It has been a hell of a year.
I don’t believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I live with my parents because I’m unemployed; I graduated college just as the economy was crashing in 2008 and have been unable to actually use my degree since then. Even retail establishments refuse to hire me because they believe my advanced education makes me overqualified for the positions they have available.
Anyway, last summer, my brother (yes, that one) was diagnosed bi-polar and my sister-in-law (henceforth to be known as “the evil cow”) decided that my three nephews weren’t safe at home with him until his medication was figured out and asked us to take care of the older two (then 11 and 9 years old) for a week or two while her parents watched the little one (then 4 years old). The “week or two” turned into almost 2 months after which the boys went home and we were given the little one for “10 sleeps” that turned into almost 2 months, but that’s not really what I wanted to talk about either.
Shortly after my brother’s diagnosis, my parents were trying to ask him questions to figure out what was going on, both with him and with the kids. They were met with a long, ranting, tirade from the evil cow claiming that their questions such as, “Are you alright?” and “What do you want me to do for you?” were causing my brother great distress and they were forbidden from trying to contact their son unless it was through her. It was obviously more of her Munchausen by proxy bullshit that she pulls with the kids when they have a small cold and it becomes a grave illness or when she calls them off school saying they’re sick because she’s too hung over to take them or how the little one is allergic to milk because he once threw up after drinking some milk (that was probably spoiled) even though he eats cheese and yogurt and ice cream all the time. I think the evil cow, who had been trying to limit my brother’s contact with his family for years (Yeah. My abuser married someone abusive. Go figure.), saw his diagnosis as a way to finally cut him off from us entirely while also gaining attention for herself, only it didn’t fly. After the tirade, my mom sent my brother a text asking him if her asking him questions was really upsetting him and if he really didn’t want her to talk to him directly and it turns out, that wasn’t true.
Anyway, despite the evil cow’s efforts and the poor circumstances (we were living in temporary housing that didn’t really have enough room for all of us because we’d just moved back into the area for my dad’s job), we actually had a lot of fun doing things with the boys last summer and there was only one incident worth mentioning here. Traditionally, the kids took a trip toward the end of the summer to visit members of the evil cow’s family. That trip was due to happen as their lengthy stay with us was coming to an end and it caused my oldest nephew to be upset because he hadn’t gotten to spend time with his dad all summer and he wasn’t going to get to. My brother was also upset because he hadn’t been allowed to spend time with his kids and he wasn’t going to get to.
After all the children left us, we finally moved out of the cockroach infested temporary housing and into a brand new suburban house built by a locally owned construction company, the founder of which has a good reputation and has now passed control of the company on to his son. Unfortunately, the son is banking on his father’s reputation and has let his standards slip severely. There are so many problems with this house that we have been fighting to get fixed or fix ourselves in every spare moment since we moved in. Just to give you one example, we were putting up a ceiling fan in the master bedroom and when my dad took down the existing light fixture, he found that the wires were scorched and the wire nuts had disintegrated. He assumed that it was just because it was the hottest room in the house and there was enough extra wire that he was able to pull through so he just cut off the damaged portion and let it go. Then, a few weeks later when we were putting a ceiling fan in the room in which I am typing this right now, the wire attached to the existing light fixture was scorched and the wire nuts were disintegrated. So my dad checked one of the lights in the hall and, you guessed it, scorched wire. It turns out that the builders had put in light fixtures that weren’t well shielded to the heat put off by the bulbs in the fixtures. Se we had to replace every light fixture in the house that weekend or continue risking the house burning down. There was a lot of damaged wire cut off in those two days and a lot of money spent on very expensive, but low heat production LED light bulbs.
I forgot to mention that my brother was on medical leave for a long time because of spinal surgery and he had only been back to work a short time when he was diagnosed bi-polar at which point he went back on medical leave for a long time. When he finally went back to work in the fall, there were cutbacks at his job and he was one of the first to be let go (the extended medical leave was probably a factor). So that was what was going on when my brother and his family came up to visit us for Thanksgiving in November. Which is when the following event I previously described in another venue took place:
So a little while ago while my mom and I were cleaning the kitchen in the aftermath of the annual pointless harvest feast when my sister-in-law asked if it was alright to leave my nephews here with us while she and my brother went out to do some things. After my mom said it was fine, my sister-in-law said, “‘Cause you know me; I hate to leave my kids with anyone even you.”
This is a woman who regularly and frequently abandons her children with friends and family for days, weeks, and even months on end. They came to stay with us for a few weeks this summer and wound up staying the entire summer. Hell, for the first few years of the older two’s lives they were raised by my parents and myself because my brother was stationed in Iraq and Korea and the evil cow was too busy sleeping in our guest room to feed them. The little one has SEVERE and obvious abandonment issues to the point where he’s afraid to be alone in the living room for even the length of time that it takes for his baby sitter (me, in the instance I’m referring to) to go to the bathroom.
My mother and I bit our tongues and made, “yeah, right…” faces at each other behind her back.
There are some things in that quote worth elaborating on. First is the last sentence which shows the family policy of behavior toward the evil cow. We learned over the years that when we tried to fight her when she made things up, stole from us, or lied to us it only made things worse. She would yell us and my brother who would get upset and yell at us because he was too in love or too brainwashed to be able to admit that she was wrong and so for his sake and the sake of my nephews, my parents tried to keep the peace by keeping their mouths shut.
Next, the early years of my nephews’ lives. They lived with us until the oldest was 5 with the exception of a few short periods of time when they lived in their own apartment of with the evil cow’s parents. When they lived in their apartment, it was constantly filthy. I was never in the apartment myself, but by the way my parents described it, it was as bad or worse than that one episode of Friends where Ross dates a pig. We could have and should have called child protective services and gotten the oldest (the middle one hadn’t been born yet) out of there. I repeatedly told my mother to call, but she refused to saying that if she did we’d never see him again. Then the evil cow lost her fast food job for stealing and could no longer afford the apartment so she moved back in with her parents for a short time until she remembered that she had run away from home at 18 and married my brother to get away from them at which point she moved back in with us until my brother got out of the army.
Fast forward to March. My dad got a call from his cousin telling him that his father was ill and on his way out. This caused a few days of confusing feelings for me. On the one hand, the last time I lost a grandfather I had a mental break down a few months later and wound up in therapy. On the other hand, THIS grandfather was basically the devil. I wasn’t able to go to my mother’s father’s funeral which is what caused the mental break down, so part of me wanted to go to this one in case I was risking another break down. But part of me didn’t want to go because I wasn’t close with him and didn’t even like him, so there wasn’t really a reason for me to go. At the same time, I felt like I should go because I wasn’t able go to my dad’s mom’s funeral (what with not having been born yet and all) or my mom’s dad’s funeral (because it was a super busy time at school) and I was able to go to this one (because being unemployed and not having a schedule to adhere to). My mom didn’t want me to go because I didn’t go to her father’s funeral and so that I could stay home and make sure the plants were watered, mail was collected, etc. She asked me, “If you can only go to one funeral, would you rather go to this one or my mom’s?” So there were a few days of should I or shouldn’t I before I finally decided not to go and two days after I reached that decision, my grandfather died and my parents left for the funeral to represent our family (my brother didn’t want to go either). Now I kind of wish I had gone for reasons I will get to momentarily.
Not long after my grandfather’s funeral, a couple months-ish, the evil cow’s grandfather became ill and eventually died. During his illness, the evil cow made frequent Facebook posts about it and even made posts live from the funeral. I believe this behavior was more MBP stuff. She was using her supposed grief (I’m honestly doubt this woman really feels anything at all for anyone other than herself) to get attention for herself; to make herself feel special and important. Anyway, after that funeral, the evil cow elected to stay up here with her parents for a week to help go through her grandfather’s things while my brother took the kids home so they could go to school. It was decided that my brother would bring the kids by our house for a short visit before taking them home (yes, the evil cow dragged them all to the funeral, even the 4 year old). My parents were excited because they believed the fact that we live between the evil cow’s parents and my brother’s home meant the evil cow would not be present on the visit so they would be able to actually talk to their son for the first time in 14 years. But the evil cow was not absent and the only possible reason for her presence in our home that day was to prevent my brother from being able to talk to my parents.
A few weeks later my dad was diagnosed with diabetes.
The next week was the little one’s 5th birthday and we went down to attend his party in the park. During the party, my brother barely spoke. Except for when my mother asked him about arranging a time for the boys to come up and stay with us this summer, he wandered around silently with dead eyes. There was one incident at the party where I had to restrain myself from throttling the evil cow. She actually said, “[My brother’s name] deals with his family and I deal with mine.” If you’ve been paying any attention to the rest of this post, you know that is very not true; everything has to go through her so she has the most opportunity to feel special and important as possible. But, restrain myself I did and other than that and getting a bad sunburn, the party was fairly uneventful.
A couple of days after the party, my uncle called my mother to tell her that their mother has been having problems with her memory severe enough that he had taken her to the doctor and after talking to her and watching her walk, the doctor told my uncle that he suspected Alzheimer’s and ordered a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis. My mother was unable to talk to her mother for a few days because we had scheduled appointments with contractors to get estimates on one of the many projects that need completion around the house, but she did finally get a chance to call the morning of her CT appointment. The conversation was… unpleasant to listen to and I can only imagine how hard it must have been to have. My grandmother had trouble remembering who my brother was, didn’t remember if she had called my mom or my mom had called her, briefly thought she was talking to my aunt instead of my mom, and had to be reminded three times what time my uncle was picking her up for her appointment. My uncle had told my mom that Grandma had only had these symptoms for about three weeks and neither my mom nor I believed that Alzheimer’s gets that bad that quickly. My mom thought “stroke” and I thought “cancer.”
The CT scan results came back the next day showing an “anomaly,” in my grandmother’s right temporal lobe right above her ear. CT scans aren’t precise enough to have been able to identify it, so the doctor ordered an MRI. If I remember correctly, this is the point where my mother talked to my brother to let him know what was going on.
The MRI appointment was almost a week later and my mother again talked to her the day of the appointment. My mother told me that during the phone call, she thought she was 93 years old when she was only 83.
Three days after the MRI, my uncle got a call saying the “anomaly,” was “either a tumor or an infection,” and he needed to bring my grandmother to the ER right away. When he got there, he finally got to talk to the doctor who confirmed it was a tumor, said that they need to do surgery on my grandmother ASAP and that if all went well and they got everything out, my grandmother should regain her memory after a period of recovery from the surgery. But, the hospital where my uncle brought my grandmother didn’t have the necessary equipment to perform the surgery, so she was taken by ambulance to another hospital across town where she was operated on by one of the top five neurosurgeons in the country. The surgery went well, but we didn’t get word about what had been removed until the next day. Have another quote of something I wrote at the time:
The operation removed a rapidly growing tumor the size of a sausage patty. Pathology isn’t back on the growth yet, but the doctor said if it were benign it would have been encapsulated and it had tendrils which he couldn’t get. My grandmother is 83 years old and survival rate of radiation therapy for people her age is only 5%.
My uncle’s partner thinks that everyone should come down next weekend. My mother (who knows what my brother did to me) is freaking out trying to figure out how to handle that situation with my father (who doesn’t know and will likely cut ties with my brother entirely if he finds out). We don’t know if my uncle will let us stay with him and, if we can’t, it’s likely the 4 of us will share a hotel room which means I may be forced to share a bed with my brother who physically and sexually abused me; I can’t convince my mother that she’s worrying about how that might affect me more than she needs to.
Fortunately for me, my brother elected not to come with us to visit my grandmother in hospice, so I didn’t have to worry about him while I was worrying about her. So we booked a hotel for 3 and made arraignments to fly halfway across the country for the morning after my dad’s colonoscopy. The problem was that the city we were flying out of was almost a 3 hour drive away and there was a storm supposed to blow through that morning which would have meant that we would waking up at 3am to drive through heavy rain. The solution to that problem was too book a night in a second hotel near the airport for the night before the flight. Coincidentally, while all this was going on, the last of the money from my brother’s severance pay and unemployment checks was running out.
My mom took my dad to his appointment that morning and I stayed home making sure all the last minute things were packed, the trash was taken out, etc. After everything was done except for the things that needed to be done at the literal last second before I headed out the door, I sat down to finish the last of the socks I had been knitting for my nephews because they love my socks, and I’m not just saying that as something I believe with no evidence; the older two talk about my socks every time they see me and the little one laughs and runs around like I just gave him the best toy in the world when he puts them on. As I was weaving in the ends on the last sock, I got a text message from my mother saying the evil cow was leaving my brother.
I didn’t get any details until my parents got home an hour or so later, but apparently, the evil cow had called my mother while she was driving my dad from his appointment to get some food and he answered. The evil cow was crying and saying that my brother was sleep walking again which made her think the kids weren’t safe around him so she was taking the kids and leaving my brother. And my dad calmly said, “Well, that’s too bad [evil cow], but it’s not surprising. Your strengths don’t complement each other’s,” or something to that effect and the evil cow hung up. My dad then called her back and she answered and started screaming at him saying how dare you, threatening to never let him see the kids again, how it’s my parents’ fault my brother’s spirit has been crushed, and generally just not letting my dad talk, so he hung up.
Now… Any sane person knows that sleep walking is not an activity that’s particularly dangerous to anyone but the sleep walker; obviously the evil cow was using this as an excuse to get rid of my brother now that he can no longer afford to support her and was trying to get more attention and pity for all the problems she has to deal with as per her usual pattern. Furthermore, the timing of her announcement demonstrates why I believe she has no real feelings for anyone but herself; after all the “oh, poor me,” she spouted over her grandfather, who she never mentioned once before he became ill, she chose to leave her meal ticket while his grandmother was laying in a hospice bed slowly dying. She chose to dump all this on my mother knowing that she was watching her mother die.
Anyway, we made an effort to put the evil cow out of our minds as much as we could and focus on my grandmother for the duration of our trip. When we touched down and got off the plane, my dad called my uncle’s partner, who was picking us up at the airport, and he told us that my uncle had called and said my grandmother was having a rough day so we should come straight to the hospice from the airport, which we did. My grandmother was barely conscious. She could hardly keep her eyes open, she was thrashing around and she was mumbling things that were hard to understand through the aphasia. Things like, “Why can’t it be quick?” and “Want to go home with Ed,” Ed being her late husband’s name. It was terrible to watch and as I did, the tears I had been wanting to but was unable to shed for the previous three weeks started to roll silently down my cheeks and I couldn’t stop them.
Just as I was about to leave the room to try and compose myself, my uncle got my grandma to open her eyes and she looked at me. For several minutes I watched her look at me and struggle to say, “no,” “cry,” “don’t,” before finally pointing at me and saying, “red.” (In case the name I’ve chosen for this blog doesn’t make this obvious, I am a red head.) I had to leave the room then. She never woke up again after that day so now my memory of my last conversation I had with my grandmother will forever be watching her struggle to tell me not to cry without being able to say my name around the damn aphasia.
That first day of the trip, I had a sore spot in my throat. The second day, the sore spot had moved up into my sinuses and I had to keep clearing them as we sat in the hospice room listening to my grandmother struggle to breathe in her sleep (she had developed apnea due to the medication she was on). That day my mother and her siblings also discussed funeral plans and they decided that since their mother didn’t really form deep connections with people, everybody who a funeral would have been for was in the room and since they were in the room, they didn’t feel like they needed a funeral. That’s why I now sort of wish I’d gone to my grandfather’s funeral in March; it was my last opportunity to attend the funeral of a grandparent.
The third day, the sore spot evolved into a head cold and I was banished from the hospice room. I spent that day in the family room at the hospice hopped up on Sudafed napping. The fourth day, the head cold had turned into a chest cold and I swapped the Sudafed for Robitussin. The sixth day, I was more or less over the cold and my banishment ended. Apparently, hospice personnel talk about three… stages of dying; weeks to days, days to hours, and hours to minutes. After the nurse looked at my grandmother’s hands and feet and listened to her breathing (there was now fluid in her lungs) on that sixth day, she told us that my grandmother had moved out of weeks to days and into days to hours. That day, it was decided that my mother would be changing her flight and staying another week to help my uncle go through my grandmother’s things while my dad and I would be flying home on the 4th as planed so that my dad could go back to work and I could get the house ready for my brother to move in with us as he planned to on that Monday. …Yeah. I have to live under the same roof as my abuser again.
We got home late on Saturday and I crashed. While I was busting my hump converting the guest room into a normal bedroom on Sunday, my mom called to tell us that the hospice had called my uncle to tell him that my grandmother was hours to minutes, so they’d gotten in the car and when they got there 15 minutes later they were told they’d missed it by 5 minutes, but one of the nurses was there with her when it happened.
I then spend Monday dreading my brother’s arrival, but he called my dad to say he’d be coming on Tuesday instead and I felt some temporary relief. On Tuesday, my dad received a cryptic text message from my brother’s phone saying he’d been admitted. Apparently he’d checked himself into the mental hospital for a week so he thankfully didn’t move in with us until my mom was home.
But… Yeah… I am now living with my abuser again. One of the doctors at the hospital spoke to my mother last Monday and told her that she knows the evil cow is a large part of my brother’s problem, and though we can’t keep him from her because he is an adult we need to encourage him to have as little to do with her as possible. The doctor also said that she thinks my brother’s diagnosis as bi-polar is incorrect and he just suffers from regular depression. I’m not sure I want to believe that as, while not excusing it, the bi-polar diagnosis did offer me some explanation as to why my brother did to me what he did.
But, anyway, my brother has been broken by the evil cow that he married the same way that I was broken by my mentally abusive first boyfriend. And while I am living behind closed and locked doors feeling like more of a prisoner in my own home than I have in years because of his presence, I know that at some point it is going to be my responsibility as a survivor to talk to him about what that first boyfriend did to me and how I overcame it so that he can become a survivor as well; and I really don’t want to.
So there you have it. Everything is awful right now and I don’t know how to make it better. But I’ll figure it out someday.