The Phone Call


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.


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.


….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?


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.






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?

Lucy! You’ve Got Some ‘Splaining To Do!

I think every relationship has a Lucy and a Ricky. The Lucy obviously being the one who’s always getting into trouble, having to be reminded of everything, can be expected to screw up, etc. In our marriage, that’s yours truly. Or it was. Until this past Spring….

My husband and his buddy decided they could build a patio cover for our existing arbor by themselves. Who needs professionals, right? They had “built stuff” before and owned lots of tools, that’s all it requires, right? With an almost cocky confidence and a case of beer, they set off to make a patio cover. I begged Jim to call someone qualified was slightly doubtful, but tried to be optimistic. After all, this DIY project had the potential to save us thousands of dollars.

My Bob Vilas

My Bob Vilas working hard

For two solid weekends they toiled on our arbor until announcing it was finished. They couldn’t wait for the first rain to test their labor of love. We all stood underneath the patio, anxiously looking up. Hey, no leaks! It actually worked! They patted themselves on the back and strutted like peakcocks for days.

About a month later we had torrential rain for a solid week. One morning I stepped on the tile at the backdoor to let the dog out, and it squished under my feet! Water was bubbling through the grout! As I inspected the area (in a panic at this point) I noticed a giant bulge in the drywall over the door.

Uh...dear...I think there's a problem

Uh…dear…I think there’s a problem

Turns out there wasn’t enough of an incline for rainwater run-off because my Bob-the-Blunders didn’t think the type of shingles they used would need it. Also, in their infinite wisdom, they hadn’t put up splash guard, so now gallons of rainwater was being absorbed by porous grout and sucked into our house….along the entire length of the family room. I suddenly could relate with Walter from Money Pit, in that delirious moment when the bathtub falls through the floor and he comes completely unglued in hysterical fits of laughter.

we didn't need that money anyway

we didn’t need that money anyway

What I didn’t realize until months of tile replacement, cussing, caulking, check writing, ranting quiet meditation was the gift this colossal F#@* UP truly was. In that moment, every idiotic thing I’d done up to that point was erased. I was a clean slate, and frankly, would never have to worry about doing stupid shit again, because nothing ever, ever, never, ever is going to trump the time Jim rotted the back of the house off.

I’m the new Ricky, and damn if these pants aren’t comfortable!

Does your relationship have a Ricky/Lucy dynamic? If so, which are you? Have you or your other half ever done anything SO bad the tables turned? DO TELL!