Monday, February 7, 2011

To Write or Not To Write?

Wow... I can't believe it's been SO LONG since I've posted! What it really came down to was, as cathartic as it was writing about my brother, I got tired of it. It depressed me more, over time. Apparently I just don't know what I want! I doubt anyone's reading anymore, but I'll write anyway....

Let's see. What's the latest? Nothing, really, especially considering you more than likely already follow me on Facebook. And if you do, you're probably sick of my daily ramblings!

To sum it up: Kids are good, husband's good, work's... work. It's fine, just boring. Cheerleading has finally ended (thank you, Sweet Jesus!)--after 6 long months--and baseball's starting up again. Never a dull moment. But I tell myself: Someday you'll miss this. And I know it's true.

Today I came across the above picture of my son Chad at 2. It was taken at daycare; he's in the upper right-hand corner in red. He was the darlingest little boy ever, I swear. Not that I'm biased or anything. He is still the darlingest boy... what a joy he is, even at 15! That kid is the soft spot in my heart, I'm telling you. Erin is amazing too, of course, just in a different way. She is a true joy--so loving and comforting and FUNNY. I think moms and sons/daughters just have entirely different dynamics. Don't you? Strange... for all the years I only wanted girls (before getting pregnant), now I can't imagine not having had a son.

Oh, meant to say that the cool part about the above picture is that most of those kids are still friends. They started daycare (on our Navy base) together as infants in 1995/96 and are now in high school together as sophomores. And they're all amazing kids from amazing families! All of us parents still know each other and many of us work together on base, so the kids have had very similar upbringings and the same types of values instilled. We are blessed to live in the community we do.

Happy Monday! I'll try to come back before another, uh, five months slips away...

Monday, August 9, 2010

What if he's an angel?

What if He's an Angel

Brad Paisley

There's a man standing on the corner
With a sign sayin' "Will work for food"
You know the man
You see him every morning
The one you never give your money to
You can sit there with your window rolled up
Wondering when the lights going to turn green
Never knowing what a couple more bucks
In his pocket might mean

What if he's an angel sent here from heaven
And he's making certain that you're doing your best
To take the time to help one another
Brother are you going to pass that test
You can go on with your day to day
Trying to forget what you saw in his face
Knowing deep down it could have been his saving grace
What if he's an angel

There's a man
And there's a woman
Living right above you in apartment G
There's a lot of noise coming through the ceiling
And it don't sound like harmony
You can sit there with your TV turned up
While the words and his anger fly
Come tomorrow when you see her with her shades on
Can you look her in the eye

What if she's an angel sent here from heaven
And she's making certain that you're doing your best
To take the time to help one another
Brother are you going to pass that test
You can go on with your day to day
Trying to forget what you saw in her face
Knowing deep down it could have been her saving grace
What if she's an angel

A little girl on daddy's lap
Hiding her disease with a baseball cap
You can turn the channel
Most people do
But what if you were sitting in her daddy's shoes

Maybe she's an angel
Sent here from Heaven
And she's making certain you're doing your best
To take the time to help one another
Brother are you going to pass that test
You can go on with your day to day
Trying to forget what you saw in her face
Knowing deep down it could have been her saving grace
What if she's an angel

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Daddy's Little Girl

Mark moved into his new apartment complex in the springtime of last year. While moving, he left behind all sorts of things....things like boxes upon boxes full of family snapshots dating back to the 1950's. All of our family's memories captured on film were gone. He left behind other things, too, like our mother's wedding dress from 1945, our grandmother's confirmation picture from the turn of the century, and probably a million other things that would break my heart if I knew about them or thought too long or too hard. I've tried not to recall what he must've left; it hurt too much. I kept telling myself they're just things. Memories still live in your head and in your heart, Susan. No one can leave them behind or take them away.

And then one day I did remember something he might've left that I couldn't push aside or forget about: Our dad's ashes. I called Mark to ask, panic-stricken. "Oh," he nonchalantly says--as if I were talking about an old VHS tape or a raggedy sweater. "I didn't realize they were there."

My heart sank. Where did my dad's ashes go? Did someone throw them away? I knew the house had been bought at auction. Could I call someone? If so, whom? I knew where they'd been (on the top shelf of the master bedroom closet), but I wondered if anyone knew what they even were before tossing them out. (They were in a box from the mortuary, not an urn.)

The part that bothered me the most was that I was fairly certain Mark had left them intentionally. He and my dad had never gotten along, and I think it was his way of "getting even" one last time, sick as that might sound. Because, let's face it--he is sick.

One day, as Erin and I were driving by, we saw several men working in the yard and obviously gutting the house since there were things like bathroom sinks and countertops outside. I didn't know what to do. Should I stop? Would they think I was strange for asking? Admittedly, I was embarrassed. Erin lectured, "Mom, you KNOW you'll never forgive yourself if you don't stop to ask! Just turn around and go back. Right now!" She was right. It's kind of sad when your 5th grader has more sense and nerve than you do at 41 years old.

So I went back. I got out, briefly explaining who I was and why I was there. The man right away explained that it wasn't his house--it was his sister's, and she lived out of town--but he did remember her mentioning the ashes. He called her right away on his cell phone; yes, sure enough, she'd put them in the garage just in case the home owner stopped by! I was elated, and so grateful. My heart was light again. He and I talked quite awhile and then Erin and I went on our merry way, Dad's ashes clutched close to my heart...never to be forgotten or left alone again.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The value of compassion cannot be over-emphasized. Anyone can criticize. It takes a true believer to be compassionate. No greater burden can be borne by an individual than to know no one cares or understands.

-- H. Stainbeck

I'm not feeling very compassionate towards Mark these days; I'm feeling more resentful and burned out.

And, consequently, guilty.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hook-Ups in the Psych Ward

I forgot to give you some background between Mark's time in the old house and the new.

Sometime around 2004, Mark became very suicidal and checked himself into a psych ward in Bakersfield, CA. I didn't know he was feeling that way until he called to tell me he was there. It broke my heart but I was grateful he'd reached out and gotten help.

What I didn't know was, while there, he was becoming romantically involved with a fellow patient. General rule of thumb: Don't look for true love in a psych ward, whether you're crazy or not. JUST SAYING.

I didn't know anything about this new girlfriend (the first he'd ever had, far as I knew, and he was in his mid-40's) until he brought her home. Apparently she (whom I'll call "Mary") was from our small town, too. I imagined Mark had told her all sorts of elaborate stories about his import/export business (he averages $10/month profit in sales) in order to pique her interest. That, or she just needed a new person to mooch off of--which I later found out was her usual Mode of Operation. One of my best friends was Director of the local United Way, and it was through her that I found out she had a reputation for excessive drug use, stealing, winding up in jail/the psych ward, and taking advantage of naive men. Mary is tall and striking, in a prostitutey sort of way (picture Julia Roberts, minus the charm, in Pretty Woman before she met Richard Gere) so I'm fairly sure she uses that to her advantage.

About two weeks into their living together, they announced they were engaged. I could see this relationship was getting out of control quickly, but Mark sounded happy for once, and what could I do about it anyway? I figured oh well, at least he'll have known love in his life--even if it never works out. Well, that newly-engaged blissfulness didn't last long; about a week later, I got another call that he was now in jail. Apparently, they'd started arguing and Mary had physically attacked him; he'd pulled a knife in self defense, and she'd called the cops. Off to jail he went. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200!

So, there she was in my family's house, alone. Well, not really ALONE... she was having lots of male visitors over day and night, according to the next-door neighbor's report. I called the police and tried to get her kicked out (we had a fantastic little confrontation on the front porch when I tried to get rid of her myself--it was a scene right out of "Cops"), but they gave me some song-and-dance about why she was legally able to stay there. She later called me asking for money (told me Mark instructed her to--one of many lies), telling me she was pregnant with twins and they were his, and when I didn't buy her story or loan her money, she stole all sorts of things: our grandmother's dresser, family heirlooms, our parents' social security cards and birth certificates, blank checkbooks of Mark's, autographed copies of my mother's children's book (including a special Dutch-African version we can never get our hands on again), his telephone, even his dog. When he was finally released from jail, she was nowhere to be found and he realized she had not only stolen all of those things but had also somehow been cashing his disability checks and living off of them. He filed police reports, and as far as I know, very little was done.

FYI: I've gone back to tell you the story of Mary to (soon) explain some more recent events.

Once again, to be continued....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ships That Don't Come In

So here's my predicament: I haven't blogged in months because I want to be funny, sweet, entertaining, uplifting, and positive. To sum it up: A bright spot in my readers' (reader's?) day. I don't want to be depressing, blah, or serious. If you know me in person, I can have all sorts of shit hitting the fan and I will still come across as generally upbeat. Is it a facade? No, not really. More of a coping mechanism. I can't let life get me down. Happiness is a choice, you know? And if I smile and laugh and push aside some of my worries (at least, for most of the time), I'm good. I'm truly happy. I have had friends compliment me on my positive attitude, or actually tell me they're envious that I'm "always in a good mood." Let me tell you: it takes work. I have to do it to survive! I always have. But when I go to write, the "real" me wants to emerge--the deeper me. And it's here that I can't always feel fun and witty when I'm actually feeling heartbroken, frustrated, resentful, and alone. Lately, I've been dealing with lots of thoughts in my head about my mentally ill brother, and they're not fun. They're just.... sucky. Sad. Bizarre. Embarrassing. Hard to share with anyone.

So that's why I haven't written.

And then today, I thought... you know what? I need to write. I need to get it out. And if you hate what I'm writing, just don't read it. If it's depressing, please move on. I mean it. And I mean that in the nicest way. Heck, I wouldn't want to read what I'm about to write! But I'm writing for ME. It's therapeutic. I need to get it out. Sometimes I wonder how much more my husband and co-workers can take of my venting. It's not that I'm always whining, per se... I just probably share too much. I'm not a person to keep secrets... at least not of my own. I am an open book to the Nth degree. I can't hold anything in. As my other dear brother Paul once said, "God, Susan -- does every thought that enters your head have to come out your MOUTH?"

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, it does.

So here we go.

I'm not sure where to start. My brother Mark is a paranoid schizophrenic. I always knew he was different, but much of his uniqueness was due to his hydrocephalus (water on the brain) which was a physical challenge he'd dealt with as a preschooler on. It's easy to chalk up peculiar habits to a physical ailment, especially when you're talking about a child who had to wear a football helmet to school after surgeries to protect his tender little head, or a teenage boy who had to shop for a wig because it wasn't cool in 1976 to be bald with a big scar down the back of your head. He had been sheltered by our mother and never had had many friends. He'd missed a lot of school and was pegged as "different." And, let's face it: I was almost 10 years younger, so when he was 20 and started exhibiting some of the signs of schizophrenia, this 10-year-old girl didn't notice. I didn't know it wasn't normal to pace back and forth for 45 minutes, or talk to yourself, or laugh too loudly, or quote "All in the Family" ten times a day. I just thought Mark was different, not ill in the head. He was still good to me; always had been. My first word as a baby had been "Ma" and that wasn't for Mama--that was for Mark. He was my everything when I was a little girl, so when I saw him gradually becoming this different sort of person, it didn't really matter much to me or make a huge impression. He was who he was! Different, unique... but with a very big heart.

Mark moved out of our home when I was about 13 and he was 22-23. He lived with a couple of friends for awhile--the few years where he actually had a few (always women; men never accepted him). He worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance. He went to college at Golden West, made the Dean's List, got an associate's degree. He was smart and moderately successful. Normal on the outside, at least, but ever changing on the inside.

My parents and I moved out of Orange County, CA, and up to the desert three hours away. He stayed in the OC for a few years and eventually moved up to the desert and in with us. He no longer could seem to hold jobs for long. He was becoming less capable--more dependent. He couldn't remember things and had to be told what to do, the way you'd instruct a kindergartner. His mannerisms and habits were more noticeable, and I think employers picked up on them. I think my mom noticed the oddities but she lived in denial when it came to Mark. If Paul or I ever dared mention the things he did as being unusual, she snapped at us and defended him. She couldn't handle anything else being wrong with any more of her children, especially him after all of his years of hospitalization for physical ailments. (Plus, our sister was bi-polar and drug addicted...and later, Paul became severely brain injured in an accident.) She also was going through her own challenges with cancer (breast and, later, lung), the death of her only sister, and my dad's cancer... so now it makes sense -- the denial. I often wonder how she didn't completely snap herself. I would've gone off the deep end somewhere around 1970, if I'd been her.

Once our mother died in 2001, Mark slowly fell apart. The darling, clean house they once shared became the home of a hoarder. He lived in filth. Many times, Joe and I (and even his parents) would go over and clean it for an entire day or two...only to have it ruined again in no time at all. Mark's appearance went downhill drastically. He went from being clean shaven and handsome to looking homeless. He stunk. My kids would ask why Uncle Mark smelled bad, or why they weren't allowed in his home. I would invite him over for dinner and then tell him to relax in a nice, long bath (he claimed, because of his balance/hydrocephalus issues, that he didn't feel secure bathing alone at home) and I would wash his clothes and all of his laundry....often twice in a row just to get out the stench. I would sometimes buy new clothes for him to change into after his bath, even down to underwear and socks. We paid utility bills for him, brought over bags full of food, did everything we could to make his life more comfortable. I just wanted him to feel loved.

I actually felt guilty that my own life was so good. I clearly remember driving (I do this a lot when I'm alone, getting lost in my thoughts) and being so appreciative of my life -- my family, friends, job, home, community, health.... and then thinking, How dare you, Susan! Your brother is miserable with no friends! Why should you feel happy? Why did God give you a good life and make his so awful? It was like some sort of warped survivor's guilt of sorts. (Keep in mind that my sister had also taken her own life by this time, and Paul lay suffering in a neuro care home, completely dependent on others for his care.) It took me about a year to convince myself that stopping my own happiness in its tracks was gaining absolutely nothing for him.

Things were going okay, more or less, until he lost our parents' home to back taxes in 2009. I found out he hadn't paid any taxes in 6 or 7 years...and although he didn't owe much, the house was in shambles and wasn't worth holding onto. It was disgusting and ruined. I was able to get him into a brand new apartment complex for the mentally ill; it felt like a Godsend. It was built and opened to new tenants during the same month he became homeless. It was meant to be, and it felt like Divine Intervention. I thought my mother somehow had a hand in it, from way up there in Heaven. I cried tears of happiness. Finally something good was happening for Mark! A nice, new home. A community where he could fit in! But the funny thing is, even with all the relief and thinking my problems with him were basically over.... Mark was instead on the verge of getting worse. Much worse.

To be continued...


I could tell he'd had a tough life
By the way he sat and stared
And me, I'd come to push and shove
So I pulled up a chair.

We talked of roads untraveled
We talked of love untrue
Of strings that come unraveled
We were kings and kindred fools
And just when I'd hit bottom
That old man raised his glass
And said at least we had our chances
There's those who never have.

So here's to all the soldiers
Who have ever died in vain
The insane locked up in themselves
The homeless down on Main
To those who stand on empty shores
And spit against the wind
And those who wait forever
For ships that don't come in.

He said it's only life's illusions
That bring us to this bar
To pick up these old crutches
And compare each other's scars
'Cuz the things we're calling heartache
Hell, they're hardly worth our time
We bitch about a dollar
When there's those without a dime.

And as he ordered one last round
He said I guess we can't complain
God made life a gamble
And we're still in the game.

So here's to all the soldiers
Who have ever died in vain
The insane locked up in themselves
The homeless down on Main
To those who stand on empty shores
And spit against the wind
And those who wait forever
For ships that don't come in.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Introducing Princess!

I sometimes wonder how my husband likes being married to a 12-year-old. (Or to me, the next best thing.)

On Friday, he and I were at Wal-mart when I suddenly got the urge to buy a hamster. Let me paint the picture for you: I glanced towards the pet food section, flashed back to when we had a hamster a few years ago, and decided we "needed" another. Yes, that fast. I kid you not. I don't just impulse buy clothes and cars (I once bought a new car because I needed tires).... I impulse buy rodents, too.

They don't have any hamsters Wal-mart, but I bought the bedding and some food and told my husband we needed to stop by the pet store on the way home. He asked if I'd discussed this with the kids already. (Read: Did they con you into this?) No, I told him. They had no idea! This was going to be MY hamster. Not theirs. MINE. Mine, mine, mine, mine, MINE!

Other people have mid-life crises and buy convertibles, or have affairs.

I buy hamsters.

So, we headed to the pet store, my husband rolling his eyes and, I'm sure, wondering how his life ended up this way. I picked one out -- a dwarf hamster -- and we headed home.

And, because I'm 12, I told him I needed to name it before we got home so the kids wouldn't come up with a really lame name. Because I'm nothing if not a giving, selfless mother. Right?

It took some thought, but I came up with "Princess." Oddly enough, Erin never questioned the name. Maybe she thought it was already named? I don't know. But no questions asked. PHEW!!!

Chad asked me where I came up with the name, and then asked, "Did you name it that as a joke?"

Of course I didn't! I named her that because I like princesses, and tiaras, and the color pink, and everything sparkly. Because I'm 12, damnit! What part of that don't they understand?!

My family is SO lame.

But Princess? She's awfully cute.... and very regal, too. I wonder if they sell hamster tiaras somewhere? If not, they should.