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CPT trauma retelling 1

I feel so unsure about publishing some of the actual details of my past, not for me, but to spare my readers from having to read it. Because I am not there to comfort you, to gauge your discomfort, to see your face as you read, to how disgusted, revolted, terrified you may be.

But for whatever reason, publishing helps me do my homework for therapy. I don’t know if it is the accountability, the knowing it is out there forever, out of my brain and into the world now. And that someone somewhere will understand perhaps. Some silent reader will read my words and not feel so alone. Because as children – we were so horribly alone. And even now, I write these now for strangers online, no one in my real life wants to hear the truth. No one can bear it. I guess I don’t blame them.

So please heed this warning, the next part here is a highly triggering account of child sexual abuse that my therapist has asked me to write as a story. I have never done this before, not like this, not like I am a character in a book. I am supposed to pick one day and describe everything, every sense, sights, sounds, feelings, my thoughts, who was there, and what happened. My counselor helped me pick the first event to write about, one with a high level of emotions attached to it, one that is particularly disturbing.

So here goes. You do not have to read this. But I do have to publish it.


 

I was 12. It was a hot summer day, probably in July, because my spinal surgery was near the end of June. I was released to go home against the doctors’ advice. My father had to sign forms to get me out, he said two weeks was long enough to be in the hospital, it was costing too much to be in there. The surgeon wanted me to go to a rehab place that specialized in physical and occupational therapy and my dad laughed, saying any idiot could do exercise. NO, he would take me home and work with me himself.

So I went home. At that time my left leg had returned to 80% function and my right was 20% nerve signals. That meant I could bear no weight on it and if I concentrated I maybe get my toe to twitch. I was fitted with fiberglass leg brace from to toe that made my jelly leg solid to stand on, like pirate peg leg. It was heavy and painful. I used a walker and dragged my peg leg using my left leg that was not entirely great either.

My back was fused from T3 to L4. I had no pain pills or ice packs or anything. I tried to lay very still. But the pain my leg was worse than my back. My limp leg had a crushing, squeezing pain that gnawed at me endlessly.

We did not have central air in our home, so I would often hide out in my parents’ room, the only one with a window air conditioner. The big bed was also firmer and easier for me to lay on more comfortably. Using a walker on our thick carpeting was extremely difficult, each step had to be carefully planned and was agonizing. I would be sweating and shaking by the time I crossed a room.

I had made it to the big bed, unclamped and removed my brace, no easy feat to do when you can barely bend forward, and sat on the edge of the bed. Then I had to maneuver myself into position. I would put my left leg under the right to help lift it. I would grab my thigh with my hands and at the same time roll myself over into bed trying not to bend or twist my spine while carrying the dead weight of a limp leg.

I would usually have a few silent tears from pain at that point, sweating from exertion. I remember the cool air blowing on me and feeling so good on my bare skin. I usually wore night gowns at home to keep pressure off my spine from any waistbands. I remember how the material would stick to my back and then loosen as the cool air dried my skin. I would lose track of time that way, just being there, trying not to hurt, maybe I slept, maybe my mind created imaginary worlds.

My memory is fuzzy, of course, 28 years later. And I am writing about multiple events that may merge into one, so what happens next may be the same day, or it may be an amalgam of memories from that summer. It did happen multiple times in some way.

Dad came home from work and found me lying on his bed. He was always happy to see me. He would say hello, there’s my girl. And then some stupid joke about me laying around all day and being lazy and laugh that horrible laugh that still haunts me . And then get more serious, like I would never get stronger that way so good thing he was there, time to do exercises.

I never said anything. I tried to smile for him.

He closed the door and came over to the bed. He would start at my toes. Moving impossibly slow, touching every part of my skin, moving them up and down. I was laying on my back and legs were flat out straight. He was at the end of the bed, standing there. He would would move up to my ankles, half caressing, half massaging, rotating, exploring like he was fascinated.

I tried to tense up like I used to do…but I couldn’t. My limp leg let him do anything. I was trapped and he knew it. He lifted my limp leg and cradled it in his arms, caressing and kissing while he bended it up and down at the knee. Each time his hands moving so impossibly slow and higher up my legs. He would comment on how soft my skin was.

I was horribly embarrassed, ashamed, tortured, helpless. I knew he could see my underwear under my night gown when he lifted my leg like that. My face burned despite the cool air in the room. I stared at the dresser or the door, never at him or what he was doing. It would be over soon. That was all I could think.

His hands felt so big and warm on my skin on left leg or arms, but I could barely feel him on the right. It made it easier to disappear and pretend it wasn’t happening.

He was always standing next to bed, hovering over me, looking at me. He would bend my legs up and my night gown fell up onto my belly, exposing my underwear and hips. He didn’t lift it up, always like an accident from the exercises. He continued up rubbing my hips, cupping my hipbone, pressing his fingertips deep into my flesh, waiting for a reaction. He told me about ligaments, and lymph nodes, and why he needed to massage me. He asked “Does it feel good? I know you like it” I never answered. I never said anything ever. He never cared.

He would stand and caress my face, brush my hair back with one hand while the other is on my hipbone and moving towards my underwear. His hands were gentle, touching me on the way to the other leg, was it an accident? Did I imagine it? This isn’t really happening. He would tell me to relax, that my muscles were very tight, and good thing I had him to help me.

His pants would be bulging and hard. He would rub that along me too, my arm, side, leg, pressing hard into me. The feeling sickened me. I would try to squirm away, but it was so hard to move, and he scolded me in his whispering voice too.

Eventually my exercises would be done and he would leave. Just like that, he would just leave me there with my night gown up and me all terrified and not knowing what to do. I would pull my night gown down, roll over with great pain and effort, put on my leg brace, and go have dinner with everyone, seated next to dad, across from mom, next to my brothers. They must have all been home? Was mom busy making dinner? Was I supposed to say please pass the mashed potatoes and oh by the way dad is a pedophile, thanks. No. I think I thought they all knew and didn’t care. I hated them all and myself more. I was so angry and ashamed. I wanted to burn up and disappear.

 

Staying present is harder than it looks

Flashbacks have been hurtling me into the past, into this odd blended world where past blends and merges with present in completely confusing ways.

Seeing my sick dog lying there, I suddenly was 8 years old and seeing the dog AF poisoned. The image superimposed, so childhood dog is on top of my real dog like a transparent photoshop layer that at moments is opaque and seems oh so real.

In those moments, I relive the trauma as it happened. Not just like watching a movie, as that would be only sight and sound. This is the entire experience, all of the smells, thoughts, fears, sadness, helplessness. I hear AF laughing, his cruel voice saying the stupid beast got what it deserved. I feel it in my skin and bones. It takes every ounce of energy to remind myself I am an adult, not a child, that I am safe, that this is a different dog, and no one poisoned him, he is sick.

I go through grounding exercises. I look at my hands and breathe and count. I look in the mirror. I tell myself AF is not here, he is gone. I am safe. I can help this dog. I don’t have to watch it die. He can’t make me watch it die. No one will laugh. I can go to the vet. I am in charge. I am okay.

I slip in and out of reality several times as I see my dog struggle. I have not slipped like this since the day I revisited the building of my childhood back surgeon.

Some triggers are just too strong. Some events were just too horrible.

Hubby says maybe I can finally grieve for that dog now, combining with current grief maybe. That I can say goodbye to her also when we have our little funeral. I don’t know if it will help, but I think it is worth a try to get some closure on that.

I don’t have any pictures of that childhood dog, but I started googling and I think she was part border terrier. She was really ugly! All straggly hair, mostly black, some white. But she was awesome, a good friend, and a good frisbee player. She would fetch anything and was always outside with me.

**Next part is graphic, stop reading if you don’t want to know**

It took her three days to die and none of us were allowed to help or comfort her. She climbed onto my brothers bed and stayed there, filling it with blood, as it seemed to leak out of her everywhere. The blood dripped off in a little stream at one point, dripping onto the floor. Her tongue hung out as she gasped for air. Her eyes were gummy and staring at nothing. Once in a while she would convulse, kicking her legs wildly, then nothing but gasping again. We were not allowed to hold her head or give her water. All I could do was stand in the doorway and watch, helpless, as my friend died in the most horrible way and AF laughed.

There were other animals he hurt too, but this was the worst and most difficult to erase from my mind. I don’t know how to put something that devastating into perspective. I can’t help that dog or that little girl and I can’t explain why it happened. So my brain keeps it active, in case one day I may figure it out?

So I am hoping that grief is the answer. There is no why. He was cruel, that is it. There was nothing I could have done. I need to grieve for the loss of the dog and the pain of the little girl. I’ll see if I can, and if it works. Because this is one flashback I would really like to stop seeing, please.

Pieces of an unfinished puzzle

Pieces of a puzzle

Pieces of a puzzle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think I may have found a clue to my holiday misery, a piece of the puzzle anyway. After reading and speaking to my therapist, I was encouraged to examine the darkest recesses of my mind and see if I could find a trauma related to the holidays specifically. At first I came up with a few slights, where I had been dismissed as nothing, but those were fairly routine and I have so many examples of that.

Like I remember one Thanksgiving (I’m thinking I was about 6-8) where I worked for weeks making decorations, centerpieces, greeting cards, posters, place cards – you name it. I had hand drawn turkeys, pumpkins, cornucopias, fall leaves. I had written personalized poems for everyone in my family. (surely not my best work, but I remember working hard to come up with rhymes for turkey and something about gravy yummy but murky) I taped my pictures up all around the house and on the windows. I wanted our house to look happy and cute like all the other houses. I was looking forward to our big day together. I delivered the cards to each person and recall their responses to my days of planning. My mom was busy cooking and set it down without even opening it. My brothers laughed at my poems and called it stupid, and kept repeating the turkey-murky, making fun of it. My mom flipped out about the ‘mess’ I made and told me to take down all the decorations. She scolded me especially for the ones on the windows, and said “get those off before anyone sees”. I’m still not sure why that bothered her so much. I remember crumpling each piece I had so lovingly designed and tossing it in the trash. At dinner, everyone put their plate right on top of the place card like it was in the way. Strange though, I can’t remember my father’s response or if he was even there that day.

Sad? Yes, but so normal for me that I don’t count this as trauma. I was either invisible or a bother to them all. I preferred being invisible.

The next one is a bit worse, and I had a good cry with this one. I’m realizing I was never allowed to grieve as a child, and I think I have so much unfinished business. I knew I had to process the active abuse, but I’m finding that the road to peace requires closure for all the emotions I was not permitted to express.

My childhood best friend, my neighbor, died a few days before Christmas when I was about 7-8 (woah, this may have been the same year as the earlier memory, but I’m not sure). I was told the news like you would tell someone they had toilet paper on their shoe. My mom stopped me as I was running through the dining room to go to the computer and blurts out , “Hey, ‘your friend’ passed away, so you can’t play over there any more.” Mom turned around and went back to what she was doing in the kitchen. I stopped in my tracks and just looked at her back, trying to understand her words.  She was my best friend for as long as I could remember, and it didn’t matter to me that she was 72. There were no children on my street to play with. Every day I went to her house after school. We played cards, barbies, watched TV, read books, gardened – you name it, I did it with her. She had a glass coffee table that was perfect for drawing, and I loved to lay under it and look through it to see the rainbows in the corners. She had a special table with edges that was just for jigsaw puzzles and we were always in some stage of working on one. I even loved that she was quirky and odd. she called her sofa a davenport and kept a blanket on top of it that we couldn’t use, you had to get a blanket from her bedroom chest if you were cold. She had a mini window shade she pulled down on her TV screen to protect it from sun fading. She had different shoes for wearing in different rooms, even 1 pair just for getting the mail. I realize now she must have felt grandmotherly towards me, but not knowing any of my grandparents like that, and not having any friends my age, she was simply my best friend.

She got me from school when I was sick and my parents were working, and always had a bag and tissues in case I felt queasy on the ride. She told me I was smart and funny and we always laughed together. She loved my handmade cards and poems and hung them up on her wall. She gave me great big hugs and I didn’t mind her bony shoulders digging into me. She always smelled like apples, her favorite snack. Every day she would make me a cup of tea and we would share a granny smith apple, we both loved the tart shock and would giggle about it. I thought her white hair was soft and beautiful. She had a tapestry calendar on her wall with the names of the months and holidays in it that she let me move a pin from month to month. I loved her. We had a puzzle half way done over there, how would we finish it now? I had made her a gift, a big paper flower with curly ends, it was in the special safe place in my closet. I also had a box of her favorite licorices. How could I give it to her? What would I do after school now? I had so many questions, and only a back turned towards me. I knew there would be no one to answer my questions, that no one wanted to deal with my questions.

I realize now, that this is someone else I never got to say goodbye to. Just another hole in my heart. We did not attend the services or funeral. I simply never saw her again and never went to her house again and we never spoke of her again. She was just gone. I hated the new neighbors that eventually moved into her house and hated their big, dumb dogs for destroying her house and yard with their jumping and digging. I couldn’t look at her gift, I just let it sit on my closet shelf forever, invisible like me. I must have stuffed down my sadness deep into that pit where I kept my true self. I don’t think I ever cried for her, so I have done that today and will do some more I’m sure. She was so good to me and I loved her and missed her for so many years.

Christmas itself was cold in my house. My brother and I would climb up into the attic and fetch the tree and ornaments each year, and put up that tree. Dad was really particular about the decorations and insisted on a certain tinsel that mom hated. He was the only one allowed to put on the tinsel so it would be done right. December 1st a wishlist would be hung on the wall for each of us to write what we wanted, with a budget clearly posted. Christmas Eve, we usually went out to eat at Pizza Hut, and then would watch TV until Christmas, right at midnight. At midnight we would all open our gifts, find exactly what we asked for, and stay up all night playing with it, each of us alone in our rooms. Everyone slept in on Christmas Day and it was like every other day then, nothing special, and each of us all alone with a new toy. No surprises. I always wondered why getting what I wanted felt so empty each year, but now I know it was because I had no one to share it with. Back at school I would tell everyone what I got, just like every other kid, and I’m sure I appeared to be normal and that I had a great holiday break.

Diagnosis – Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, Part 7

We now come to the part of this biography, that although expected, is devastatingly sad. The part where we find out my brother, at age 24, has Schizophrenia and will likely never recover.

First I need to back up a bit, to my Junior year of High School, when he was 23. The last post he was still living in CA, still independent, though definitely living dangerously with his choices and affiliations with drug dealers, and using drugs himself.

An update on the rest of my broken family:

My oldest brother got married during my Sophomore year, and I became an Aunt during my Junior Year. I can not recall if my CA brother came back for his brother’s wedding. I doubt it, but I just can’t recall if he was there or not with all the holes in my memory, and not one person will discuss this time period with me to confirm or deny anything. I was not interested in my niece at first, and in fact tried to ignore that I had one. I think I was just not overjoyed at another little girl starting life in my family.

I was still living with my father when school started that year, but at some point my boyfriend that year (who I used to refer to as my First Love although I now know how tainted that love was – this past year has taught me so much about love, that I will now give that title to my husband) gave me the strength and encouragement I needed to tell my Mom about my Dad’s abuse, and get me out of his custody. My relationship with my Mom at that point was non-existent and I wasn’t even sure she would take me in, but she did. And I wasn’t sure I was actually any better off over there. I don’t recall moving out, more holes, but I do recall having Christmas at the apartment that my Mom and the youngest brother shared. Perhaps that is another reason my PTSD flares up and causes me great pain each November, just figured that out as I was preparing to write this post.

But before I moved out, my CA brother came to stay with Dad and I for a bit. He brought his live-in girlfriend too. Our apartment was suddenly very crowded. His girlfriend dressed like Madonna and was a professional groupie and lawsuit fraud specialist – meaning she specialized in falling in various McDonald’s across the country and suing them for fraudulent pain and suffering. She showed me he neck brace. She said it was so easy, and as long as you started a new case in a new state, no one ever looked up that you had done it before. Her Mom taught her how to do this, that is how her mom supported her family. Her appearance was so startling in our little town, her bleached blond wild hair, black lace bustier, low cut super tight jeans showing her navel ring and thong panties, 6 inch heeled boots, and so much jewelry on each finger, wrist, earlobe, eyebrow, toe that she jingled with each breath. And the makeup, all the makeup, wow. This girl was as tacky and trashy as they come, and she tried to become my best friend, or big sister or something. I politely listened to her stories of “banging” band members back stage to get passage on the latest tour bus. She showed me pictures to prove many stories. But she also assured me that life was all done now, because she loved my brother. I did not want her to love my brother, I wanted her to disappear.

At first it was great having my brother there with us, hearing him play guitar and just hang out and play computer games. But I noticed that when I came back from school, he’d still be laying right where he was when I left. He’d ask me to borrow cash for cigs. Told my Dad he was looking for a job and would get his own place soon, but it was pretty obvious he was not trying to get a job. My Dad got angry, and kicked out his good-for-nothing butt, and said not to even call us until he had a proper job, that he didn’t raise any free-loaders. Or that’s what my Dad said he told him. I didn’t get to say goodbye, I just came back from school one day and he was gone, and my Dad was so proud of himself. (Soon after, Dad decided it was time for me to have a “real job”, that babysitting was not enough and he was terrified I might get ideas from my brother’s ways. So he made me a fake birth certificate with our computer and scanner to show me as 16 and not still 15 to start earning some money and not be a loser like my brother. I did start working, and was then required to buy my own clothes, bus fare home from school, and even contribute to household expenses, like using the laundromat and my own medical bills. He often showed me his paycheck and the alimony deduction, and made me feel so guilty for any expense I caused him.)

We didn’t know where my brother and his girl went for quite some time, but apparently they crashed at his girlfriend’s parents’ house for a while, in some Northern state, until the girlfriend completed another lawsuit, and my brother stole a car. Now some of these events may be out of order, but did occur within that year or two. I remember hearing the word felony, and that he won’t get off easy this time, that he crossed a state border with a stolen car. My parents just pretended it wasn’t happening. My Dad felt my brother was getting what he deserved, as he always knew he was good for nothing. My Mom said nothing at all – nothing was wrong. I overheard something about early release if he was willing to cooperate with a halfway home. I had no idea what that was. I thought it was like a free shelter, I had no idea it was a prison, and he was only allowed out to work, which he was for some reason unable to do.

At some point he got out, and he and that girl got an apartment with her latest settlement cash. Here are some other events that may be out of order:

She called the police and had him arrested for domestic abuse on many occasions. We learned later it was when he would try to break up with her (from the girlfriend’s father), and she would attack him, and he would push her away. We learned that SHE actually hit him quite often. You don’t often hear of this, but I do believe my gentle brother never raised his voice, and definitely not his hand at her, and instead fell victim to another abusive relationship. (I now know my first boyfriends were actually toxic, if not actually abusive to me, but we didn’t know better or how to help ourselves)

My brother disappeared. Vanished. Missing. His girlfriend called and said he had not come home or gone to work for several days. She said she called the local police (they were living a few states away from us, not as far as CA, but still very far) but they weren’t helping much because they were so lazy (not because of how often she calls them).

Park Bench

Park Bench (Photo credit: pigpogm)

My Dad, and I think one if not both, of my other brothers loaded in a car and went up to search for him. It took several more days, but they found him. They found my brother sitting alone on a park bench, a few blocks from his home, staring off into space. Sitting in the same clothes he had left in days ago. He did not know who he was or how to get home. He did not know his own Dad and brothers. He was dehydrated, shivering cold, and hungry. I guess he mostly slept in the car, on the long way back to us, but never did figure out who he was or where they were taking him. He just went with them because they asked him to. No fight in him. My oldest brother told me he seemed grateful to be going some where, and acted more like a lost 4 year old than a lost 24 year old.

I was living with my Mom when my Dad came in with my brothers. (I think, real fuzzy about this too, I may have just gone to my Mom’s while my Dad went away to look for my brother depending on the timing) My Dad just said to my Mom, “Here he is. I found your son.” And then he sneered and left, acting disgusted. My Mom tried to hug my brother, but he was not making eye contact with any of us, and instead was staring through us, and laughing. Not a happy laugh, but a disconnected laughing sound that came from a non-smiling face, and empty eyes. I think at first, everyone thought he was high on something, so they just sent him to the couch to sleep it off.

But sleep did not improve him. He was talking and laughing to himself and seemed to be very busy, although he was sitting all alone. He would respond when we spoke to him, but he was also responding to the invisible people he saw and heard next to us. My mom took him to the hospital. They tested for drugs and found him to be clean. I’m not sure how long it took, days I think, with many referrals, many specialists, and many appointments, but one day my Mom came back alone, without my brother, and plopped a huge binder on my lap. Told me that my brother was not well, that he was going to be in the hospital for a while, and that I should read that binder, that we should all read it, but that I could not tell anyone, not a soul, this was not to leave our family. I said nothing, but opened that binder and read the title, “When someone you love has Schizophrenia.” My mom just stood there as understanding crept in my brain, and then must have showed on my face, but she said nothing else to me. She motioned to the binder again, as if begging me to read it, and then left the room. I heard the stifled sobs coming from her bedroom as I sat on the couch with this weight. The binder itself was heavy and imposing on my lap, but it felt like the ceiling was sitting on me, not just a binder.

I read that title again, and immediately thought it was stupid. They had to be wrong. I, like most people, only knew about Schizophrenia as a stereotypical joke. I was in the habit of calling my friends “schizo” if they were acting nutty or two faced. It was part of my teenage vocabulary, like “lame” or “gay”. It didn’t mean anything. And then, all I could think about was one of the terrible poems my Dad had taught me when I was little.

Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
I am schizophrenic
And so am I

I remembered laughing at how clever that poem was, because to rhyme, it should have ended with “you” but ended with “I” instead, because obviously schizophrenics think they are more than one person. So clever, so funny. Wrong. I closed the binder as that poem taunted me, pushed it aside, and left. I just could not be in the same place with those terrible sobs and that terrible binder. I don’t remember where I went, probably to the parkway for a drive. I had no friends at that point, everyone had abandoned me when they found out about my creepy Dad. But even if I did, I was forbidden to share this burden and embarrass my brother (or my Mom in reality) any further. So it was one more thing to swallow down and feed my ulcers. I had two actively bleeding by then.

My brother does not have a split personality, or multiple personalities. Instead, he sees and hears multiple personalities all of the time, and can’t distinguish which sounds and sights are real. He lost touch with reality, but he does know he is not one of those voices. His senses lie to him. He hears people talking, and the real ones and the hallucinations all sound the same.

I’ll share more on what it was like for him those first few years of experimental meds and hospital stays, and living and struggling nonstop, 24/7 with this terrible disease in another post.

I did eventually read that binder, multiple times, but just as my family could not cope with my recent news of being molested, I could not cope with this news of my brother not being able to be my brother any more. That there was no hope of recovery-ever, and that managing symptoms would be difficult, if  not impossible. It also said his lifespan would be greatly reduced, and hope for assimilation in any normal lifestyle was severely limited, if also, not impossible.

And so we all continued in our lives, as shells of who we really were, living in shock and denial, hiding our painful pasts, hiding our painful current lives and just trying so damn hard to be OK on top of all the pain and secrets. We all withdrew into ourselves, into our work or studies or boyfriends or girlfriends and had taken the final step to becoming not a family as I now understand a family can be, but separate strangers tied together only by the same last name.

 

Go West Young Man – Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, part 6

Little is known about the years my brother lived in California. Or at least little is known to me, for a few reasons. His contact with me personally was limited to a few seconds on the phone every few months, or a quick letter in the mail. And everything was always “peachy” his word for life was great. The other reason little is known for this part of his Bio, is that my memory is terrible for this time in my life because, well, this was a terrible part of my life.

I can’t tell this story well, I think, because I can’t completely go back and put myself into these memories. So I will instead list all of the events that were happening in my home while my brother was in CA.

  • My parents divorced when the 2 years were up that my Dad had given my Mom to become independent. That day my mother came home from work to find all of her belongings in boxes and suitcases on the front lawn, and the door locks had been changed. She did not have a place to stay yet, and stayed with friends until she could find an apartment. They got a 1 bedroom apartment together, he slept on the floor at first. My other brother moved out to stay and support my Mom with his Fast food money.
  • I had back surgery to straighten my spine and woke up paralyzed from the surgery. My dad denied me the physical therapy at the hospital and told the doctor’s he would do it himself, because he wasn’t about to pay thousands of dollars for me to exercise. My dad’s sexual abuse on me worsened in that period since I could not walk away from him – being paralyzed, and from being alone in our house with him. I can barely type these words here, so moving on.
  • My dog “disappeared” (I now know my Dad took her away, but he let me search in vain for months)
  • I started menstruating. The joy soon wore off on that one.
  • I started high school as a limping freak with a leg brace and a cane. My one leg had come back mostly strong, but the other still dragged. I was not able to join any sports or wear pretty shoes.
  • Dad sold my childhood home and moved us to an apartment in another city, but told me to use my Mom’s address at school so I didn’t have to change schools too. I hated lying.

My brothers knew very little about me. Even my Mom knew very little about me. I felt alone in the world. My Mom did not ask for custody or even visitation – she just left me. I did not share any of these details in my letters to my brother in CA. I now know that he did not share his troubles with me either.

In his peachy letters to me, he sent me trinkets, once a ziploc baggie full of sand and shells from the beach. Another time he sent me a few guitar picks that he said belonged to members of Poison. A photo of him sitting in the “O” of the Hollywood sign. There were others too, but I can not recall. I cherished those items once, though now I have no idea where time and many moves have put them.

But I now know:

  • He was in a terrible motorcycle accident, hospitalized for many weeks, and that my parents knew but never went out to see him.
  • He lived on the streets/beach for much of his time in CA.
  • He had many girlfriends.
  • He tried every drug ever created.

At some point before we sold our house, my oldest brother moved back home – with his college girlfriend. He was asked to pay monthly rent to my father to move back into his own home at age 19. While they were there, they all decided we would take a family vacation that summer: Me, my dad, my oldest brother, and my brother’s girlfriend. They decided we should go “Out West” and see Vegas, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and my brother in CA.

I could write an entire book about that “vacation”, but will summarize here. All 4 of us crammed into my Dad’s car, and he did ALL of the driving. He has never been a passenger. He would load up on coffee and cigs and drive straight through the night. We crossed several states without stopping to sleep or shower for days on end. I did my best to freshen up in diner restrooms. My dad smoked continuously and I coughed continuously, or held my breath to avoid coughing, as he yelled at me every time I did. I’d have asthma attacks in the front seat, use my inhaler, while they all laughed at me. Our first hotel was a rustic cabin in Yellowstone park, 1 room, 2 beds, no water or electricity, that would have cost more. I was pretty sure my Dad wouldn’t touch me while my brother and girlfriend were in the room, but not positive. I slept sideways by his feet, like a dog, wheezing all night in the thin high-elevation air. By morning, I was sick and dizzy. I could barely stand. I apologized to them for walking so slowly, between my limp and the no oxygen thing.

We went to a bear safety class, mandatory for all visitors to the park. The ranger saw me and told me about the high elevation and that I was getting mountain sickness. My Dad said that was stupid made up BS and we were staying for the 3 days he paid for. My brother and girlfriend hiked through the parks, while I would make it to the trailhead and just sit there enjoying the beautiful park anyway. I saw geysers, blue pools so beautiful, but sulfur smelling, I saw a moose, an elk, so many birds, and even a Grizzly cub! Luckily my Dad did believe in bears, so we wisely got back in the car and far away from baby bear before Mama arrived.

Next stop was Vegas. I clearly remember the moment I could breathe again, as we went down and down out of the mountains. Until the  A-hole decided we needed to climb Pike’s Peak. Luckily, his car also had trouble getting enough oxygen so we went back down before reaching the summit. I was gasping, but it wasn’t until his car was sputtering that we turned around.

I was not impressed with Vegas at age 14. My dad bought me makeup and a short skirt, and told me to pretend I was 21 and that I left my ID up in the room if asked by security. He said it would be more believable if I was alone playing the slots, so he actually went off to play poker. I actually got away with it a few times, but I thought the slots were dreadfully boring and the room too smoky, and so just took my book or sketchpad to the restaurant or stayed in the room when my Dad was not using it with a prostitute. At least the room had electricity and water, oh how great that shower felt! Turns out the room was free if Dad promised to gamble enough.

And then I saw my brother, for the first time in years. He had driven from CA to meet us in Vegas! He looked so thin, too thin, and taller than I remembered, but had the same long hair and amazing, yet sad, green eyes. He barely recognized me in my 21 yr old costume, and just whistled, and said “My baby sister grew up while I was away”. He smiled and hugged me. I’ll never forget that hug.

We followed him back to his house in CA, and his van died in the extreme heat on the highway. They attached a tire to the bumper, and we pushed his van all the way back to his house, my Dad stopping every time his own car went into the red zone. My brother’s roommate clung to the ladder on the back of the van to relay messages from my brother to my dad. It was very exciting to me, and I laughed so much, more than I had in years.

My brother’s house was amazing! Just 2 blocks from the ocean, which I got to stick my toes in – it was so cold! I didn’t even wonder how he afforded such an amazing house at the time, but found out later it was owned by a drug dealer, and my brother and all his roommates were working for him delivering drugs with pizzas. Girls would come and go in this house, that could have came straight from MTV videos, wearing fur coats with string bikinis underneath. One girl sat on my brother’s lap, kissed him right in front of us, then said “see ya later” like that was a normal way to say good-bye. They had an in ground swimming pool, with a 6 foot iguana living in it.

Hollywood Sign

Hollywood Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That night, my brother took me to the Hollywood sign, and I have a picture of myself sitting in the “O”, just like him.

We then said good bye and started our long trip home. I saw the painted desert, Grand Canyon, Arch of Missouri. We covered so many states so my Dad could brag how many he covered in so few days. At the end, his coffee wasn’t enough, and he started veering off the road. My brother had the audacity to ask to drive, to give dad a break, which only started a screaming match of how he has no respect.

My CA brother stayed there for another 2-3 years, without much contact. We heard he lost that beautiful house, heard of a few arrests, heard of a few girlfriends, and heard of a few gigs for his band. My next post will tell the story of how he came back home, and how that hug in Vegas was the last time I looked in my brother’s eyes without the foggy veil of schizophrenia.

Life After Rehab – Biography of My Schizophrenic Brother, Part 5

Eventually, one day, my brother was deemed to be rehabilitated and my family was supposedly all supportive and not dysfunctional now, so he was sent back home with us. The weeks in rehab passed with little outstanding events to recall, except for the one day my brother started a fire in his room.

I was home with Mom when they called, so I finally got to go beyond the buzzed locked doors and see the room where my brother had been living all these weeks. When we entered his room, he was just reclining on his bed, arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling, like this was the most carefree peaceful vacation spot. He looked up at us, said his usual, “Hey” and looked back up at the ceiling, like we were interrupting the show. The counselor showed us a dark spot on the wall near the electrical outlet, and said Mom had to pay for the damages, then looked at my brother, and said thankfully no one was hurt.

Mom went out into the hall to talk with the counselor, leaving me alone with my brother. I was staring at the scorched mark on the wall when he said, “I just wanted a cig. It was late and I couldn’t wait until morning smoke time, so I lit one here” I remember him laughing as he told me the story. “It was cool, the spark grew so big, guess I used too much paper this time, but it was cool, like a fireball – Fooomp!” He smiled and laughed and called himself stupid, but in a gentle way. I asked him how, feeling proud of him. He said he used a pencil, that lead is conductive to electricity and usually just sparks a bit, not a big Foomp like this time. Then he laughed again, “At least I still have my eyebrows – I jumped back real quick.” I laughed with him. Wow it was so great to hear him laugh. Was he all better now? And it felt great to hear his secret for starting fires, like he was  so cool like MacGyver and also a bit like we were partners in crime. We got to take him home that day – a few days early, I think they didn’t want any more fires.  And he had convinced them all he was better, with his gentle joking and good attitude.

It was beyond tough for him to return to school with his new reputation. Everyone knew where he had been, or thought they knew, and rumors had spread of all kinds of things. He was getting through it, day by day, until something happened at school. Our high school had a courtyard where the teachers and older students went out to smoke (Remember when that was allowed?). Every year, A Mama Duck would nest in the bushes out there, and parade her little ducklings past all the classrooms. My brother told me about them, and even took me there once after school to see the newly hatched babies. He was so gentle, and showed me how to stay back and stay quiet to not scare them. We brought them some bread and just enjoyed the cute little show in silence.

Mama Duck-1395

Mama Duck-1395 (Photo credit: MSMcCarthy Photography)

The next day after school, my brother was distressed. I didn’t know what was wrong, but he was just sitting and rocking on his bed, this terrible look on his face. He saw me, and just said, “No matter what they say, I didn’t do it. I’d never. I couldn’t.” And then he took off out of the room, got in his car and left. I had no idea what was wrong. Until the phone rang, and I overheard my Mom speaking to someone, she had to go into the school, but no, she didn’t know where my brother was right now.

Someone had stomped the ducklings. With their feet. Cruelly, and disgustingly stomped and smashed the entire fuzzy little family. The Mama Duck was going berzerk, that’s how the Principal even noticed. And someone had blamed my brother for this horrible deed, saying they see him out here often, and well you know his past. Everyone easily believed that “the druggie” did this. I knew he didn’t. But I think that was the final straw for my brother. He stopped trying to fit in, like it was pointless if everyone thought he was so terrible.

He got back into drugs. He started a car radio theft ring – they busted him with 5 in his locker at school. He sold them to buy the drugs. He was locked up a few more times, sometimes my parents let him stay in jail overnight – to teach him a lesson. He got really thin and pale, and his green eyes no longer sparkled. He stopped looking at me, or anyone else. He left our world, no longer able to cope. If he was home, he was alone in his room , door locked, and his electric guitar screaming out what he himself was unable to express. He still went to school, off and on, but only took Home Ec – 4 sections of it – his senior year, just to get enough credits to graduate. His graduation was not a huge celebration like our oldest brother’s, more like a ‘Thank God you actually did it’ dinner, at a Mexican restaurant, of course, so he could get his tacos. And the only reason he stuck it out and finished high school, was so he could follow his dreams of being a rock star. He knew he would get a better job in California with a high school diploma. He left us just days after graduation. Just got in his car with his guitar, a duffel bag, and a dream, and he left our small town where everyone had labeled him a murderous, loser druggie, and believe me – he did not look back.

I was in Middle School then, when he left. I was 11. My parents were planning to get a divorce. My Dad was scheming to get me to live with him, to convince me Mom hated me still, and to make me sign those custody papers. My mom put a twin bed in their bedroom and slept there next to dad in the big bed now. She started going to college, in preparation for the divorce. My dad had that all planned out too, gave her 2 years to live there with us, get an associate’s degree and learn to support herself. My scoliosis was advancing, the brace was not working, and my doctors were discussing surgical options. And now 2 of my brothers were gone, one in college and one in CA. My other brother was now in high school and drifted away from me, too busy with his friends and girlfriend to talk to me any more. I hated it at home, and did everything possible to avoid going there. I rode my bike everywhere, to the mall, to the library, to the park, to my friend’s house. Sometimes I just rode with no destination, just to feel like I was moving, and stuck in my own personal hell.

It was weeks – yes freaking weeks! – before my brother called us from California. If my parents worried about him, they sure did not show it. In fact they seemed relieved that he was gone, that they were no longer responsible for this failure. My Dad made it clear he would not support any losers in his house once we were 18. The call was long distance from a pay phone, so it was brief. He was OK, had a nice apartment with his band mates, and sold his car for a motorcycle. He had a job delivering pizza, and had lined up a few gigs for the band. He had slept in his car or on the beach the first few weeks until they found a place to live. He said the tacos were amazing in CA! He sounded – happy.

That made me happy, but I missed him. And I was jealous, so extremely jealous – he was free. He got out of this house. That’s when I became even more determined to be a perfect student, get a scholarship, and go to an amazing college. I wanted out. I wanted to prove myself to the world, show everyone I wasn’t a stupid worthless girl like my Dad said. I wanted to be famous and the best at something, win awards for my writing and poetry, cure cancer, be the first asthmatic female basketball MVP, design rockets, and maybe even create world peace too, ya know, in my free time.

Rehab and Serenity – Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother – Part 4

1986 was very difficult for my family. My brother was living in a drug rehab facility, and we were attending weekly, all day family support sessions. It was intensive counseling to support every member of the family, which pissed off my Dad entirely. He did not buy into any of this psycho mumbo jumbo garbage, and didn’t think we should all have counseling and suffer because of his one messed up son. I do think he attended each week though, because my family was all about appearances, and would only show grace and charm to outsiders. I also think it was a condition of my brother’s release with no jail sentence.

The support sessions used a divide and conquer strategy. Each of us went into a different breakout group in the morning, based on age, and then back together to share in the afternoon.

I recall one breakout group, the counselor gave us little kids a paper and asked us to draw our family, but, and this is a big but, we were supposed to rank our family members in closeness and trust. I was in fifth grade. I drew my dog at the top of the page, bigger than anything else. Dad had let me pick out a puppy over the summer, after our old dog died (because my Dad poisoned it, but that’s a different story) and was threatening me daily to return that dog to the pound. I was not having much luck training my puppy (on my own as a 10 yr old), and she was wild, and growing bigger by the minute. I was so determined to save that dog’s life, not to have it hurt or abandoned by my Dad, so it was top of my list. My cats were next – I told them everything, and they hugged me anyway. And then my brothers, and then my parents. I still remember the counselor looking at my paper in shock, open mouthed. I asked if I did it wrong? He said No. But then he patted my shoulder and gave me a look I did not understand until many years later. He knew how messed up my family was, but could not say what he was thinking.

Mornings usually started with a video. Every morning I would struggle to keep my eyes open, as a video showed corny stories about families in trouble, but always coming together for each other in the end. I knew these weren’t real. Real families did not love each other or hug or talk openly. My head would nod as I struggled to focus, in the darkened room. I think that is when my sleep troubles started full force. I was staying up at night to keep my Dad out of my room, finally realizing at this age that he should not be touching me, and feeling like I was completely to blame for it. This was when I learned that sugar and caffeine helped me stay awake. We didn’t have time for breakfast at home, so I always brought some change for the vending machines and had M+M’s and Pepsi throughout that video to stay awake and pass the quiz on it later. I also learned to tap my finger nails into my thumb – a nervous act I still do today to remain present.

We always had one hour with my newly drug free brother. We would talk about how he wasn’t supported in the past, and how he needed our help to stay off drugs when he returned home. We learned how he was an invisible middle child, My oldest brother was the Super-Star, My other brother was the Angel, and I was the scapegoat. I thought it was all stupid. I felt insulted that they thought they knew anything about me. But I answered every question the way I knew they wanted me to. I noticed everyone else did that too. I don’t think any of us spoke an ounce of truth during any of these sessions. We all had secrets, and we all had years of practice keeping them hidden.

Each day ended with a group hug – for at least 30 seconds, ugh, stop touching me! – and the Serenity Prayer. I learned to hate that prayer. I still cringe when I hear it.

At the time, I felt this prayer meant I had to accept every terrible thing in my life. I felt powerless as a child. I did not gain the wisdom to know the difference until just a few years ago. This is a terrible prayer for an abused child from a dysfunctional family. My mom bought a plaque with that awful prayer on it and hung it up in our dining room. I would look at my brother’s empty seat, look at my abusive father who insisted I sat next to him, look at my mom, too afraid to eat in front of us because her husband called her fat, and then I’d look at that plaque and ask to leave the table. But I had to clean my plate or hear about kids in Ethiopia, so I ignored my urge to vomit and mechanically shoved in all the food. Each bite made me more numb, and numb became my status quo for years. Fine I thought – I may have to accept my life – but I don’t have to feel it. That’s when I started disassociating mind and body and mentally living somewhere else fairly regularly.

I assume my brother did the same, lived mentally elsewhere, or maybe the schizophrenia was doing it for him, now that drugs could not.

 

Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother – Part 3 – Drug Abuse

I remember answering way too many phone calls from the police station, asking for my Mom to pick up my brother. Speeding. Theft. Vandalism. Throwing bricks at moving cars on the highway-cracking windshields and causing accidents, but no deaths yet. Possession of drugs and drug Pairs of Fenala (I had to look up paraphernalia in the dictionary). My Mom searching his room after one of these phone calls, and tears coming steadily down her face,  and gathering all kinds of strange items, like pipes and vases (bongs) and bags of powder and grass from under his bed and in his closet. I would always just watch silently, trying to figure out what was happening in my house, but no one ever talked to me. Except to tell me not to tell anyone about anything.

Then one day, my Mom started packing my brother’s clothes into a suitcase and put it in the trunk of her car. Then she waited for my brother to come home and told him we were going out for tacos – something my brother still can’t resist. But we passed up Taco Bell. She said she wanted to try a new place, that we all needed a change. My brother said “whatever”. But he didn’t know about the suitcase in the trunk. I was so confused, but again, just stayed quiet. We pulled up to what looked like a hospital. Then she said to my brother, “They are expecting you. We want to help you. If you walk in there willingly, they won’t send you to jail. Please. Just walk in. There are guards that will catch you if you run. I don’t want you to get hurt.” I saw two huge men dressed all in white, but holding handcuffs. My brother turned around and looked at me in the back seat, a long, ghostly, searching look – but I had no answers for him. Then he looked at my Mom, and just got out and quietly entered the building. The two men grabbed his arms and escorted him away. My brother never looked back. Another man came out for his suitcase, and asked my Mom to sign some papers, but told her it was better if she just left. My mom took one last look at the door my brother entered and got back in the car to take me home. I hated her. I loved my brother. How could she give him away?

On the way home, we talked very little. We both cried – mine of out fear from not knowing, and her from fear of knowing her son had a drug problem. But all she said to me was, “Your brother needs help. They can help him here. We’ll come to visit him soon.”

The next day at school, my teacher asked me if I was OK. I was angry and embarrassed that she thought I wasn’t. Apparently my Mom had called her and explained that I needed to go to an intervention today and then will need to go every Wednesday to attend family counseling at the drug rehab center. I heard this from my teacher – not my parents. This teacher had taught my brother years ago and was “not surprised at all”.

I had no idea what an intervention was, but I was fairly excited to get to leave school. Although I was a perfect student, school was a long, tortuous, boring ordeal. My mom picked me up, and we drove, in silence, to that building where we abandoned my brother. This time we parked and went inside. My Dad was inside with my other brothers. We were all taken to a quiet room, and given instructions. We were supposed to convince my brother he had a drug problem, and to do this, we were supposed to list out everything he had done wrong recently. Things that were harmful, hurtful, or out of character for him. I didn’t want to get my brother in trouble, and I didn’t want to tell this stranger anything. The counselor handed out papers and pencils to write out the events, then left the room for a while. When he returned, he brought someone who looked like my brother, but seemed like only his outline, or his physical form. It seemed that his spirit had been removed. His eyes were cold and blank. He looked around the room at his family as if we were all strangers, and sat down in silence in the chair in the front of the room, facing the rest of us.

Then the counselor asked us to start reading our complaints. One after one, we all took turns listing his wrongs. Each comment made him flinch, like we were throwing knives at him, but stared stonily at the floor. My mom said “You stole money from my purse”. Flinch. My Dad said “You are failing your classes”. Flinch. My oldest brother said, “You kissed my girlfriend”. Flinch.  I didn’t want to read mine. I didn’t want to throw another knife. This seemed way too cruel. The counselor took my paper and read mine aloud. “You kicked our dog” That one was not just a knife, not just a flinch, it was like all his bones had been removed and he no longer had any structure in his body. He went limp and looked me in the eye with the deepest sorrow I have ever seen, and then looked away to blink away his tears. When he looked back at us again, the sorrow was gone. It was like he was gone. He listened to the rest without flinching at all. When all of our lists were complete, the counselor asked if my brother had anything he wanted to say back to us. He looked right at me, and whispered, “I’m sorry”. But he did not look at anyone else, just hung his head in shameful silence. The counselor thanked us for coming in, and escorted my brother back to his room. I watched him walk away, and saw the guard buzz the locked doors open for them to enter the residential hall. The counselor returned with a Doctor, saying they will start the detox tonight. That they will attempt to keep him comfortable and monitored for safety during withdrawals, and that the worst should be over in 3 days, but that they would keep him for a few weeks. Weeks – I was stunned. And then they handed Mom a bag with his belt and shoelaces, to prevent any suicide attempts.

I was in 5th grade. My brother was  junior in high school. I asked my Mom how he would make up all that school work? She just shushed me. No one told me anything, and no one answered my questions. No google back then, so I went back to the dictionary to look up everything I heard the doctor say. I went to the library and learned about drugs and detox. I was already in the habit of looking up my asthma medications and side effects, so I knew exactly where to go. I learned that detox was very dangerous, and that my brother’s heart could stop, and that it would be very painful for him to detox. That he would sweat and shake and throw up for hours. But I kept my knowledge to myself, as my mom read People magazine and pretended everything was fine. I prayed for my brother that night, prayed that he would survive the detox, that he wouldn’t be in so much pain, and that one day I would see him smile again.

Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, Part 2 – Adolescence

Read part 1 here

I remember the detectives coming to our house when I was perhaps in 2nd grade, my brother then a freshman in high school. Two men, in black suits, asked for my parents when I answered the door. They had briefcases and badges, and some sort of walkie talkie/CB. They arrived in a plain black car. My Mom told me to go to my room while they talked. We had a one story home, and my room was just off of the living room,  so I pressed myself against my door to listen. I used a trick from Get Smart, I tried various objects on the door and wall to hear better, like a cup. I found the best way to hear was to lay on the floor and put ear near the crack under the door.

I heard the first detective ask a bit about my brother: What is he like? Is he an angry young man? Does he have any friends? Does he have any girlfriends? Any hobbies? My Mom started answering the questions, when My Dad stopped her and asked why they wanted to know. I had played with my Dad’s briefcase enough to recognize the “click-click” of the detective’s case opening. Then I heard some papers rustling, and the detective took a deep breath and said, “Your son is in serious trouble. Is he here?” (No, my brother was not home at the time)

I pressed my ear into the door crack so hard it was hurting my cheek, but I had to know what my brother did, and was feeling scared. The detective said, “Do you know an Ellen?” My parents said No. But I knew an Ellen. My brother had her over a few times, I thought she was really pretty, with short blond hair, bright blue eyes, pretty skirts, and one time she braided my hair for me while she waited for my brother to shower. I guess my brother thought she was pretty too, because I remember them kissing on the same couch where those detectives were sitting.

Ellen had complained about harassing phone calls, that were frightening her, and were escalating in severity. They said they traced the calls to our home, and made some recordings. They asked my Dad to look at the phone records and see how many times calls had been made. Dad simply said, “Thank you for letting us know, we will look into and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” The detective said it wasn’t that simple, and that they would need to take my brother “in” for questioning and possible arrest. My dad said they weren’t taking his son “in” any where, and that they should leave, that they had no right to come in here and accuse his family of anything. My dad said surely my brother must be friends with this girl and all the phone calls could be explained, and that phone records did not prove anything wrong was done. My dad used that voice with the detectives that always scared me in to doing whatever he said. It was cold and commanding, no emotions at all, but you could feel the hate underneath it. It was impossible to argue with that voice.

So in the era before cell phones, my parents had no idea where their teenage son was or when he would be home. I waited a while after the detectives left to come out of my room, knowing that if I came out instantly they might guess I was listening. My Dad got out a magazine and sat at the table reading, waiting for my brother to walk in the door. I got out a book and started reading on the couch, turning myself invisible, as was my greatest skill back then. My brother came in at last and Dad used that scary voice to say, “Sit down. Now”

“Who the Hell do you think you are, embarrassing me like this? Who the Hell is Ellen? And how dare you use the phone that I pay for you to use to make your dirty phone calls!”

“Huh?”

“Who the Hell is Ellen?”

“I don’t know” (I stifled a gasp – he was lying to my Dad!)

“You’re a lying sack of sh**, you stupid SOB. But you keep that story and you’re going to jail. They can’t prove it was you or your stupid friends using our phone to be mean. You called Ellen because you were dating, and then you broke up with her and she made up this story to get back at you. Right – Isn’t that how it happened?”

“Er – Yes. Yes that’s what happened”

———————————————————————————————————————————

I remember the day I came home from school in 4th grade and found my brother and his friends all sitting at our dining room table with towels over their heads, steam or smoke coming out of the towels. He said they all had colds and were breathing in the medicine. His eyes were vacant, glossy, and so red. I was frightened and just went to my room. I’m still not sure which drug they were using, guessing they had bongs under those towels though.

I remember when one of his friends dared him to see how far he could kick our little dog. He refused a few times, but those friends were calling him a pu**y and he had that distant look in his eyes again when he finally gave in. That tiny dog traveled a good twenty feet (looked that way to me anyway, like in slow motion) in the air before falling down in the grass. I scooped him up, and can still remember the look on my brother’s face as his eyes met mine, shame and grief, but he said nothing and got in the car with his friends. I was shocked. I just sat there holding my dog, who was fine, completely fine, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t understand how this brother, my sweet gentle brother who loved all creatures could be so cruel. What was wrong with him? When he finally came back that night, he saw me with the dog and just nodded at me. He looked relieved the dog was OK, but also embarrassed. He tried to tousle my hair and do gorilla sounds, but I pushed him away. I was so angry at him. He just shrugged and walked away.

My brother played guitar more than any other activity. He tried football and basketball freshman year, but gave up when my Dad would not attend junior varsity games, not when he can watch his older brother, star quarter back on the “real” football team. So no more sports for him. His good friends, not the ones that dared him to kick the dog, came over often to jam. They formed a band and started competing in “Battle of the Bands” and playing at the local fairs and such. They had dreams of being rock stars and moving to California. My brother could by then play anything by ear, tune his guitar perfectly by ear, and create complex compositions in the style of Yngwie Malmsteen – his idol. He had a huge crush on Stevie Nicks, and still does a bit. He got two after school jobs and started saving up: First he bought a mustang, then he bought an electric guitar, then an amp, then a foot pedal special effects board, then some recording equipment. Now that I think of it, he bought way too many things, really nice things in the matter of months,  for a high school kid. Did delivering pizza really tip that well? I’m now guessing he delivered more than pizza. More on this in the next post.

My brother is brilliant and would often tutor his friends on assignments, but rarely turned anything in for himself and his grades fell from nearly perfect to non-existent. Although he had the highest score in his class on PSAT, he just didn’t  or couldn’t care any more. Whatever he did was not noticed, or not good enough for my Dad, and especially never as good as our eldest brother. He skipped school often. He was suspended many times. My Mom just ignored it all, and focused on her perfect children. His failing could have been her fault, so in her world, he was not failing – he was fine. No one is sure if he was experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia at this point, but it is suspected that his behavior and early drug use could have been him trying to cope with what his brain was telling him. Maybe the hallucinations had started and drugs silenced them for a bit? Again, we’ll never know, because he can no longer access those memories.

Biography of my Schizophrenic Brother, Part 1-Pre-Adolescence

I’ve been thinking about my big brother, imprisoned in his own Schizophrenic mind. I’ve been thinking about our childhood, and if there were any signs his brain was in trouble. He definitely got in lots of trouble, but that’s normal for a young boy, right? Especially one living in a dysfunctional home. But I wonder if his extreme behavior may have been an indication of more than teenage angst and acting out against the hurts from abusive parents. I wonder how early the schizophrenia gave him symptoms he was too alone to share.

My big brother is quite a bit older than me, so I can’t speak as to what he was like as a young child personally, but I do have some stories others have told me.

Like when he set our house on fire before I was even born, when he was about 4 years old. I’ve been told that he took my Dad’s cigarette lighter and deliberately set fire to the shag (Yes, in the 70’s) throw rug. I guess both my parents were home, but busy with the newborn, and they saw him do it, but were too late to prevent it, as they said NO, the fire had already consumed the rug and moved onto the couch. My Dad’s black faux leather couch he bought himself with his raise when he became a manager. He has still not forgiven my brother for this destruction of his prized property. I was told no one was hurt, and my Dad put out the fire himself – according to him – but the fire department helped – according to my Mom. The house itself was fine, but everything in it was smoke and water damaged. It was a brand new house, in a nice suburban subdivision that my Mom got to pick out the design and layout and they had it built. Mom still says that was her favorite house and the fire was such a “shame”. They moved 7 times in the first 10 years of marriage, and that house was 2 before the one I called home.

My earliest memories of my brother have him about age ten I guess, making me about 3. I loved listening to him play guitar, he was already really good by then, able to play any melody he heard. He taught me to pluck out Twinkle Twinkle on it while he held it for me, and even let me use his lucky pick. He was not allowed to play guitar in school, so he chose clarinet. He learned that easily too, but never enjoyed it, and dropped it as soon as he could. Sometimes after school, he would allow me to try to make music on that clarinet, and would laugh warmly when it all it did was squawk. He’d pretend to step on an invisible cat every time I squeaked and squawked and we would roll with laughter. He always made me laugh. I adored him.

Also about that age, and the next few years, he did lots of silly tricks with me. He would put his hands around neck, while I held onto his wrists, and he would lift me up, by what appeared to be my head, but the weight was really supported by my hands on his. It freaked out Mom and she would tell us to stop. He loved animals, and often came home with live snakes and frogs, and when he didn’t he would bring home a wavy branch and hand it to my Mom saying, “Check out this snake I found” just to hear her scream and make me laugh. He would tousle my hair while making gorilla noises pretty much every time he walked by me. Anything to get me to giggle. And he hated when I got sick, which was way too often with my asthma and secondary infections from steroids. I spent much of my childhood with a fever, alone in my room. I have so many memories of him playing the guitar in my room to help me sleep, until the fever broke. He like playing heavy metal music, but for me, it was always a pretty gentle little song. Sometimes he even played my favorite songs from Mary Poppins or Sound of Music. He’d always stop playing and go back to his room when anyone noticed he was in there, like he didn’t want to be noticed or caught being nice.

This brother was always an outsider in our family. If I felt it, I can only imagine how alone he felt. I have some memory of him being “sick” and staying in his room for family events, like birthday parties. Every Christmas Eve, I remember opening my gifts, and not being surprised that he was sick again. My Mom would ask him to join us, but then just give up when he said no. We also often went out to eat without him. He’d just say “Nah” when asked to join us. He was the middle brother, a dull shadow under the eldest brother’s star status, and sweet and special like his little brother.

I remember him getting in trouble for wearing a sheik hat to school when he was in 5th grade, so I must have been about 3. He refused to take it off, so I got to go to school with my Mom to speak to the principal and take him home. Everyone was so serious and angry, and I remember laughing at my silly brother and not understanding why everyone was angry – I loved his hat. I had the same teacher when I reached 5th grade, and she told me he had been wearing that hat every day for 2 weeks when she finally had to make it stop. She figured he would get tired of it, but it became something more and he could not stop wearing it without threat of suspension.

It was also some time around this age that he molested me, just mentioning this in the timeline, not going into details today. I actually can’t remember much of this time period clearly, only isolated events. I do know that I was not afraid of him, and never told anyone, because I adored him so and either I didn’t want him to get in trouble, or I didn’t even know it was wrong. Plus, it was nothing compared to what my Dad was doing to me, so it seemed a normal part of life to little me. Dad encouraged his young boys to collect porn magazines and watch it on cable with him, making sure they knew women were only good for sex. Everyone in our house was overly sexualized and not permitted to keep our childhood innocence.

It seems like fifth grade was like a point of no return for my brother, and I really have to wonder if he was also molested by my Dad, and if that abuse caused him to start on me, or caused the short circuit in his brain chemistry that would later develop into Schizophrenia. But we’ll never know if Dad hurt him, since he can’t tell us, he lost touch with reality so long ago.  And I also wonder if his pre-puberty hormones triggered some brain changes at that time to start his decline. Again, only speculation.

As I grew taller and my hair grew longer, people started calling us twins, and I loved that. We had the same cheekbones, same green eyes, same fair skin and freckles, and the same auburn hair! His was long, wavy, and unkempt  like a rock star. Mine was long,  wavy, and unkempt like a tomboy. We’d also both stuff our wild hair into a ball cap to avoid brushing it.

I idolized this brother and his cool long-haired friends for a few years, until he slipped out of my life. For the next few years, although we lived in the same house, I have very few memories of him at all. He pushed me away, no longer let me in the room when his friends came over, and most often, simply only came home to sleep. He even started forgetting to make gorilla noises for me. But sometimes, on very special nights, he would knock on my door late at night and ask, “Hey, Wanna see the moon?” Everyone else would be watching TV or whatever, and we would go out back to where he set up a telescope. He’d lift me up, because it was on a huge stand and too tall for me to see into. I remember the first time I saw the craters in the moon, jump right out through that telescope at me. It was magical. My brother explained all about the phases of the moon, told me the names of the craters and how they formed. Sometimes he would tell me about constellations, or meteors, or astronauts. I would get cold, but never complained, never wanting those special astronomy lessons to end. For years I wanted to be an astronaut myself – until many years later when I saw what they do at space camp and realized my motion sickness that prevented traveling to the super market without vomiting would most likely prevent me from successfully completing that G-force spinning simulator.