On Saturday, I made a comment on the big, blue social media site about how I knew that I would pay, in one way or another, for The Male Sibling Unit’s generosity in staying home that day to help me with housework. Normally, he has an abbreviated day at his community center, Steps. He offered to give it up to assist me because he knew I might let him run the hardwood floor steamer, which he finds fascinating. I did, and he was thrilled.
I was correct, as per usual, about paying for it, inasmuch as he had an ulterior motive. He was wonderfully helpful, a fact he has seen fit to remind me of on an hourly basis ever since. Toward the end of the day, I simply acknowledged his sacrifice and thanked him. By the end of the evening, I was contemplating buying a bag of generic, gold medals to hand out to him for every “sacrifice” he makes because that truly is a motivator.
Yesterday, it was beginning to get a little old. I mentioned – again on that big, blue social media site – that I heard my mother every time I answered him, which was really, fucking irritating, and resulted in me falling into a pretty dark hole, before sleep last night. I missed her pretty intensely. The six year anniversary of that last sunset with her is drawing near and I had assumed the sadness was pretty much gone. It isn’t. I fell asleep with the memory of holding her hand as she took her last breaths and was jarred awake momentarily in a panic because I couldn’t remember if I kissed her. After reassuring myself that, of course, I must have, I fell into a deep sleep. I awoke in a funk.
Funks are nothing new; I exist, sharing an uneasy residency with depression in this body, and we go to Funkytown frequently. Depression is such a generous roommate, you see; it spreads the misery 365 days out of the year. Despite the pills and the “be gentle with yourself” messages and the optimistic phrases I repeat to myself, willing them to become mantras, they never really stick. The coexistence is uneasy at best. I might have known, though, because with the worries I have on my plate right now, my roommate has been seeing an “in” and raiding the refrigerator to eat my shit (that was MY FUCKING LEFTOVER PIZZA, BITCH!) and wearing my clothes without asking. You’d think I would have figured out these dirty tricks by now, but I’ll be fucked if I can find a truly foolproof alarm to signal the breech. And so it goes.
This new trip to low-down Funkytown has made me wonder what The Male Sibling Unit actually feels; does he also “hear” our mom when he goads me into flipping out? Does he do it to elicit just such a response? Maybe the reaction he receives, which causes my blood pressure to rise and my voice to take on an ominous, rapier edge, is actually as comforting to him as it is irritating to me. I used to hate how she would fly off the handle at every, single, thing he said, and I pride myself on the fact that I have always had a much higher reservoir of patience with his compulsory chatter. When he pushes me up to and over that edge, it feels like failure to me instead of a comfort. Until today, when I had that thought, I always thought he probably hated it, too. Maybe he pokes me because this is how he gets “his” mom – the one who bellowed, shrieked, and told him to get the hell out of her face while simultaneously buying him all his comfort food and washing his blanket and planning outings for him and chuckling as she called him pet names “Horse’s Ass” and “You shitass” – back for a brief, shrill moment.
Anyway, today we are back to normal, and it is a Steps day, which means he stayed up too late, got up too early, got all his morning chores done, and was chomping at the bit for noon to arrive so he could call the center to ask, “What’s for dinner?” (he already knows it’s leftovers from their Thursday picnic but he compulsively has to ask) and advise them he’ll be there – a fact they recorded Friday, the last time he was there. We’ve already gone through the day’s bullet points:
* Should he eat leftovers for lunch today?
* Should he take another shower tonight because it’s hot and humid?
* What am I going to do while he is gone?
The latter resulted in Mom emerging yet again, and I think that’s exactly how he wanted his Monday to go.
If you know me, even a little bit, and you’ve dropped by to read this because it has “Father’s Day” in the title and you’re a little curious about what I might have to say, then I’ll just apologize right now.
I don’t have any new information or words of enlightenment about my (lack of) paternal guidance in my life. About the only thing new I can impart is that the fucker is still alive and kicking, which makes him old AF; he’s as uncommunicative as he was when I was 10; and my older half-brother still waxes poetic about how “great” our dad is. News flash, big bro……he ain’t great. Oh, he’s great at ignoring his responsibilities, great at pretending he’s without human flaws, great at not reaching out to a child who never asked to be born and never contacted him for anything and whose mother never did, either. He’s great at his imitation of an ostrich; come to think of it, comparing him to an ostrich is an affront to ostriches everywhere.
Does this come off as bitter? I’m truly not. Understand this. I’m so not bitter, I’m your grandma’s homemade fudge.
I don’t know why my older half-brother sought out a friendship with me. We never speak of our relationship. We have two things in common: the asshat who stuck his dick into our mothers and the fact that neither of us is unkind. That seems to be it, though. He’s a Christian, conservative, well-to-do, proud bearer of the family name. I am none of those things.
That being said, sought me out, he did, and accepted his request, I did, so the joke’s on me, I suppose. Every time he posts about dear ol’ Dad, I feel uncomfortable, vaguely numb, and confused. My sperm donor – his dad -seems to be pretty fantastic. He has stories to tell, history to impart, and wisdom for days. Big bro describes a happy childhood and has nothing but elevating, kind, even worshipful words about this person who stole, like a theif in the night, into our home up until he got my mother pregnant with The Male Sibling Unit. He disappeared after that and then became persona non-grata after he renounced his attachment to a son who was developmentally-delayed. My mother “must have cheated on him” ( oh, there’s the irony!) because “no (insert last name I was not permitted to have) could father a retard.” That’s right, folks. That great guy used that word. I was a quiet, stealthy child with a penchant for eavesdropping because that was the only way I ever found out anything in my family; those people were vacuum-sealed when it came to feelings and truth. I also read voraciously, and nothing was more absorbing than the journals my mother kept during this time. This was the age of snail mail, too, and, to this day, I give not a single fuck that I read her mail, both incoming and outgoing. I certainly wasn’t getting any answers to the questions I ventured to ask; when the responses went from “Nevermind” to banshee shrieks of outrage that I would even dare to ask, I gave up. The journals and letters spoke her truth. And so, I understood, even at a young age, that this was no great guy.
I wonder, sometimes, whether or not our Facebook friendship is my seemingly-nice, older half-brother’s passive-aggressive way of reminding me that I’m not one of “them”. I’m not a part of the big family network with the old patriarch holding forth at family gatherings and such. I can’t post cute anecdotes about “that thing my dad said the other day” or wax poetic about him via loving childhood memories, because the well is fucking dry. There has never been water in that well; rain evaporates into nothing because there is no atmosphere. It is a black hole of lacking. There aren’t even tears, and I promise you, on the life of my children, there never have been. I never cried for the lack of what I never had. I never wished for a relationship, or a father figure, or for that great man to have a change of heart and seek out an audience with me; what crumbs he did offer were digested and shat out long ago. I don’t need my life force infected with the obvious intolerance of anyone who throws around the word “retard”. I don’t care that he said it 40 years ago and I give not a single fuck to the consideration that maybe he hasn’t said it since.
“Maybe he doesn’t know you’re his half-sister”; some of you might be thinking this. He knows. He fucking knows. That’s one thing about this town we inhabit together; people make it their business to know other peoples’ business. Just as I was an observant eavesdropper, there’s something in the water or the air here that makes everyone feel entitled to “know shit”. In the 60s and 70s, when I was a kid, the first thing anyone asked you was “Who’s your dad?” Sometimes it was, “Hmmmm, (says last name)…..what was your mother’s maiden name?” Answers like “I dunno” and “Her maiden name was what mine is now” elicited a certain reaction I learned to recognize and to abhor; it was the “Oooo, I’ll have to ask so-and-so about this!” face. It wasn’t a very accepting place with which to grow up when you were a bastard. I wear that word proudly now; back then, it wasn’t a badge I pinned to my chest.
So yeah, he knows. Does he know he makes me vaguely uncomfortable with his Pro-Daddy posts? I dunno; if he reads this, he will. Do I fear that he will misconstrue this as a sign of weakness in me? Nope. I’m not afraid of anything; I can honestly say that. I’m certainly not afraid of the opinion of a man who might just read this, discover that his great dad used the word “retard” about a son who looks exactly like his two other sons, and still chooses to regard that man as great. Nope. My battered and bruised heart still beats strong within my chest. I can’t wait to see another great post tomorrow, on the day all the kids thank their great dads for everything.
Happy Mother’s Day to this bouffant-crowned, sarcastically gifted lady, wherever she is. It’s been six years now, and I still find myself feeling awkward on this day of days meant to celebrate her. I know she is at peace in her ever-after. I hope that it’s a place filled with happiness and love, and that some of the friends and family who were able to see her attitude at its best are there, eliciting MORE attitude and sarcasm.
The look she has on her face in this photo was, believe it or not, how I know she was happy when it was taken. She wore her ballsy attitude like a proud vestment of Queendome when she was in the company of friends and family. This was a face I loved to see, her biting comments always deadpan, her voice modulated and dripping with disdain. A takedown from my mother was to be put in your place in such a permanent way that you thought you belonged there. My mother, when in her element, was the epitome of every synonym for sarcasm that exists. Here is the thesaurus entry for “sarcastic”. Read this to know her the way I loved her:
That – ALL OF THAT – was my mother the way I always hoped to see her, and the way I wish to remember her. Some of that could be construed as less-than complimentary, but when we love someone, we love the bad witch in them as well as the Glenda. She could be those negative things, and often was, in her darker moments. I saw more of those than I wanted, and she fell victim to them more than she deserved. In turn, I fell victim, as well.
It doesn’t matter, though. She went through things. We all do, and we all tend to judge others by the way they handle the shit that’s dealt them. She handled adversity; the challenges, the disappointments, the low valleys of sorrow that so often benched her at the kitchen table with only her tormented thoughts, her cigarettes, her coffee, and a deck of cards with which to play solitaire. Sometimes, the cards stayed in their deck and I would find her with her head bowed into her arms. There was no sarcasm then; only desolation. At those moments, I did not know how to elicit that which I hoped to see on her face. I knew that rousing her would only invite those bad synonyms, their barbs cutting into my flesh as she shot those arrows with precise aim at me. I was target practice for the real dragons she wished to slay. I was there, and available. And I loved her. I didn’t know that I wasn’t strong enough to withstand those poison-tipped arrows. Their venom was both immediate and slow-acting. It afflicted me in ways that, even now, I find myself looking for an antidote for.
But no matter. Because I found enough of an antidote to counteract the worst of it, I can think to myself that maybe that shit was savage as fuck, but that it taught me well. It taught me that I had, within myself, those same elements. I inherited her gift for sarcastic wit and I grew it, encouraged and nurtured it, with an expansion of attitude that colors my writing, my interactions, and my every thought. I bring it out, like she did, and put it on full display when it simply needs to be seen, like the crown jewels in a museum. I go one farther than she did, though: I bench it when my thoughts are too dark. I bench it when it would serve only to hit the batter right square in the face when I pitch my vitriole-tinged words. I consign it to the depths and darkened corners and tunnels of my mind when it would do harm if let loose into the world. There, in its cage, it torments only me. And I am good with that, because I know what a steady diet of acidic, cutting, contumelious, vomitus verbiage can do to break down an unwitting (or witting) victim. It wounds, it desensitizes, it changes the chemistry in their brains. It scars.
It scars forever.
She could not contain herself, no. But I can. So, when I go quiet, it’s because the lessons my mother taught me have taken hold, and I have done what I learned to do long ago, and I have consigned them to the basement boiler room of my inner schoolhouse for a time-out. Sarcasm has its place, but when it schools only to hurt, in turn it seeks only to offend.
And it’s Mother’s Day, after all. This is the day to revere our mothers and to reflect upon all the love, the sacrifices, and the countless life lessons. It’s just that, for some of us, there’s a small mountain of salt to go with. If you have more sugar than salt, embrace that. Embrace your mom. Bake her a cake or take her out for ice cream and celebrate all that sweetness.
I’m just gonna sit over here and eat a whole bag of potato chips.
Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching, and the Male Sibling Unit’s thoughts have turned to love.
Yes, you can groan inwardly, like I have, because the thought of the Male Sibling Unit being romantic makes me slightly sick to my stomach. Any thoughts of a family member in the throes of passion causes that knee-jerk reaction; the desire to stuff one’s fingers in one’s ears and yell “NONONONONONONONONONO” until the conversation is drowned out. Ew.
It is a double-edged sword with the Male Sibling Unit, though. His disability makes it so. He is, in a word, awkward. In his mind, intellectually, he really is an 8 year-old sometimes. With life experience, though, he has learned to fake being an adult. You know, like most of the male population! He knows romantic protocols, like taking his lady out to dinner, dancing with her at functions, calling her “Sweetie” and making all the appropriate gifting gestures. I am not saying he is totally genuine about it, because it really is all about him, even if it is all about her. The premise is great, but his mind doesn’t work that way. He rarely does an unselfish thing “just because” since his mind cannot function in that capacity. If he buys her a gift, it becomes a constant musing of “What is she going to think? Is she going to tell me thank you? Will she think I did a good thing?” It is about his gratification, and not anyone else’s. He needs the validation as much as he needs air to breathe. He wants everyone to ply him with compliments about how thoughtful he was. It sounds like a terrible characterization, but it’s just the truth. And we – everyone who knows and loves him – understand his ways, and we wouldn’t want him to be any other way.
Anyway, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and he and his lady are going out to dinner. He was given a gift card for a local restaurant at Christmas by my daughter and son-in-law, with the suggestion that he use it for himself and his girlfriend; a nice, romantic dinner. He was ecstatic and they started making plans right away. They decided to wait for Valentine’s Day, and now the event is nearly upon us and as usual, it is all I am hearing about.
“We’re going to Beefeaters Wednesday! ”
“I think Carol is going to be so happy that we’re going to Beefeaters on Wednesday.”
“I wonder what she will say to me?”
“I think she is happy about this, that I am taking her to Beefeaters for Valentine’s Day.”
Get the picture? Now, expand upon this. This is the topic of discussion every day, the entire time we are home together. When we are not home together, he texts these pronouncements to me throughout the day. In between, of course, we talk about a few other subjects, like the next time he will be going to his community center and how many tests strips he has left to check his glucose and Oh-My-Fucking-God there are only 12 left and what does that mean? We made all of his prescriptions automatic refills, so he will not have to count pills and decide when to call in for refills and so on, but these old habits die hard and it usually takes me having to remind him, once again, that he has automatic refills and how that process works. By the end of the explanation, I need a refill of blood pressure medication for myself because there is not enough of it in the world to bring my pressure back down.
So yes, romance is in the air, and now, we are discussing things like what kind of gift he should give her and what they will be eating at their romantic dinner. They discussed this at length, apparently, and the evening of romance will include two fish dinners.
They are quite certain about that, don’t need a menu, so it is set in stone. The gift? This is much more difficult for me. For who, you ask? Why for you? Well, because the Male Sibling Unit does not buy gifts. He delegates this task to me because it is less about the choosing than it is about the actual giving. I guess he trusts me to purchase something that will elicit the response he craves, which is “Oh look! You are so thoughtful!” And he will take credit for that shit 100%; there will be no bashful admissions that “My sister picked it out” because nuh uh! He is a wily fucker! He wants that adoration for himself!
I know; you think that his reasoning is that she will be so bowled over by his romantic overtures that she’ll give it up, and he is hoping to get laid, right? A normal, 42 year-old man would think that way. And again, I cannot stress this enough: Ew. But if you’re thinking that he is thinking that she’ll be thinking along these lines, think again.
The Male Sibling Unit is the real-life 40-Year-Old Virgin. Correction: make that 42, and quickly closing in on 43. He has never actually kissed a girl, except on the cheek. If one suggests kissing on the lips, and even more, with tongue, he comes undone in a cacophony of giggles and hoots and 8 year-old exclamations of “Eeeeeeewwwwww!” that quite frankly puts any 8 year-old to shame in the dramatic overtures department. To suggest that he actually have sex evokes a honking, hyena-like fit of hysteria that sounds a little bit like Tiny Tim singing and a donkey braying in simultaneous chorus. Then, when he calms down, he whispers, “Ew. Ew. Ew.” in a creepy little voice.
The Male Sibling Unit does not like mess. Or dirt. Or anything sticky, or, well, anything that excretes bodily fluids. He says he likes boobs, but I am dubious. Does he? Really? And it is certain that he does not find vaginas attractive, because he can’t even say the word without disintegrating into fits of horror, disgust, and hysteria. The physical act of sex, even simulated on tv, stresses him out so badly that his legs twitch spasmodically and he erupts into nervous outbursts of “SEX” and “They’re humping” and “Breasts”, the latter which he utters in a creepy, insidious voice that would make any woman (or man, for that matter) run away in fear. Think Golem in The Lord of the Rings, saying “My precious” and you have a pretty good approximation of the Male Sibling Unit uttering “Breasts.”
Alas, no wining and dining the lady; giving her gifts, and coming off as a debonair Jimmy Stewart-esque leading man on Valentine’s Day is definitely not on the roster for Wednesday. To be honest, it will more than likely be he and his lady, accompanied by me and the husband, because he isn’t really good at the tipping thing or the ordering thing or the paying thing. The last time he and the lady went to a sit-down restaurant that did not include an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet or the golden arches, they ordered nearly everything they liked on the menu, because my son was the chef at the restaurant and was comping them (in other words, he was paying for it as a gift to them) and it was a brunch menu. They ordered, well, everything: pancakes, bacon, eggs, toast, sides of fruit, big glasses of orange juice, muffins, french toast……the total came to nearly $50 at a place where two people can eat enough to last them for a day for about $28. And that’s if one of them splurges on cannoli! My son said. “Wow, they must have been hungry.” Nope, they just didn’t really know better and since they didn’t have to stick to a budget, all bets were off! Since they DO have a budget this time, we will tag along just to make sure everything goes okay. We might even sit at a different table, just to give them their privacy. That way, the Male Sibling Unit can take full credit for the stuffed bear he has required I buy for him to give her, but a task which I foisted onto the husband to purchase for him because he is at Walmart every fucking day and the less I have to see of that cesspool of hate, the better.
I do believe that the Male Sibling Unit is actively seeking to set my personal Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight. To hell with the committee that oversees the world’s Doomsday Clock, which is just a metaphor for the fact that we, as a planet, are in the shit and it’s all because the United States has a turnip for a President and the Congress is the puppet master of said turnip. There is no real “Doomsday Clock” but I imagine that if it existed, it would be pretty scary looking and it would be located somewhere in Germany. That Doomsday Clock is the least of my worries right now.
My own sprang a spring or broke a gear or something on Friday, when I discovered that The Male Sibling Unit is continuing to rush his own demise by eating sugar-laden food on the sly. The fact that his disability makes it impossible for him to truly be sly is the only saving grace in the situation. Most diabetics who try to hide their verboten sugar intake do so sneakily, like my mother used to. I will never forget the day my first husband walked into our kitchen after taking her to work in her car in order to bring it back home to do some repairs on it. In his mitts was a crumpled-up ball of empty bakery bags from the local supermarket. He had found this debris stuffed underneath her driver’s seat when he released the seat back to make way for his legs. We untangled the bags and found that there were four. When he confronted her (I did not dare, or my Doomsday Clock would have been set back then, in 1998) she became defensive, of course, and basically told him in no uncertain terms that he was not the boss of her. Actually, I think her exact words were “Fuck off” but I can’t quite remember and I sure as hell am not going to ask him, because then my Doomsday Clock will be set to one minute to midnight and possibly I will risk self-combustion right then. I swear, that woman sneaked sugar up until the day she died. I know that the doctor told me she was essentially brain dead the day she passed, but I really think she probably had a stash of Snickers bars somewhere underneath her sheets or stuffed under the mattress. The woman was tenacious AF.
The Male Sibling Unit has his own special products that I buy him to stave off his incessant, unrelenting desire for sugar. I buy him Splenda packets for his cereals, sugar-free candy, sugar-free cookies, jams, gum; you name it. If it can be procured in sugar-free form, he has it. I also watch his carb intake and even allow him actual sugar on occasion, simply to give him the sense that he isn’t foregoing every, single thing that he loves. He tests his blood sugar three times a day and we adjust his insulin injections accordingly. He attends workshops on diabetes and diabetes clinics. Everyone in his realm is invested in his personal diabetes experience. Since he’s so into himself, it would make perfect sense that he would want to walk the walk and talk the talk, because much praise is offered when his A1C levels are lower and his tests are good. He eats that shit up as enthusiastically as he does peanut butter brownies.
Alas, I was wrong to assume that. This is proven to me over and over again, as he continues to hoard food (a lifelong practice) and stuff plain, white bread down his gullet and eat jams bought for the non-diabetics in this house and sneak gulps of my Coca Cola and then put it back, thinking that I will not notice that an unopened bottle has, in fact, been opened, and not by the husband, who detests Coke. Guess what, fucker? I noticed when I grabbed it out of the fridge and opened it, expecting to hear that satisfyingly fresh hisssssss as the vacuum seal let loose, and heard…..nothing. That soda was as flat as my tits before I got pregnant the first time.
I’m not complaining about caring for him. Okay, so it sounds like I am, but I’m actually just blowing off steam. Caring for him has been a journey I willingly and enthusiastically took on from the moment we knew that he was always going to need looking after. I can still remember, with perfect clarity, standing in front of my 5th grade teacher, the dashing and charismatic Mr. Horovitz, who was quietly demanding that I tell him why I wanted to drop off the crossing guard detail.
Being a crossing guard, or “Patrol”, as we called it then, was a very big honor and responsibility. One was chosen by a committee of teachers at the conclusion of the 4th grade. Throughout 5th and 6th grade, one had the awesome responsibility of arriving at school early and putting on a strap with a badge, grabbing a flag pole, and heading out to a designated corner in our neighborhood to cross the other students, assuring their safety across streets as they trekked to school. We did this in the morning, at lunch time, and after school. We were rewarded for our service with a trip to Washington, DC at the end of 6th grade. You just couldn’t do any better than this when you were in grade school. I was a Patrol, and when my mother had broken down at the kitchen table in 1977, after being given The Male Sibling Unit’s diagnosis (Severe Mental Retardation with Autism sprinkled in for effect, never to advance any farther intellectually past a 4th grade level) I had sat on this information for a long while. I was already heavily invested in my role as The Big Sister, imagining things like turning 16 and picking him up after school in my convertible Camaro and impressing all his friends. The fact that we were dirt fucking poor and on welfare and that I would never own a car at 16, much less learn to drive then because at that point, we no longer had a car, escaped my juvenile daydreams. I was going to take him for ice cream and buy him stuff and be the coolest sister ever. Most of all, I was going to protect him. When the diagnosis came down, I realized, immediately, that protecting him was going to be at the top of the list now. I saw how people treated the kids with disabilities, and called them names, and were generally just cruel. There was no fucking way on earth that I was going to let anyone make fun of my brother or call him a “retard”. As a matter of fact, my mother had forbidden that word to be uttered from the moment she found out he was handicapped. I knew I had to be the front line to his safety, because I spent the most time with him. A big sister had to protect her sibling.
My mother was a mess after the diagnosis. She spent every moment at the kitchen table, crying, smoking, listening to the radio, writing letters, and many times, I would find her with her head cradled in her arms. Her love for me had been cut off at the knees by then, and all I received was an occasional bark commanding me to “Take your brother with you” when I would go somewhere after school or on weekends. Instinctively, I knew she needed help. What could I do, though? I needed to do something to help her. That’s when the idea formulated in my head: I would give up Patrol, freeing up an extra hour in the morning and at night, and be there for her, and for my brother. I remember writing my resignation on a piece of paper and quietly placing it on Mr. Horovitz’s desk at the beginning of the school day. Just before lunch time, he called me to his desk. He was holding my resignation, and he asked me why I wanted to resign. I had not told anyone about my brother; I didn’t want anyone to laugh or make fun of him or even worse, feel sorry for me. I was ridiculously proud and stubborn even then. My whole life was made up of secrets; no one knew that my dad was actually a well-respected businessman in the community who had carried on an affair with my mother that produced two children, or that we were on welfare. That stuff was nobody’s business then, and was of little importance to young kids anyway. Having a mentally handicapped brother was of interest, though, and never in a good way. There was no fucking way I was going to let anyone mess with him, and I wasn’t ready to reveal it to even my best friends. I didn’t expect what happened with my teacher, though. In retrospect, his heart was in the right place, but I wish he had done what he did in a different, more private way.
He waited for my response. I shifted, uneasily, from foot to foot. “I just need to.” was all I could manage to say.
“I’m sorry, Lori, but that isn’t a good enough reason. Please, tell me why.” He was not going to relent.
“Because.” I said, quietly. Because, you fuckwit. Don’t ask me these questions. I don’t want to tell you.
Another student stood beside me, waiting for his attention. I was hoping he would accept my resignation and then move on to her request, whatever it was. But nope. He was adamant. “You’re not sitting down until you give me a good reason for quitting Patrol.” I knew this guy. He wasn’t kidding. My resolve was slipping, and I knew that the next step was going to be calling my mother. Then I would be in deep shit. I didn’t even realize that there were tears running down my cheeks until Mr. Horovitz asked me why I was crying. I managed to speak, quietly, as I cried. “I have to quit to help take care of my little brother. He’s mentally retarded. We just found out. My mom needs me to help her.” He was silent, his face registering a surprise I had never seen before. He looked down. I stood proudly, my insides quaking, because I knew the little fuckstick next to me couldn’t keep a goddamn secret and the jig was almost up as soon as she could assemble a group of stupid, fucking, giggly girls and whisper what she had just heard. Finally, Mr. Horovitz looked at me and said, firmly but kindly, “You aren’t quitting Patrol, Lori. You can’t.” I sobbed a little and protested, “I have to. I have to be there and help.” He smiled, and said, “I know you want to help, but you have to remember that your mom is an adult, and her job is to take care of you as well as your brother. I know you think you’re making it easier, but you are only hurting yourself. And you promised to do a job. You can’t go back on your word.” I felt that he just didn’t understand how high the stakes were. I had to be there for my family. His next words did little to calm me. “I am going to talk to your mom, okay? I know she will agree with me. Let’s just forget about this. You will continue to be a Patrol, because that’s really important, and it’s also really important for you to do things you love, too. You’re a really good sister. I am really proud of you. But you are not going to do this.”
Needless to say, I went home, dragging my feet because I was positive, given how well I knew my mother and her present state of mind, that she was going to kick my ass for dragging my teacher into this and causing him to have to call her. I was in for the surprise of my life, though. She actually agreed with him, and was a little nicer to me for a while after that. My classmates, too, surprised me. They never made fun of my brother, and aside from a few nervous questions about whether or not his condition “hurt” him, my friends pretty much took up the mantle of surrogate protectors, too, which shows you that kids can be shitty, but sometimes, they can be pretty awesome.
Protecting The Male Sibling Unit is just a part of who I am now, and the fact that he makes it hard for me to do is infuriating and frustrating. I’m in this ’til the end, but there is no need for us to rush the end, is there? With every furtive peanut butter sandwich on white bread, with regular Smuckers instead of his sugar-free preserves, he is fast-forwarding his clock, and mine, because I swear, I can actually feel my blood pressure skyrocket when I discover that he’s been at it again. I try to be calm, to sit him down, to talk to him like adults talk, to use flattery and praise to make him feel invested in making good choices. I understand that there is some sort of short-circuiting involved with all diabetics; they seem to want what they cannot have more intensely and when they go off the beaten path of sensibility, they really stray, ending up in another county at times. They have little self-control, with regular foods and with diabetic foods. I can recall my mother eating every piece of candy that I bought for my brother’s Christmas stocking in a year before he was diagnosed. When I went to retrieve his stocking stuffers to fill it for him, there was an empty bag where the candy had been. She was scathingly unapologetic: “If you would let me eat the shit I want, I wouldn’t have had to eat his.” The same thing applied to her diabetic candies. She couldn’t eat just one or two pieces; she had to eat the entire bag. The bad thing about diabetic candy consumed in large quantities is what it does to a diabetic’s digestive system. It, well….speeds it up. The exit is nearly as quick as the entry. And when you’re an elderly woman who broke a hip and needs to use a walker to get to the bathroom, sometimes you don’t make it. And you leave evidence of your lack of self-control for your home health aide to clean up. And in my mother’s case, she did that just as unapologetically as she ate my brother’s candies, and those 4 bags of bakery items in 1998. Eek.
I doubt that the latest talk with The Male Sibling Unit had any effect. The husband and I have resisted buying a cabinet for food that is off-limits and lockable. That stubborn part of me that was so stoic when I was 11 is now an old lady, set in her ways, pigheadedly insisting that I am not going to make my life more difficult just because he’s an asshole who won’t listen. I know, it’s such a little thing, really. It will ensure his safety and enable me to avoid a stroke. It doesn’t mean that I won’t go all Lewis Black on his shit about something else, or because I have finally reached the end of my rope with some other insufferable subject, like Doomsday Clocks and turnips and how the FUCK does the Religious Right justify sleeping with a porn star within a few month of one’s wife having one’s baby as being worthy of a “mulligan” when every other politician in the world who has even sneezed inappropriately in the general direction of a woman not his wife has been forced to leave office or been impeached? I know. That was a lot to digest. But see? Lewis Black would be proud of that rant. So, we’re gonna get the lockable cupboard, and I am going to hope that I can figure out a fool-proof way to hide a key. And remember where I put it. Maybe I can hide it behind a clock. Tick-tock, motherfucker.
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 I 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.
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 forhim 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.
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.
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.