brother

The Phone Call

kids

I press number three to play the message. His voice jumps through the phone and squeezes my heart so hard I have to sit down. He’s singing to me.

Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Bethie. Happy birthday to you.

I close my eyes and press play again. His voice sounds so pure. So…absolutely him it takes my breath away. I can reach out and touch the memories it’s conjuring. Us climbing trees. Exploring creeks. Getting in trouble for eating all the Debbie Snack Cakes Mom just bought for our school lunches. Dissolving in laughter at his dark wit and ridiculously awful impressions. The time he needed stitches after using the weed eater for the first time. And of course the fights. There’s nothing quite as vicious as a sibling fight.

Play.

Happy birthday to you….

Heart Squeeze.

The voice I’m hearing is just him. True him. At the core. Not the him I will get if I call him back. Oh, at first I’ll get true him. But soon the sickness will take over, and the lies will tumble out of his mouth. The pathological lies. They bore a hole in my stomach and make my head spin. I have to remind myself:

He can’t help it. It’s the disease.

Or he’ll bait me with a seemingly innocuous question, which I’ll answer because I’m hoping we’re having a real conversation. Like normal people. But the agenda soon rears its ugly head, and I’m suddenly being evangelized on his latest conspiracy theory. So much anger. So much paranoia.

He can’t help it. It’s the disease.

Play.

….Happy birthday, dear Bethie…..

Heart Squeeze.

The guilt is an anchor in my gut. I carry it always, dragging its toxic weight. It turns me inside out when I see his name on my caller ID…and I don’t pick up. You’re an asshole, I say to myself. What kind of sister doesn’t answer when her brother calls?

It’s not your fault. It’s the disease.

I used to pick up. For twenty years I picked up. The cyclical, inane conversations that went on for hours were torture. Especially the ones that came in the middle of the night. When the distress calls happened, I invested, physically and emotionally. “I’m here for you,” I would say. “Let’s get you help,” I would plea. Others have tried to help, too. But that’s the thing. Once he’s got your attention. Your time. Once you’re on the hook…

He swims away.

And we’re left dangling, feeling like asses for trying. Lost. Scared for him. Awaiting the next call.

Until it becomes too much to take on anymore. If someone won’t help themselves, isn’t it time to stop enabling? Doesn’t there come a time when I have to show him I’m not that person anymore? That person his disease can toy with? Doesn’t there come a time when I have to draw boundaries?

It’s not his fault. It’s the disease.

I see him once every year to two, when he decides to resurface at a family event. He acts as if no time has passed. As if he’s been at every get-together. We hang out. We talk. He inevitably makes me laugh. But his eyes…my god his eyes. They kill me. The sadness behind them scours my soul.

Even after years of me holding him at arms length, he still calls for my birthday.  Why isn’t he angry with me? Why doesn’t he hate me?

Play.

Happy birthday to you….

Heart squeeze. Hot tears of sadness. Anger at him for not getting help. Guilt for the anger. His voice is flooding me with memories but I can’t stop listening. Like the lure of the deeper waters even though you know there’s an undertow.

I miss my brother. I fucking hate mental illness.

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mental illness photo: Mental Illness Poster MentalIllnessPoster.jpg

Do you have someone in your life who won’t get help for mental illness, or won’t stay on their medication? How do you cope with them? How do you cope, period? Did/do you keep them at arms length?