Thursday, July 5, 2012

Missing the Red Flags

Predictably the themes on Meet the Press last Sunday  were 1: Health Care Reform 2:The Future of Obama and 3:Legacy of Roberts. 

As much as I wanted to watch I’m swamped with other matters of consequence like the crisis in health of a dear friend and neighbor; spreading the impressive piles of pine bark mulch from my recent tree cutting to comply with fire regulations; and interviewing realtors for the future sale of my home.

Maybe all these things are related.? Here is the next chapter of Once Upon A Time. I am using fictitious names except for my own. 

Not all middle children have the same personality traits, research shows, but most either lack self esteem or display courage and confidence.  Much depends on the coping style of the child.  This is affected in part by the parent’s style of child rearing. A middle child who never learned courage will run from problems and become shy and withdrawn. 

Hence when her Mother protected and sheltered her, Shelly went the second route.
Her petite physical stature probably contributed to her lack of internal strength.  She was the invisible compliant child in the family. Though withdrawn, she did well in high school, once surprising everyone by trying out for and being selected for cheerleading, a seeming total contradiction to her nature.. 

She was the only one of the five children to even attempt college.  She graduated in art but lacking assertiveness was unable to find employment so took jobs in clerical work and banking.  Meanwhile she engaged in several romantic relationships, including one in which she was physically abused. She finally sought a women’s shelter. As in the past she took refuge with her Mother, whose arms and heart were always open.  

When she married both husband and wife, while still unemployed and experimenting with drugs, continued to live with her Mom.  In time the husband found work and the two purchased a small house rather nearby. Two children were welcomed by the couple, a girl and a boy, and while the grandmother was still working she invested as much love as possible in these and her other grandchildren. 

When Shelly’s husband succumbed of an industrial accident my niece returned to work, this time finding employment in the insurance field.  Times were tight and the older child, of necessity, assumed the parenting role for her younger brother, as best she could. 

One warm evening when both children were still young and asleep upstairs a sexual molester climbed in through the bathroom window.  I have always thought he raped Shelly, but she thinks “he never got it in”.  By this time in her sad life, she was skilled at a kind of psychological amnesia anyway.  With her tiny frame she tried to fight him off but he slashed her right hand deeply leaving her middle finger inflexible for the rest of her life.  Already untrusting of most everyone, she refused counseling.  He was never caught.  This can not have added to her tenuous grip on coping with life.

When her Mother died, Shelly suffered deeply and withdrew further into herself.  Her self esteem, always precarious, plummeted.  She even sought the advice of a t-v psychic. She shared her thoughts with no one, even her children, who had mostly learned to survive by their own means.  Still she worked and maintained her neat small home. 

After her daughter graduated from high school and left the state to seek her own path, Shelly declined further.  Like her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother her daughter would face a giant struggle to find her identity. She is currently married and going to nursing school 2,000 miles away.

The day came when, like the rest of the accounting department staff at a large city hospital, my niece lost her job because of outsourcing to India,

In financial desperation after a year or so, Shelly found work at the only source available: Walmart.  Meanwhile, her son, always a school misfit, got into trouble, eventually dropping out of school.  To complicate matters he developed epilepsy, for which he was seldom treated. .  His preoccupation was playing computer games.  Neither was emotionally equipped to handle what was to come. Though they communicated poorly with each other, each withdrawing into their own worlds, the therapist in me defines their relationship as classically codependent.  

I live some distance away, and could only assess this by the increasing brevity of communication.  Christmas cards that used to be long and chatty became one sentence: “I love you.”  Phone calls were never answered.  The answering machine never worked, even though her older sister gave her another one, (or when it did messages were never answered). The hints of mental and/or physical illness became red flags.  Given my psychotherapist  profession I should have seen what was to come. Alas, I missed the fact she was was ceasing to cope and that two children now teenagers were at risk. 

Above is just one set of debris gathered this week to go to the dumpster. Like my family history, there is a lot of mess to clean up.  

After reading a rough draft of today's story my g. niece, Shelly’s daughter, asked if she could write the ending from her viewpoint.   What a terrific idea.  So next week you’ll get to read the third and last part of the story from a very different perspective.    

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