had I uttered, “You retard.”

The Male Sibling Unit has many “labels”. Our mother was 39 when she gave birth to him in 1975, and while that’s no big deal now, it sure was then. She was morbidly obese, smoked, and lived a very sedentary lifestyle, despite caring for both me and my grandmother, who had been partially paralyzed by a stroke when I was 5. My mother developed toxemia – we call it pre-eclampsia now – in her third trimester and had to be hospitalised for the last two weeks of her pregnancy. My brother was delivered at a bloated weight of 9 lbs, 5 ounces; he couldn’t even open his eyes because he was so filled with fluid. Even worse, there was a period of time, during his birth, when he was without oxygen and I will never forget the description in his records: bloated and blue. Still, the doctor got him breathing and everything seemed okay for a while. He was colicky at first, but sweet. He was a good-natured baby who drank his bottles and filled his diapers just like any other infant. I was 8 when he was born, so it fell to me to help. A lot. And I didn’t mind it, being a solitary, awkward kid myself.

When he turned 1 and he still couldn’t walk or even crawl, my mother was worried. Tests were performed. Xrays were done. A healed, hairline fracture of his skull was discovered. It was eventually surmised that he had hit his head on the edge of the kitchen table while in his walker. He had never reacted to what had to have been a painful event. But while running these batteries of tests, psychological ones were run, too, and that’s where all the labels came from. “Mentally retarded” was the first, and, as the years passed, “autistic” was another.

Was he born that way? No one seemed to be able to agree. It could have been the toxemia that interfered with his development in utero, but there was that “period of time” where he was not breathing, too. Both the Obstetrician and the Pediatrician were understandably defensive about that fact. Back in the late 70s, there were a lot of experts throwing their weight around, and it was eventually determined that the Male Sibling Unit would “never reach an intellectual age past that of a 4th grader” and require care for the rest of his life.

Those experts were stupid, retarded motherfuckers.

The Male Sibling Unit is developmentally delayed, yes. He is on the Autism Spectrum, too. He has OCD. He has various medical issues including Type 2 Diabetes and Hyperthyroidism. He is unavoidably, through no fault of his own, a narcissist. He does not feel pain like a normal person; his threshold is frighteningly high.  He also is, as he refers to himself, “a horse’s ass”. Nothing could be truer when he is being everything on the list at the same time but it simply is what it is.

The OCD stuff is the worst. The fact that he has a cell phone, which tethers him to me and anyone else who is on his contact list, makes the OCD harder to manage. He worries about himself and his circumstances and his routines constantly and those thoughts translate into multiple text messages a day. He will begin worrying about his prescriptions 10 days before they need to be filled and remind me that he will take care of them. Every day. Multiple times. Until it is time to actually do it. He will fight with his friends and revisit the fights over and over. When a special event is upcoming – meaning it is weeks or even months away – he begins a daily countdown.

We discuss how he feels about every little thing, every single day. When you’re me, with my own, unique set of mental albatrosses around my neck, managing another person’s is challenging.  There are days when I simply need that community center time, for him to go there for a while; to leave me to the peaceful silence of a quiet house. He’ll come home, filled with the happiness of a day spent with friends, and go up to his room to post it on Facebook. Yeah, you read that right.  The “mentally retarded” boy who would “never function past a 4th grade level” is now a 42 year-old who has a robust social media life. It is quiet. I am watching a news program.

Then my phone vibrates.

And yet, I can’t imagine life being any different. I knew what I was in for when I swore to take care of my baby brother for the rest of his – or my – life. It is the most challenging, infuriating, frustrating, hysterically funny, wonderful reality. I’m going to write about him more, because it’s cathartic and also because he is one funny motherfucker.

Happy Treason Day, or Festa Italiana Day, or whatevs.

The Male Sibling Unit is most relievably over his bout with a stomach bug contracted the other day. Sunday evening, he began asking me what we would be feasting on for the 4th. When I replied that I didn’t know yet, he began weaving his web.

“You know what I was thinking?” he texted me from his room upstairs yesterday morning, while I lounged with my first cuppa. “What” was all I could manage to reply, no punctuation. What the fuck do people expect from me 2 minutes after I’ve made my coffee?

Undaunted, he pushed on.

“I was thinking homemade pizza.” There it was. Not delivery, not DiGorno, but HOMEMADE. He knows nothing makes me gastronomically happier than to craft my masterpieces of pizza perfection. Still, I wasn’t sure. “Perhaps.” was my noncommittal reply. With a period. He sensed his upper hand in the complicated dance of suggestion that he had begun, and backed away. He had planted the seed, crafty jackass that he is.
I pondered the subject until this morning. Pizza on the 4th of July? Was it festive enough? American enough? Though it would be just us three partaking, was it ‘Merica-worthy in the way that a steak on the grill, a hamburger charred to hockey puck perfection, or a tube of mystery meat and preservatives (not worms, despite the rumor that ran rampant in my younger days that sodium erythobate was science-speak for earthworms) are symbolic of a true ‘Merican feast? I know, those of you who know me are scratching your heads because I’m usually “UFP” in the same enthusiastic way that a whore is “DTF”. I was just on the fence.

In the end, his suggestion won. I’m a filthy whore for pizza; what can I say?  I announced the news to him as we were out for my daily collection of steps. “Guess what’s for dinner?” I asked, expecting him to be pleased as punch.

“What are we having?” He asked.

“What did you ask for yesterday?” He was playing hard to get.

“Uhhh….hmmm. I dunno.” He replied.

At this point, had I still been on the fence instead of already planning, in my head, the magnificent artistry of combining carefully risen dough, thickly hand-cut pepperoni, and freshly made mozzarella, arranging it with the beautifully swirled red sauce and mushrooms, and finishing with a magical blend of Pennzy’s pizza spice, I might have said, “Steak. You asked for steak.” Which would have been a lie and worse, he would have KNOWN it because the Male Sibling Unit fears and detests having to chew meat because he’s choked before and therefore, will again.

Instead, I found myself having to give him clues because not only had he lost the plot, but he’d apparently forgotten that he masterminded the whole thing in the first place.

It was, at that moment, that we detoured from our route to the grocery store and ended up at the Liquor Store, with me fervently praying to myself that it hadn’t closed for the holiday. Which would be a stupid move on behalf of the state coffers considering that it’s a holiday in which people are required to drink a lot before setting off fireworks in their back yards before visiting the ER because Cousin Dumbfuck blew his index finger off with an M-80.
It was open. I’m pretty sure the cashier had been sampling the store’s product. When the young man ahead of me asked, “Do you need to see my ID?” she waved him off and said, “I don’t even care today.” When it was my turn, I handed her some money and she inquired, “Cents? Don’t you have any cents?” Then laughed at her own joke as if she was doing stand-up. “Uh, you need to ask yourself: would I be here if I did?” I deadpanned. She settled down noticeably and probably thought about muttering “Buzzkill.”

Now, the pizza dough is getting a prove and I’m halfway through a bottle of wine. The Male Sibling Unit has not once asked about fireworks, and that’s probably a good thing. He’s already thinking ahead, to the next holiday.

“I wonder What we’ll have on Labor Day?” He muses.

“Steak.” I reply.