My great niece, now 28, volunteered to write the last chapter of this family tragedy, so this is her voice speaking. I've done some editting for length.
I’ve never thought much about my life was very fair.
I don’t remember a lot about my early childhood. I know my Dad loved me a lot, but had a drug problem, especially after he hurt himself at work and had to lay around the house all day on workman’s comp. I know my mom was (and is) very shy and passive-aggressive. I’m the opposite, so our relationship has always been weird.
My parents got divorced when I was about five years old. It was probably about a year or so after my Dad’s accident, when he got too caught up in the drugs, and my mom couldn’t handle it anymore.
Before that happened, while my Dad worked, my mom stayed at home and took care of me and my two year old brother. My brother never really got to know my Dad, which I always feel kind of sad about. I didn’t get to know him much either, but more than my brother.
Anyway, when my parents divorced, my mom had to work for the first time in a long time. Over the years, I have come to suspect she was never very good at being independent and taking care of herself – even though she always SAID she was; “ I am very IN-DE-PEN-DENT,” she would always tell me, accentuating every syllable. It occurs to me that she was probably just trying to convince herself.
My mom relied on my grandma a lot when she was in monetary trouble. This, unbeknownst to me, was quite a bit. No big deal on her end, though, cuz Grandma was always there to bail her out. Part of me feels really bitter about this, because I have never had (or needed) that. Then again, another part of me knows that very reliance was a big part of my mom’s problem.
My mom never tells me anything. She has even gone out of her way to inform me; “ There are some things you will NEVER know about me!” My point being, growing up, everything appeared stable. Our physical needs were met, anyway. We always had a house, a car, food on the table, heat. That kind of thing. My mom could be really mean, though. Sometimes physically, but more mentally and emotionally. From a young age (7 or 8) I took over doing most of the household things because my mom worked so much. Laundry, dishes, meals. It was only me that this was expected of, however. My brother never lifted a finger. I remember being about 12 and getting sick of it, so I would purposely not do any of his dishes. It never mattered, though; they would just sit in the sink until their smell drove me crazy enough to where I would break down and do them.
I was pretty resentful of all of this, especially since my mom never praised me or thanked me, merely expected it to get done, and it was never to her liking. She was a critical old nag. If it’s not up to your standards, do it yourself, is what I wanted to tell her. I probably did at some point, but kept on doing all the work anyway. I tried to ignore her daily telling me that nothing was done right, I was stupid, I was awful, she wishes she never had kids, we were the source of her misery, etc. I got pretty good at ignoring her, but it still hurt. I got to the point where I hated my mom. Hated. I couldn’t wait to get out of that miserable house.
My mom had very few friends or boyfriends, which dwindled to none after awhile. She seemed content to go to work, come home, barricade herself in her room, while smoking and watching TV. Sometimes she would talk on the phone to her sisters, but more often than not would let me answer the phone and then have me tell them she was in the bathroom or something. When someone came to the door (which was not often) if she wasn’t already in her room, she would bolt for it, and slam the door, leaving me to deal with whoever had come over. In fact, that was the definition of our relationship. Her acting completely helpless until I got pissed and impatient and did whatever needed to be done.
I learned to know the exact squeak of the floor when she was about to come out of her room, so I could run and hide in mine. I despised interacting with her because I never knew what to expect. One thing was certain, though, she would probably be talking to herself. A very long, negative, conversation. I rarely invited people over because, the few times I did, they commented on it; “Who is she talking to? Why does she do that?” I didn’t know. I found it embarrassing and weird. I just wanted to stay out of her way so she wouldn’t spray me with her negative energy.
One time I tried to cut my wrists with a leg shaver. I made a big dramatic production of it, so my mom would actually notice something outside of herself for once, and talk to me like I was an actual person. It escalated into a big dramatic scene in the kitchen, “This is how you make me feel!” I screamed, showing her my wrists. “What about how I feel? How could you do this to me?!” She replied. I was filled with a cold realization: My mom didn’t really care about me or my feelings. She wasn’t lying when she said she never wanted kids.
That last episode happened after my grandma died, which was when my mom really went down hill. Her only friend and protector was gone – what would she do? For years after that, her ceaseless monologue would include how much she missed grandma. All I could think about was that I wouldn’t miss her when she died. She was lucky she had a mom, because I didn’t. I became her mom. The unfairness of it engulfed me.
As I grew older, she could barely function in public situations. In the grocery store she would embarrass and frustrate me deeply, because if she had a question about something grocery related, she would walk around and complain and complain … Would she take action to correct her situation, and ask a grocery clerk? No way. I would be the one to have to track someone down, just to shut her up.
Her whole life became like that. By this time I was 16 and my brother was 13, he was the same way as my mom. Passive. He failed at most things in school because he just wouldn’t do them. Or he would do something outrageous and get in huge trouble. My point being, they couldn’t seem to do anything without my guidance. Without me doing it for them. I hated it. Even driving with my mom was a nightmare. She would be so confused about where to go and what to do that she would be swerving all over the road like a drunk person. She’s even been pulled over before because the cop thought she was drunk. “No, officer, my mom is just completely non-functional.”
As you can imagine, I was never very nice about all of this. People had suggested that perhaps she was depressed. I didn’t care. “So what?!” I would think. “I’m depressed just being around her, but I still have to live my life AND hers. Why can’t she get her shit together, she’s an ADULT!”
I left home when I was 19. I tried college, but really all I wanted to do was escape. The boyfriend I had at the time and I travelled to Alaska together … Then about a dozen other places, working the same amount of jobs. I always came back to visit my mom and brother about twice a year. It was nice for about a day, until they started driving me crazy again. Then, when it was time for me to leave, my mom would cling to me and say things like; “There is so much life in the house when you are here! I wish you would come back here and live!” It was all I could do to NOT peel her off of me and run screaming from the house. Why did she want me to stay if, when I was there for any length of time, she barricaded herself in her room, only to come out and lavish abuse upon me? It didn’t make any sense.
Every time I came back, they were both worse. My brother never graduated high school and never got a drivers license. Hell, he never even had a job. At 23 and 24, he was still living in our childhood room, playing video games and watching talk shows … And my mom supported him. I loved my brother and enjoyed talking with him, but he would constantly ask me for advice, and then never take it. He would always ask, “How do you DO all the stuff you do?”…. “I don’t know. I just do it.” I didn’t realize until now that the terror of being stuck with them in that house forever is partially what propelled me. Also, a curiosity about life. Didn’t they want to live? Weren’t they curious about what they could do and see in this world?
One of the last times I was there, my mom complained and complained about my brother. He never did anything. He smoked all her cigarettes. He stole money from her. Then she told me he threw a phone at her. This piqued my interest. “Mom, do you really want him gone?” I asked. “Yes,” was her immediate reply. So, I went to work.
I called around and found out he could be forcefully removed from the house if my mom would sign a paper stating she was afraid for her safety. Essentially, it would be a restraining order. But, they would be separated, and isn’t that what my mom wanted? I told them both this and they freaked out a little, but my mom agreed to do it.
We went to the court house and, as I handed my mom the pen to sign the paper, she went all weird on me. Started acting ultra crazy, like she didn’t know how to operate the pen and couldn’t understand english. It was very eerie. We left without her signing a thing, me fuming with embarrassment and rage at all the effort I had just wasted. That’s when I officially stopped trying to do anything for my mom.
There are so many stories, but this is long enough already. I will tell you the last one and then I have to stop because I am getting tired.
I hadn’t spoken to my mom for about a year. I stopped trying to call her because she never answered the phone or returned messages. She had my number, but she never called. I live in Maine – you would think a mother who lives in Seattle, Washington, would want to keep track of her child, who lives in Maine. Apparently not.
Anyway, so here I am, in Maine, at the ripe old age of 29, finally putting myself through nursing college (after my dear old Aunt Bonnie pressured me for several years until I finally saw the wisdom of her words and was tired of her badgering me all the time … just kidding, Aunt Bonnie) working part time at a hospital as a nurses aid, just got married (which is another long story about how my mom never came to my wedding because she GOT LOST) …. In the middle of my first nursing semester, as I’m trying not to have a stroke from all the work I have to do, I get a call from my brother telling me that he and my mom are getting evicted.
Selfish as I am, I’m pissed that this is thrown into my lap amongst other things. I communicate with my family, but there isn’t much anyone can do, because my mom is so batty that even if she would actually get on the frigging horn and CALL someone, she seems to have no idea why this is happening. Neither does my brother.
They get evicted. They stay at friends houses for awhile, and then are officially homeless, sleeping behind a grocery store. My brother still has a cell phone the state provided for him, so I keep tabs on them that way …. But it doesn’t sound like they are doing much of anything besides sitting behind the grocery store, getting rained on, and waiting for some knight in shining armor to save them.
I talk to a friends mom about this, and she gives me a long list of all the resources they could tap, if they would just … Well … get MOTIVATED. “Your mom and brother really need to advocate for themselves and not sit behind the grocery store doing nothing,” she tells me. Can you guess what my reply was? Something along the lines of: NO DUH. I HAVE BEEN TELLING THEM THIS FOR ABOUT 15 YEARS.
I mention their situation to my Uncle in California and he immediately becomes their knight in shining armor. His ex wife works for united airlines, so he gets them free tickets to fly out of sea tac just a few days later and come live with him and my grandma (these are my Dad’s relatives).
You know what the funny thing is, though? He’s already noticing their ambivalence about life. They got to LA about a week ago, and he and I have been talking quite a lot, and he’s already mentioned their “motivation problem” several times. He is such a kind heart, I’m so happy he did this …. But I am also wondering if he is now saddled with two bumps on a log that will smoke and watch TV all day and barely contribute. My hope, though, is that, he being my Dad’s brother (I forgot to mention my Dad died of MS when I was 13) will have some sort of positive impact on my brother, who has never had a male figure in his life.
Also, my Uncle and his girlfriend, after doing some digging, found out why my mom lost the house. They were absolutely stunned (and I got a lot of phone calls over this) that my mom had no idea why it happened.
Obviously this story isn’t over. I do know one thing, though. Over the years, my mom has made a comfortable home in “mental-illness land”. I used to be so pissed off and resentful and full of hate about the unfairness of it all …. But that hurts me more than anyone else. A cousin of mine, who dropped my mom and brother off at the airport last week, sent me a picture of them standing at the gate. Just seeing my mom looking so frail and unhealthy made all the fight go right out of me. She’s just a sick lady and, even if it was her fault at some point, it’s not anymore. Me pointing my finger and blaming her for being a bad mother would be like me pointing my finger at a paraplegic and screaming, “YOU SUCK AT WALKING!” … If that makes any sense. She’s just not very good at life. It’s tragic, but it is what it is, and we need to accept the way things are and work with them to the best of our ability. For me, that is the biggest lesson in all of this.