My brother and I argued tonight about “family.”
Every time I sit down to write about my family, it ends up being something really long. I apologize, but I wrote this without much editing so that I could get it out while it’s all on the surface. Maybe see how I really feel about things. Here we go.
My mother raised us by herself. Just after I was born, my dad told my mom that “the baby” had taken all her love and he wasn’t ready for a family, so he left her. She was 34 and was determined that she was going to have a girl and a boy and she manipulated him into break-up sex enough times to get pregnant. Then she moved away. I was twenty months old when my brother was born. Dad never tried to come see us and she never asked him for money. Lil Bro had a bad head injury when he was six and she called Dad to tell him. Dad didn’t do anything; didn’t come to visit or send any money. She pawned her wedding ring to buy us Christmas gifts one year, and our life was pretty normal. On the poor side of normal, as my mom refused welfare or food stamps, but normal nonetheless.
My brother was a really smart kid and got bored easily in elementary school. He would do silly things in class to entertain himself and didn’t always think the work was important. Like every parent in the 80s, my mom was hearing all about ADD and how it could be the cause of kids not doing well in school. She took him to a doctor and they put him on Ritalin. We moved again to a different state and my little brother started getting into more trouble in school. She thought it could have been the lack of a male role model. She decided to move us once more.
We moved back into the town where my dad lived when I was ten. He was living with a stripper he’d knocked up in Baltimore. She was 22. They had a baby, she was three years old. Having me around was great for them; I baby-sat anytime they wanted to go out. My dad was in a band and she liked to go with him on gigs. So they’d drop my half-sister off at my house and pay me five bucks to keep her until the next day, when they’d get up around noon and come get her. Lil Sis and I created a pretty strong bond during this time, even though she hated it when I’d sing the songs while we watched The Little Mermaid. Step-Mom and I didn’t get along, because in all honesty, I was smarter than her and I had no respect for stupid people. (still don’t)
Lil Bro was eight when we moved back. He was still getting into trouble in the new school, and when the behavioral problems turned more serious (smoking, running away, crushing and snorting his Ritalin), she asked my dad if Lil Bro could stay with them. It lasted a few months, but Lil Bro came back. The cycle repeated a few more times throughout junior high and high school. Lil Bro would drive my mom nuts, she’d send him to stay with dad, he’d come back. She stopped taking him to mental health professionals because he didn’t care about anything, anyway. Lil Sis was also placed on the ADD path and Dad and Step-Mom got her on disability checks for it. She refused to take her meds and went through a gauntlet of different pills. No one could be sure what was working, though, because she was very sneaky about not taking them. Hiding them under her tongue, not taking them at school. Her grades were bad because no one would take the time to help her with anything and, honestly, she was a little too much like her mother.
I finally escaped and went off to college and made my own mistakes. My brother dropped out of school, started dealing drugs, got arrested. (A few times) He would usually call Dad first, but then Dad would call Mom and say, “Your son’s in jail.” Mom tried to be strong and let him face his own consequences, but when she saw her son in shackles, she broke down. After he served his 30 days in jail, he was told “Join the Army and get the hell out of here.” I was living in the midwest and had just had my second child. My mom, who had been visiting me every three months for the three years I’d already lived here, decided to quit her job, sell her house and move here. Lil Bro came with. He tried to join the Army, but his high blood pressure (a result of lots of drugs, probably) kept him out.
A few months later, Lil Sis turned 18. She had been dating a guy that was 21, high school dropout, living in his mom’s basement... and her parents were freaked out. Step-Mom flew her out here after her junior year was over for an extended stay over the summer. She didn’t have a round-trip ticket. I took her to the clubs, I helped her learn what was “too much makeup,” and I tried to introduce her to people who were the same age as her boyfriend, but had already accomplished so much. I was trying, not only to make her see that he was a loser, but to give her some insight as to what SHE could accomplish after high school. She had always looked up to me and I wanted her to see that she could do something with her life and have fun, too.
Within the first four days of her visit she had already given strangers my home address and phone number over the internet. People were calling my house at all hours of the night, and my youngest was merely a few months old, so you know I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. I tried to explain how dangerous it was and I was livid that she didn't have enough common sense to realize that she wasn’t just playing with her life, but the lives of me, my husband, and my kids (the baby and my son, who was five at the time). I password protected the computer, but some of the damage had already been done. Within the first week she’d slept with two guys who she’d snuck out to see (one time she even snuck out of the dance club to fuck some guy in his car). When she told me that her boyfriend from back home was going to come pick her up, I knew he never would. Then she said he was going to buy her a bus ticket, which was much more likely, but there was no way I was sending this girl on a bus by herself. Hell, I wouldn’t send her to the MALL by herself. But she was driving me crazy and I was clearly not getting through to her. Lil Bro was homesick, too, and wanted to go home. I bought them both greyhound tickets after she’d been here about six weeks and said, “Adios.”
Lil Sis had been home about a week when she found out she was pregnant. She started her senior year, but didn’t finish. She was pregnant again right away after she delivered her first baby. Both of them were the children of the loser boyfriend (I had my doubts, but she’s since had a paternity test). They broke up, of course. She moved in with her parents and did nothing while they took care of her and the babies. She eventually got her GED because the state wanted her to so she could get her welfare. She didn’t do whatever was required of her to maintain her disability checks, so she lost them. She started an online college, but quit. She gets menial jobs, but steals money from the register and gets fired. She finally got into an income-based housing development, but since she doesn’t have a job and has no income, she gets to live there for free. She’s had an on-again/off-again relationship with a new guy who has a crazy ex-wife that Lil Sis likes to taunt via myspace and facebook. The whole situation was so white-trash that I had to take her off my facebook page because her statuses were making me want to drive back there and smother her.
Meanwhile, Lil Bro came back to the midwest. Got a decent job waiting tables, then tending bar. He’d get drunk a lot and cry about all the things he never did and how terrible his life was. His favorite thing to say was, “Sis... dad left because of MEEEE. He didn’t want me, he didn’t care about meeeeeee.” Then he got a girlfriend that made him quit drinking. He was still living with mom, but he was paying rent and he was doing pretty well in the mental health department. Then the girlfriend dumped him. He’s since spiraled into a pit of self-loathing and despair; doing more drugs, drinking all the time. He lost his job, but got it back. Got a DUI. Borrowed money from me and my husband to pay for a lawyer. (That was seven months ago and I haven’t seen a dime, are you surprised?)
So, to recap (and thank you for reading this far):
Dad and I have never had a close relationship. I enjoyed his musical talent and I was disappointed when he finally divorced my mom (I was 12 and I thought I was supposed to be). He has never had a job and never followed his dream of being a songwriter/performer in Nashville. He has not been to see me since I moved away. I’ve been back every year or so and I call him every few months. I asked him to come to my big family-affair wedding ceremony last year. We’d been married in Vegas a few months earlier, but all of my husband’s family had hoped for a ceremony (he’s the oldest and first to marry), so we planned and paid for one. He told me he couldn’t be there and did it really matter? It was just a “reenactment.” Lil Bro offered to buy him a plane ticket and Dad said, “Don’t you dare.” When we talk about Lil Sis or Lil Bro, Dad makes excuses for their behavior. She’s “bipolar” and he got his alcoholism honest.
Step-Mom and I got to be friends. Blood is thicker, of course, so when she refused to help Lil Bro when he was in trouble, I was upset. But we got over it. I chat with her on facebook when we’re both online and I sometimes talk to her when I call Dad. She used to make excuses for Lil Sis and condemn Lil Bro for his actions. Now when I talk to her, she is frustrated with Lil Sis much in the way Mom was/is frustrated with Lil Bro, so I sometimes laugh at the irony.
Lil Sis, living on the gov’ment, taking her kids to free day care, has no job and is not in school. She doesn’t have a driver’s license and she takes lots of pills because she’s “bipolar.” (She actually admitted to me once that she sees a doctor at a free clinic that just gives her whatever meds she wants, so she takes Adderol so she won’t get fat.) She doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke. She just got a new boyfriend, and her myspace status right now says, “SOOO In-Love, he makes me so Happy, No one has ever made me as happy as he does. Bout time too, Losers go away, n stop buggin.” (certainly this is aimed at the ex on-again/off-again boyfriend, because they’re off-again) I asked about the new guy via text message and she said, “He has a job and a nice car and takes good care of me and the kids.” I see we’ve got our priorities in order.
Lil Bro has always been of the “it’s not my fault” school of thought. He drinks because he can’t sleep. He does drugs because Dad did. He can’t make anything of himself because my mom won’t support him. Let’s pause for a brief rewind: My mom, after Lil Bro got his GED, did all the paperwork necessary to get him enrolled in culinary school. This included his application, his financial aid paperwork (including the FAFSA, which you know isn’t fun), his appointment to go see the school and talk with them about living arrangements, etc. She came home the day he was supposed to have gone and when she asked why he was at her house and not at the school, he said, “Oh was that today?” She bought him a car that he lost after a DUI, she has never turned him away when he had no where to live and she has always been there to bail him out of jail, even when she had to sell a prized possession to be able to do so. She is very blunt and when he starts talking about what he’s going to do with his life (usually when he’s drunk or high and has some great scheme of how to fix everything), she says things like, “Jesus Christ, well if you’re going to do it, DO IT and stop talking about it.” Lil Bro gets mad and accuses her of not believing in him and back to her basement he goes. He is a raging alcoholic and a recreational drug user, although his drugs of choice are usually the mild ones. He’s not a cocaine or heroine addict; just pot and the occasional benzo. Or so he says. Lil Bro is also a very accomplished liar.
So Lil Bro told me tonight that he’s going to get a mental health evaluation tomorrow. Mom warned me this was coming. I said, “That’s great, I hope you get some help dealing with—“ and he cut me off by saying, “I’m gonna scare ‘em just enough so that they’ll give me a nut check.” He’s referring, of course, to a disability check. His friend at work gets a “nut check” and works less than 39 hours a week. Lil Bro told me he could live off the check and work just enough to be able to buy cigarettes, beer and drugs. I explained that it’s certainly not easy to get a nut check, there’s a long legal process involved and then you’ll be labeled as a nut for life. He said he didn’t care. Then he said, “And I know you told Lil Sis about me getting hurt (he punched a wall in a bar the other night).” I said, “I haven’t talked to her in days.” He said, “She’s got a new man and I know him, he’s a good guy.” I said, “Too bad for him.”
Lil Bro proceeded to tell me to shut up and not talk like that about Lil Sis, she’s “family.” I said, “What the fuck does that matter?” He said, “They still have the picture on the wall at their house of the two of you, she’s hugging you and smiling because she loved you so much.” I said, “So what? She was four then! I don’t have to like the person she’s grown into. I don’t understand this whole ‘family’ thing you’ve got going on.” He said, “It’s the way I was raised. I laughed and said, “We were raised by the same woman.” He said, “I lived with Dad and Step-Mom and they raised me to know that you LOVE your family.” I rolled my eyes and said, “Oh yeah, right.” He said, “You didn’t live with them, you don’t know.” I said, “I never HAD to,” implying, of course, that I didn’t have behavioral problems or criminal issues that would have required Mom to send me to live somewhere else. He got really mad then and said, “You SHOULD have.” I scoffed and said, “When?” He said, “A couple times, but don’t you sit there and act like you’re better than me.” I said, “I’m not, I’m just saying that I don’t understand where this whole ‘family’ dedication thing comes in for you. For me, it’s you and Mom. That’s my family.” He said, “Well, I don’t know either, I just know that they’re my family and I love them.” (“You’re my sister and I love you” is kind of a joke in our family; when Lil Bro lost his first love to his best friend he started taking something that made him talk really, really fast. We had mother’s day dinner in 1999 and he spent the entire time saying things like, “doyouneedsomemorewater?causei’llhavethemgetyoumorewater.causeyou’remysisterandiloveyouandidon’twantyoutobethirsty.momdoyouneedsteaksauce?i’llgetyousomesteaksauceoffthisothertablebecauseyou’remymomandiloveyou.”)
I said, “Maybe you just need the comfort of knowing your ‘family’ will always love you; I don’t really give a fuck.” He asked my hubby, who was sitting there quietly, if he had half-siblings. Hubby has five half-siblings and three of them he rarely talks to and two of those three he wouldn’t answer if they called from jail. Lil Bro said, “You love ‘em, right? You’d do anything for ‘em, cause they’re family?” Hubby said, “Well, actually, no.” Lil Bro ranted again for a second and I said, “Anyway, we’re planning on going back to visit the first week of August.” He said, “Why are you going to visit; you don’t care about them.” I said, “I also have friends in that town who I would like to meet my husband.” I said, “It will probably be the last time I go back.”
Lil Bro calmed down a bit and said, “You know Sis, I wouldn’t blame you if you told them this was your last trip and if they wanted to see you again, it was their fucking turn. You’ve been here nine years and Dad has never come to visit and Step-Mom only came to drop Lil Sis on you when they didn’t know what to do with her.” (He’s a little slow from recreational drug use and the irony of that statement didn’t hit him like it hit me.)
He continued, “As a matter of fact, if I were you, I wouldn’t even go back for his funeral... why go to say goodbye to him when he said goodbye to us a long time ago.”
While I agree with that, on some level, Dad leaving when I was a baby doesn’t bother me. Dad not paying child support or helping my mom at all bothers me a little. But what bothers me most is that he doesn’t make any effort to maintain a relationship with me. When I call him, he says things like, “Aw, I miss ya honey” and “You can call any time, you know” and “Sure wish you could come back home.” He doesn’t call me, except on my birthday. I’ve never held a grudge against him for the decisions he made. But he just can’t be bothered with trying to keep up a relationship with me. And really, that doesn’t even “bother” me, as in I don’t sit around bitching about it or crying in my beer. But that would be why I might not make it back for the funeral. Why bother saying goodbye when he’s already dead?
To me, “family” is more like... the people you can depend on and who depend on you. I will always be able to depend on my mom. My husband. My BFF. My kids will always be able to depend on me; so will Mom, Hubby and BFF. Lil Bro can always depend on me and I can sometimes depend on him. For example, I am broke right now and he hooked us up with free dinner where he works. He’ll let me borrow his truck if I need to haul something. He asks for gas money, but still. Now that I think about it, I guess Lil Bro is the only one I feel that whole “but it’s family” thing for. He actually doesn’t earn my love or respect in any way, but he’s my brother, and I love him. Not that I feel people need to “earn” love, but I think when you love someone you can’t depend on or that takes advantage of you, you’re only hurting yourself.
Mom is getting to the end of her rope with Lil Bro. She said if he goes through with the “nut check” thing, she’ll kick him out. She’s been enabling him too long and she knows it, but she can’t bring herself to tell him to move out. I wonder if this will be the thing.
Now I’ve gone and made myself think too much, so I’ll close this. Thank you for reading and any insights or opinions are welcome.