control and the rest of it

Had my brother and sister over for thanksgiving.  I had entertained notions, well, fantasies really, of skipping town.  Maybe going to see a good friend in NJ whose door is always open for me, spending thanksgiving with her family.  But into that fantasy intruded the thought of  my brother and sister not having anywhere to go for the day and so I didn’t.  So my husband and I cleaned and cooked and planned and had them over.  We were tired and the still present sense of the absence of the cat is sucking at both of us.  I had a call my brother two days before Thanksgiving (actually, on the way home from the surgeon’s office) in which he told me that he and my sister had had a fight the night the cat died.  It had been, presumably, about him advising her to leave me alone and not pester me while the grief over the cat was still fresh (worst idea ever, btw).  In this call, he expressed the usual brother/sister fighting that they get into.  But this time there was a twist.  This time, it was also about our parents.  And why my sister and I won’t accept them in our lives.  He was crying at times, “mom and dad are good people who made some bad decisions” he told me.

    Now, I don’t want to burden this bit of back story with too much of an embedded back story on that but it warrants the (greatly) abridged version:  my parents are not good people and the bad decisions they made included knocking my sister unconscious several times, locking my brother in various small places (think laundry hamper, but rigid structure), kicking both of them in the stomachs when they were less than 6, dragging them around by the hair, and letting a child molester live in our house…and continuing to let him live there even after they were told that he had molested us habitually.  As an adult, I tried to have a different relationship with them.  One with boundaries, which included “let’s not talk about HIM” (the pedophile, who my mother still loved to bring up out of the blue, and what a great guy he was as if none of what had happened had actually happened).  My mother and I fought horribly well into my adulthood and my decision to remove her from my life was difficult and came after a lot of soul searching, attempts to change things, and much therapy.  My father, I stopped talking to after my sister reported that he had started kicking the family dogs on the stairwell in the house they shared.  He came down to her apartment the day she told me this, he was infuriated because someone had called HIS number looking for her.  His affect and tone was exactly as it had been when we were little and he would hit her.  I charged up the stairs after him and told him that he did NOT get to act like this anymore, that his history of violence and recent violent behavior made it completely not ok for him to menace my sister like that, and that if I heard about him doing it ever again, I’d sneak in and kill him in his sleep.  I do not speak to either parent now because they’ve demonstrated that they cannot stop the rotten behavior they engaged in when we were little, and as an adult survivor of and witness to that abuse, it makes me beyond outraged.

I said none of this to my brother.  I did say that we had a difference of opinion.  I said that I wanted to have him in my life and was happy for it.  We talked again by phone the day before thanksgiving, his mood somewhat improved.  I was in between work and the doctor’s office (oral thrush infection, yay antibiotics).  I spent way too much time on the phone with him and ended up having to race to the doctor’s office in day before thanksgiving traffic just to wait two hours to be seen.  I was tired that night but took it easy and it worked out.  We did Thanksgiving, we got through ok, I wasn’t feeling too bad, and it seemed like everyone had a decent time.

My brother and sister stayed over night after Thanksgiving dinner.  The next day, Friday, my brother and my husband and I talked a little about our plans for my brother’s birthday, which was Saturday but which we were going to celebrate the week after partly to honor by brother’s request that we “separate Thanksgiving” from his birthday this year.

The next day was Saturday, his birthday.  I forgot to call him.  I woke up late, I felt energetic and did some grocery shopping, thought about calling my brother but thought I’d do it later, cleaned a little, had sex with my husband (hey this is cause for celebration when you have a chronic fatiguing and joint-pain inducing illness – plus I’m about one month away from an at least 6 week post-op ban on sex).  And then I got a migraine.  And then I made the mistake of using that as an excuse.

What follows is a text exchange between my brother and me from Sunday.  He hasn’t called or replied in any way.

(Dyspatient) Nov 28, 9:05 AM:  Hey..sorry I missed calling u on your actual bday. Was gonna do it in PAM then went 2bed w/a migraine. I know we’ll b celebrating next weekend but happy birthday!

(Brother) Nov 28, 7:51 PM just would have been nice if someone – anyone! – could’ve taken a moment and wished me a happy birthday on my birthday.

(D)  Nov 28, 7:52 PM: I’m sorry!!! I was going 2 call – I can’t really control when I’m going 2 get a migraine.

(B)  Nov 28, 8:19 PM: i mange to text u on ur birthday, despite having several chronic illnesses, Dyspatient.

(D)  Nov 28, 8:20 PM: Ok.  Thanks.

[I try calling B – it goes straight to voicemail.  Phone is off?]

(D)  Nov 28, 8:35 PM:  straight to voicemail. So did u just want 2 start a fight, make me feel like shit, or did u actually want 2 talk? Probably pointless 2 write u since yr phone’s off, but I figured I’d try anyhow. I’ll b up 4 a little bit if u change yr mind.

[I decide to go to bed because as inclined as I am to stay up and mope about this, I need to work.  I need sleep.  I can’t indulge the childish desire to sulk about being sick because I am sick]

(D) Nov 28, 9:38 PM:  I love you very much, I truly do but I wish you wouldn’t say mean things. I don’t like this trend of “sicker than thou” that’s arisen.  It’s not cool.  I have never gone out of my way 2 make u feel worse about feeling sick.  Not once.  If u want to feel this pissed off about not getting a call on yr bday from me under some pretty significant circumstances, it’s yr choice. But please realize that it makes no sense 2 me 4 u 2 be so cruelly invalidating& 2 act like I’m in the habit of letting u down or discounting u.  if I’m able but fail 2 drop everything&drive 2+hours to b with u if u r in the hospital again & claim  twisted ankle as an excuse, then u’ve got a right 2 freak out, but not now&not over this. I love u, I have & will continue 2 reach out 2u but I will not allow u 2 be casually mean&invalidating about my health problems. It’s damaging&u need to stop doing it. the cumulative effect of the health shit has been devastating.  Please don’t make it worse.

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  1. queenofoptimism

     /  November 29, 2010

    I’m glad you were able to to respond with what you did – love and straightforwardness.

    Please know that you’re not alone in making tough decisions about whether to give your parents the privilege of having you in their life. They’re scum and you managed to become the success you are in spite of their shitty parenting. Not a true consolation prize, I know. But never forget that you made it. You made it out and made something of awesome of yourself.

    and hooray for the sex.

    and thank you for sharing such a personal piece of yourself with me (and you many readers). It’s a gift I appreciate and won’t forget about.

  2. R. G. Maines

     /  December 1, 2010

    This seems so familiar… the health related aspect.

    Years ago, when I was first diagnosed, had just lost my father, adopted our son, etc., my husband’s family was terribly unforgiving, unwilling to understand, if I wasn’t able to ‘be there’ the way and when they wanted me to be.

    When I explained that my various disabilities, the depression, the chronic pain sometimes overwhelmed me, made it difficult for me to do the things I wanted to do, that they wanted me to do, they often compared their typical aches and pains to what I was experiencing, downplaying what I was living with. They would insist if I just got up and moved around, did things, I would feel so much better. Clearly not understanding.

    They criticized my involvement or lack thereof, with the family, the way I kept house, etc.

    I lost my nieces, my sister-in-law for nearly 10 years because I couldn’t be who they wanted me to be.

    I really appreciate what you’ve shared here. Unfortunately, you’re not alone dealing with ‘competitive illnesses’ or unrealistic demands by family or friends.


    • Oh that’s terrible. Boy, there’s some history there, huh? Gah. I admire you for your fortitude with those folks.

      Thing about my brother is that he does have some pretty scary stuff. He was diagnosed with HCV last year, just finished treatment and is doing ok so far on that front. He’s HIV positive (diagnosed over 10 years ago). HPV is in the mix or something like it. So needless to say, he gets sick. He gets tired. And when he does, if he needs me I am *there*. It’s not a fight I can win, it’s not a fight I want to try to win even. I’d just rather not have it at all. Does that sound self serving?


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