This is not my usual comic ranting. I’m so lucky to have a friend like Jillsmo who lets me spew all over her blog. I would spew all over her blog, but my family, which is to say my husband’s family, reads my blog. Sometimes. And while none of this is anything I haven’t said in their presence and to their faces, I don’t think they need any reminders of sad facts right now. “Too soon?” as they say. Yes, too soon. Probably it will always be too soon to ever have this story told in a public setting, but while I’m considerate enough of their feelings not to post this on my own blog where they or people they know might see it, I still think it’s worthwhile to get it out here. Maybe it will help someone, somewhere, who is or who has experienced something similar. Maybe it will encourage someone to get help. At the very least I know it will help me, because sharing pain always results in a fabulous outpouring of support from my interweb friends. You guys are the best, and Jillsmo is the bestest of the best.
Urgent message received from my 13-year-old nephew:
LITTLE MMIGGG JOEEE CALLL MEEE ITSSS IMPORTANTTTTT
Little Mig Joe is what he and his brother call me. That’s kind of a long story and not relevant right now.
I figured it had to be IMPORTANTTTTT. I also had two missed calls from him and in fact, had my phone in my hand to call him back when I got that text. He never calls me, unless he wants something. Because he’s thirteen, and that’s how thirteen-year-olds are, mostly too busy for their Little Mig Jo.
Nephew: Is Big Joe there? [That’s what he and his brother call my husband, part of that same not relevant story.]
Me: Yeah, what’s up?
Nephew: Okay, can you put me on speaker? Are you sitting down? Y’all need to be sitting down.
I could tell from his voice that this was not bad news he was preparing me for. I have not heard that child so jubilantly excited in—well, it makes me sad to think how long it’s been.
He won the golf tournament. Actually it was more of a skills contest than an actual tournament. He’s been going to a clinic at the country club where all the men in my husband’s family play golf. Big golfers, my husband’s brother and daddy are. My husband, too, although he doesn’t get to play nearly as much as they do. He’s the one who got nephew interested in golf and we bought him his first set of real clubs a couple of Christmases ago. That may have been the last time I saw the kid so excited.
Anyway, nephew won over all, out of I don’t know how many kids. Usually there’s thirty or forty participating in the program. He got a trophy and a medal and I don’t know what all else. He is very proud of himself, and deservedly so. He shows some real promise, we think.
I’ve been awake all night thinking about him, and his brother. And their mother. My husband’s sister. My once upon a time best friend. She died in February. Died on her 43rd birthday, in fact. I’ve been thinking it should have been her he was so thrilled to be telling about his victory. Ideally, she should have been there to witness it. That, however, would be quite unlikely to happen even if she were still alive.
And I’m just more pissed at her than ever. Pissed at the way she threw her fucking life away with both hands, traded her children for her habit, lost everything but her insatiable need for drugs and attention.
Her death wasn’t a surprise to anybody, but at the same time it wasn’t really expected. I mean, who expects a 43-year-old woman who doesn’t have cancer to die? We had been telling each other for years that we would not be surprised when we got the call that she had been found in a ditch somewhere. At least it didn’t happen like that, for the boys’ sake. Well, maybe for the rest of the family’s sake, too. She died in a hospital. She didn’t go into the hospital to die. It seemed to be just another of her many, many routine check-ins. I’ve never been able to decide if she had Munchausen’s or if being sick was just one more way to get drugs. Maybe it was a combination of the two. I’m not a psychiatrist, nor do I play one on TV. To my knowledge, Munchausen’s was never one of her diagnoses or even addressed by any of the various MDs, shrinks, therapists, etc. she encountered over the years. In the beginning she wasn’t even sick. She admitted once in rehab (I was there, participating in “family counseling”) that she had begun faking headaches at age sixteen to get Demerol shots.
Rehab didn’t take, obviously. None of them. Neither did NA, which I dragged her to. Literally. Like, I shoved her in my car and drove her to the church where the meetings were held, marched her into the room and grabbed her when she tried to run right back out. I sat beside her and held her hand while she stammered out, “I’m Claire, and I’m an addict,” for the first time, just as I had sat and held her hand during the births of those two boys. She grew to like NA quite a lot, and the men who attended the meetings even more. She was easily the most attractive woman there and she enjoyed the attention and where better to find new drug sources? Most of the people there were court ordered and not truly committed to “recovery” any more than she was.
When she was younger, her drug of choice was anything goes. After she had children, she pretty much stuck to prescription pills. Easier to hide an addiction, and in her mind it was a more respectable and excusable type of addiction, I’m sure, except for when she was stealing pills from other people. People like my husband. There was a time she had even half way persuaded me to believe he was eating the shit ton of drugs that was disappearing from his supply at such an alarming rate. He was very, very sick, and I was working all the time and how could I be sure? And when I caught her in the act of stealing, saw her with his drugs in her hand with my own two eyes, she still insisted it wasn’t the way it seemed. Drug addicts are talented liars, and she was one of the best.
She was very convincing when she regaled doctors about her chronic pain. She always had oxycontin, xanax, valium, Percocet, hydrocodon, fentanyl. . . For a while she used her teeth as a way to get pain pills, but then she ran out of teeth. Thirty-two years old and wearing dentures for the sake of getting high. Or low, rather. She spent most of her days passed out. I don’t know what she was so desperately trying to escape from by checking out of her life like that. After one of her rehab stays, she announced that she had discovered “recovered” memories and proceeded to name every male member of the family and as having molested her as a child. Her sister exclaimed indignantly, “Well, what was wrong with me??? No one ever molested me!” We dismissed this as more of her outrageous fantasy. We’re not the kind of people to make light of child molestation, but seriously, there was never a time that it could have happened. She also told everyone my husband hit her. He never did, but he should have.
I might have been able to forgive her all that, even for making me doubt my husband, for the horrendous pain he suffered when he had to be without his medicine between prescriptions because she had stolen vast quantities of it, but I could never forgive her for what she did to her children. She left their father when they were two years old and six weeks old. That was the probably the best thing she ever did for them. We fixed up the cabin on our property and she and the babies moved into it. And then we raised those boys for the next four years as our own while she disappeared for days on end and was unconscious when she was around. I don’t even remember the event the made us force her into rehab the first time. She was dating a loser she met in NA and they were talking about getting married. That and the fact that he had finally finished school and felt like being a father motivated her ex to sue for custody of the kids, after virtually ignoring them for four years. She let them go rather than let him air her dirty laundry in court. I don’t know what she thought we didn’t already know, or suspect. If I could reach into her grave and bring her back to life and choke her to death all over again for that, I would. My babies! It was just like one of those goddamn Lifetime movies, crying all over the place and them clinging to us and screaming and their so-called father wrenching them away. We consulted a lawyer and were advised that as aunt and uncle, we had no standing to get custody ourselves. Our only route would be to get CPS involved, attempt to have both parents deemed unfit (which they undoubtedly were, but you never know what the idiots in charge of these things are going to decide) and then they would go into the foster system! We decided the devil we knew was better than the devil we didn’t.
She still had regular visitation back then, which meant we had regular visitation, since she could rarely be bothered to care for them when it was her time to have them. They continued to be at our house every weekend for the next couple of years and she still lived at our address, until one night, for some reason, she had Nephew with her for the evening. Older Nephew was spending the night with his cousin, I think. Anyway, around ten that night our dogs started barking and charging at the front door and the next thing we knew Nephew was running naked into our bedroom, sobbing and screaming that he couldn’t find his mama.
He was five at the time. He was terrified of the dark, and he had run NAKED from her house at the far end of our property to our house, through brambles and brush and howling dogs in the pitch dark and he was hysterical. It took everything in me not to be hysterical with rage. I put him in some underwear and a T-shirt while Husband went to investigate.
Husband returned shaking with rage of his own. He found his sister in one of the bedrooms passed out in the floor. I guess I should briefly explain at this time she was living in the trailer house my husband’s parents had moved onto our land and lived in for a while. Anyway, she and Nephew were in the master bedroom watching a movie. She told him she would go to his room to get his pajamas while he got undressed. She went to the other end of the trailer and fell out in the floor. When she didn’t return, he called for her. She didn’t respond, he went looking for her. Because the lights were out and the way the room turns away from the door, he didn’t see her on the floor in front of the closet when he looked in his room. And naturally he lost his shit.
We all lost our shit that night. We kicked her out and I never willingly spoke to her again. She really became dead to me that night. She cried and begged and pleaded and I would not even look at her. I was done. I’m still done. It caused some awkwardness in the family, to be sure. We had to at times be in the same room at family gatherings. She always made a point of speaking to me and I always made a point of not acknowledging it. She never did get it. Her mother would report to me that Claire would say to her she didn’t understand why I was still mad at her. I wasn’t mad. I was just done, done with her lies, done with her thieving, done with her drama, done with her damage.
It was hard on the boys. We talked about it. I never bad mouthed their mother to them. She was their mother, after all. She loved them as best she could, even though she wasn’t capable of much. But I didn’t lie or dismiss their questions, either. It was easier for her to keep her “problem” hidden from them when they were younger and she wasted no opportunity in painting me as the bad guy, but as they got older, they figured it out. I knew they would. In the months before she died, there were a few bad episodes when she was staying with them at their dad’s house while he worked. She hit Older Nephew in the face with a hair dryer. She pulled all their clothes out of the closet and threw them in the bathtub. She didn’t recognize them when they tried to talk to her. She ran around in the yard in her nightgown and bare feet in the snow. That time they called us. We went over and Husband called 911. They got to see her fight two policemen as they wrestled her to a stretcher and strapped her down.
For the last several years her preferred complaint for hospitalization and acquiring drugs was bladder infection. Who the fuck gets hospitalized for a damn bladder infection? I suspect early on she was doing things to make herself get an infection, and because she never took medication as it was prescribed (eat all the pain pills, chase them with a couple of the antibiotic ones), she developed a highly resistant bacteria, and because she was in and out of the hospital so much, she contracted MRSA. This last time she was in the hospital, she had gone in for fluids and IV antibiotics. She was lucid and ambulatory and all that. Someone came in to take her vitals on a routine check in the wee hours of the morning and found her barely breathing on the floor. There were pills scattered all around her. They put her in ICU where they hooked her up to a vent to keep her breathing, but the EEG showed there was no brain activity. Her parents (her dad, mostly. He’s been pretty much in denial about her for years) discussed what to do for a day and agreed it was best to let her go.
That brain damaged, ravaged corpse was once a beautiful, brilliant, hilarious woman. She was once a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother. She was once my best friend.
Drugs are bad, kids. Well, drugs can be okay. But if you feel the desperate need to abuse them the way she did, you’re fucked up and you need to stop that shit. It breaks my heart that she apparently never thought she was worthwhile enough to stop for, but it makes me mad as hell that she didn’t think her kids were.