Father’s Day

My father is dying. The Votrient he has struggled to take since January is not working. In fact, the renal cell cancer which metastasized to the lymph nodes in his chest has now spread to his lungs, the lining of his chest cavity, and his bones.

My mother still believes there is a chance for him to pull-through. Her Sunday School class is praying for him. God is still in the business of miracles.

But I know he is done. There is no fight left in him. He is stubborn, my dad. Dr. George, his Oncologist, tells him he must get out of bed or he will lose his muscle mass. He must try to walk and get some exercise. But Dad only walks from the bed to the bathroom. “I don’t feel like getting up,” he says. He eats minuscule portions and his parchment-thin skin is gaunt across his frame.

“Dad, you have to eat.”

“I don’t have any appetite. Nothing tastes good. I can’t keep anything down.”

“I understand that. You still have to do it. You either eat or you die.”

He has made his choice.

Jerri thinks he has seen his last Christmas. She’s not sure he will be here come August when she hopes to move into a new income-subsidized apartment with a washer and dryer. She has requested a two bedroom in anticipation of unsupervised visits with JM, her 10 year old, who lives with our parents. But the apartment complex wants copies of his social security card and birth certificate. My parents won’t supply these.

“She’s trying to get a two bedroom under false pretenses,” Mom says. “JM is never going to live with her. She doesn’t have a mothering bone in her body.”

“She is not misleading the apartment complex. This not about JM coming to live with her. This is about visitation and having a room for him to stay over a weekend.”

“JM can sleep anywhere. He doesn’t need his own room. He can sleep on the couch or a blow-up mattress. Besides, she doesn’t have any bedroom furniture herself. How is she going to furnish a room for him?”

Because I’m going to give her furniture. Stan and I have two guest bedrooms we never use. We are planning to downsize within the next four years. The bedroom furniture will not be going with us anyway. Besides, its hard to justify owning beds that are never slept in when my own sister lives in such poverty.

My mother and I are at odds. Not about my dad but about everything else. Mostly about Jerri.

“You don’t even know Jerri, Mom. In your mind she’s the same person she was twenty-one years ago. She’s a drug addict. You refuse to see her as anything else. She is not an addict. She is not the person you’ve always told me she was. And she is capable of being a mother. To you mothering is all about providing financially. That’s not what mothering is all about.”

“You’re right and she can’t provide for him. She can’t give him clothes, or food, or even a bed to sleep in.”

“That’s not true. She can’t provide for him the way that you can but there is more to life than that. But this is not about him coming to live with her – this is about him spending a weekend with her – not every weekend, maybe not even every month.”

The argument escalates.There is nothing I can say that she will hear. She hangs up on me. There is so much left unsaid.

The phone call leaves me empty and strangely proud. I stood up to her. I said what I thought. I didn’t raise my voice or bite back my words even knowing that to disagree with her means certain retribution. For me, this is progress. In 5 months, I will be 50 years old. And I am FINALLY able to stand against my mother.

At 1:45 am, Mom leaves a voice message. “Don’t worry about coming to the hospital for your Dad’s appointment. He feels the same way too. We can just sever the ties of the family and you can just make it on your own with Jerri.”

About the third year into our marriage, we borrowed $1400 from my parents which we paid back 2 months later. That was the last time I ever asked my parents for anything and I’ve been married for 28 years. Wow. Just not sure how I’m going to manage to “make it on my own.”

Dad has an appointment with his Oncologist Monday. I was going to join them because given my pharmaceutical background, I understand what the Oncologist says better than they do. Mom’s message is clear. I’ve been uninvited. More than that, I’m once again excommunicated from the family. Because I disagreed with her.

I call her back that afternoon. “Do you really think now is the time to sever ties given Dad’s situation?” She lets loose with anticipated fury. I am always bringing up the past. I don’t know all that went on. (Over 20 years go, before Jerri was ever treated for Bipolar.) I wasn’t there when Jerri went into Prodigal’s Community. I can’t get a word in edgewise. She is soooo glad that God doesn’t hold grudges against her the way that I do. She is soooo disappointed in me. She hangs up again.

I am done. I call my friend Susan who, more than anyone else I know, can empathize with mother issues. “My friend,” she says, “All I can say is there is some undiagnosed mental illness going on there. There has to be. Normal mothers just don’t behave that way.”

On Thursday, Jerri leaves 6 frantic voicemails while I’m in Zumba. They all say the same thing. Daddy is in the hospital. Mom is not there. She had called the house to talk to Dad and that’s how she found out. He’s dying. They are going to bring in hospice. This may be the last chance we have to see him without Mom. Jerri is going to catch the bus immediately.

I beat her to the hospital. Dad is curled up on his side. He is so very thin. His hair is totally white now and he has brown spots on his face. He is so fragile. I don’t have the courage to wake him. If Mom is telling the truth, he will not want to see me.

Jerri arrives and he awakes. For a moment, Dad is unsure of what he sees – his daughters – but he sorts it out. We are real. Not a dream. Not the morphine. He’s been in the hospital since Monday. He fell on his way to the car for his appointment. His Oncologist sent him to the emergency room when he arrived.

He’s been in the hospital 4 days and Mom never told us.

He says they are no longer fighting the cancer. They are fighting the pain. His Oncologist has given him a choice. Another drug like Votrient that may make him sick and unable to function but may slow the cancer or pain meds that will do nothing about the cancer but allow him to feel okay. Dad has chosen the latter, at least for a month, and then he will see.

I don’t tell him the awful truth – that every moment he doesn’t fight the cancer, it advances. It has spread so quickly, he may not have a month. The brain is likely the next stop on the Great Cancer Tour of his body and then he won’t have a chance to change his mind. It will take his mind. I struggle to breathe.

He says he doesn’t have much longer. I ask, “how do you feel about that?” He says, “I’m okay with it. I’m not afraid. At least not today. Ask me tomorrow and you might get a different answer.”

I am glad for him. That he’s not afraid.

From the hallway comes a public announcement. Visitor hours are over. I tell Dad we have to leave. He hurries to tell us one more story about the dream he had last night. It is not important. It is not how I want to spend my last minutes with him. I let him talk.

When he’s done I stand and he struggles to get out of bed. An alarm goes off. He is at risk for falling so they’ve tied an alarm to his bed. The nurse comes in and he says, “It’s okay. I just wanted to get up to say good-bye to my family.”

He hugs me. I know in my heart it is the last time. “I love you, Dad.” “I love you too,” he says and he makes a point of looking me in the eye. He knows it too. He hugs Jerri and tells her he loves her. We believe him. This is our real Dad, the way he is when Mom isn’t around.

Jerri promised Mom she would call after she gets home from her visit with Dad. She reports back to me the next day. “Your mother kept me on the phone for over an hour last night talking about you. Boy, is she mad at you. It’s kind of nice – her being mad at you and not me for a change.”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“She said she’s not going to tell you when Daddy dies. She said you’re just swooping in because he’s dying.”

“Seriously, Jerri, I don’t want to hear it.”

“She said she doesn’t want anything else to do with you and neither does Dad. So I said, really Mom? Cause Terri was at the hospital last night and Daddy talked to her almost the entire time!”

I feel sorry for Dad now. Because Mom will hold my visit against him. She’ll be furious with him for not tossing me out of the room. It’s Father’s Day, probably his last one, but I don’t call. I’m afraid he won’t answer. Or he’ll say he can’t talk to me anymore. I’m afraid she may have gotten to him.

I can still see his face – his eyes penetrating mine. I can feel his arms around me, his stubbly cheek against mine. “I love you too, Terri.” Those words are a gift. They will sustain me for the rest of my days. I know that he meant them. She can’t take that away. No matter what happens next.


Love is Not a Commodity

About a month ago, I went to Chicago on a business trip. It was just overnight and my schedule was such that I really only needed an extra shirt, a pair of panties, and toiletries. I usually check a bag when I fly but I was packing so light, why not carry on? So I abandoned my standard packing system.

Instead of packing the toiletry case I always take, I tucked my liquids into a clear, ziplock bag and the rest of my essentials into a Clinique pouch (free to customers who spend $30 or more as part of their Spring promotion 🙂 ). Everything went into a backpack.

That night at the Hilton as I was getting ready for bed, I couldn’t find my contact solution. This is what happens when you abandon your standard packing system.

I called the front desk and the manager informed me the gift shop was closed, however, there was a 7-Eleven just a block away. Sigh. I put my clothes back on, took the elevator to the lobby, trudged the block to the 7-Eleven, charged a travel size of saline solution, and exited the shop.

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As the glass door swung behind me, a homeless man standing on the curb called out, “Miss, can you spare a dollar?” I turned to face him and apologized.

“I’m sorry. I don’t have any cash. All I have is a credit card.”

He touched the brim of his baseball cap. I kid you not. “Well then, that’s all right. Don’t ye worry ’bout it. I thank ye. Ye looked me in the eye. Ye gave me respect. I thank ye.”

So here’s what I think about on Mother’s Day. Where was that man’s family? Why was he alone, living on the streets, begging for money? He didn’t seem any older than me. Where was his mother? When his mind slipped or he turned to drink, when he couldn’t hold down a job, when he failed to be the son she’d hoped he’d be, did she disown him? Did she refuse to take his calls or allow him into her home? Ok, maybe she’s no longer living. What about his siblings? What about children? Nieces? Nephews? Cousins? Where are they? Did they all just decide he wasn’t worth the trouble? That he didn’t fit into the picture of how they wanted their lives to be?

This morning at church, Steve talked about how when God told Moses who He was, the first word He used to describe Himself was compassionate. The Hebrew word translated as “compassionate” actually means “womb-like”. The safest, most loved you and I have ever felt was in the womb. Steve went on to say that God loves us not because we earned it but simply because we exist. Like a mother loves her unborn child before she even knows him or her. Steve said a mother’s love may be the closest model of God’s love that we see on this earth.

Sadly, that is not the case for all of us. We grew up in homes where love was a commodity. Something we had to earn. Some of us strived for decades in hopes of securing our mother’s love. Some of us are still striving. Some of us gave up a long, long time ago. Some of us thought we had attained it only to realize it was never permanent. Like a paycheck, we had to work for it day in and day out.

Some of us succeeded in life despite never having gained our mother’s love. Some of us were all but destroyed. Some of us lost our minds. Some of us tried to comfort ourselves with substances. Some of us ended up on the streets. Like that man in Chicago. Maybe it’s not his mother’s fault. But one thing I know for sure. If someone had chosen to love him, simply because he existed, he wouldn’t be homeless.

Some of us are handing down that same legacy to our kids, teaching them love has to be earned because that’s the way we experienced it.

I refuse to pass on that legacy to anyone. I dare you to join me.

Photo credit: Dustin Diaz / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Glass ceiling – 1; Trophydaughter – 0

Corporate America is a strange and bewildering place. Like working in a galaxy far, far away only you’re the one who’s the alien. Every company has its own cultural nuances and these can be difficult to navigate without a guide. Hence the whole corporate mentoring craze.

Clearly, the only one responsible for my career is me. The Peter Principle states we will all eventually be promoted to the level of our own incompetence. I don’t think I’m there yet but I still have a massive headache from banging my head against the glass ceiling. I’m not good at getting ahead but I am good at what I do. I’ve won awards 3 years in a row. The company, however, does not recognize me as “talent.” It’s not like I have goals to be President or CEO. I’m not the kind of person who lives to work. Instead I work to live and I want to live comfortably. And retire early. So even though I’m not particularly driven, I’d like to at least reach my full potential. I’ve got more to offer–why can’t the company see that?

I’ve suspected for some time now that I’ve been labeled but I can’t quite figure out what exactly is keeping me from progressing. It continues to elude me. So a few weeks ago I asked my coworker, let’s call him Matt, who’s acting as an informal mentor to me. “I think maybe I’m too honest,” I said. “I’ve been told repeatedly that I can be a bit harsh.”

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“Nope,” Matt said. “That’s not it. It’s two things. First, you’re too emotional. You can’t let anyone see how you really feel. And second, it’s your family. You’ve probably shared what’s going on with your sister with your manager, right?”

I nodded.

“Well, there you have it. You can’t get ahead if people perceive you don’t have your personal life under control.”

“But everyone has family stuff. Look at R. His father has Alzheimer’s and he’s shared that with the entire department.”

“Yes, but think about what he says. It’s always ‘the medications are working and slowing progression. The family is dealing with it.’ With you, everything with your sister is unpredictable. She’s doing well. She’s not doing well. You’re overwhelmed. You’re uncertain. There’s always an emergency. Things are definitely NOT under control.”

I did not argue with him. He may be right. But if he is, I guess I’m stuck. I’m not an actress. I can’t be something I’m not. Life is sometimes hard; I can’t pretend it isn’t. If that means I’m not “leader” material, so be it.

Well played, glass ceiling, well played.


No Longer Walking on Eggshells

Have you ever had a word or phrase pop into your head so seemingly out of nowhere that you can’t get it off your mind? That happened to me a few weeks ago. I was responding to Cathy’s comment on So This is 2013 . . ., thinking about Dad, kind of shaking my head, wondering why he goes along with Mom even when she says something he knows isn’t true or does something to one of us that’s unwarranted, vindictive, or hurtful and BAM! There it was. Stockholm Syndrome. It kind of threw me because I’ve only ever heard the term applied to hostages–think Patty Hearst–who instead of trying to escape or fight back, actually bond with their captors and even help them. Bizarre, right? I mean Dad isn’t exactly a hostage. He was the breadwinner when we were growing up. Mom was dependent on him, not the other way around.

So I googled SS and discovered it can also apply in family relationships, where the mother or father (or anyone else in a position of authority) is extremely controlling or intimidating. You can read the complete article here.

Dr. Carver, the author, seems to use “controlling” and “abusive” interchangeably. That makes me slightly uncomfortable. There’s no question WHATSOEVER that Mom is controlling. When Mom wants something done, she means now and you better be in the middle of a bowel movement if you don’t intend to drop everything and comply. Hahaha, drop everything. I crack myself up.

But where was I? Oh, right. Controlling, absolutely, but abusive? Jerri says yes, Mom was abusive. I say, really? Because abusive is like battering women, beating and raping children, torturing prisoners. That’s not what happened to us. Granted, as kids, we were spanked frequently, often with a belt, but I don’t recall welts, bruises, or broken skin. I mean, no one ever pointed and asked “what the heck happened to you?” And spanking was, at the time, a socially acceptable form of child discipline. Growing up, I didn’t know any kids who WEREN’T spanked.

No, what we experienced was more of a psychological conditioning, an emotional penetration, the inflicting of someone else’s will on us and not for the purpose of growing us into better human beings. One blogger I follow uses the term “white collar abuse” which seems a little more palatable.

Dr. Carver describes four conditions that have to be present in order for Stockholm Syndrome to develop. These can be found in both hostage and abusive relationships:

  • The presence of a perceived threat to one’s physical or psychological survival and the belief that the abuser would carry out the threat.
  • The presence of a perceived small kindness from the abuser to the victim
  • Isolation from perspectives other than those of the abuser
  • The perceived inability to escape the situation
  • I can only speculate on how these apply to Dad. But I know how they apply to Jerri and me. Because, yes, after reading the article, I believe Dad, me, Jerri, and my nephews and nieces who’ve been raised by my parents have all developed Stockholm Syndrome.

    Perceived threat. That one is easy. Mom could fly into a rage with very little provocation and sometimes, none at all. She was unpredictable, like a volcano that isn’t even smoking and then spews a lava stream fifty feet into the air. She’d scream, jump up and down, totally lose all control. It didn’t matter if we had friends over or if we were in a restaurant or at the mall. It was incredibly embarrassing when it happened in public. Most spankings happened when Mom was in this state. Talk about terrified. We’d hide the belt before telling Mom something that might bring out the worst in her. I’d confess every possible thing I could think of, hoping to circumvent the rage. Jerri, on the other hand, was nonplussed. She refused to conform, even went out of her way, to defy Mom’s rules. I became a horrible tattletale because it didn’t seem to matter which of us, Jerri or me, committed the crime, we were both in trouble. I used to have this recurring nightmare where I would wander through the house and find Mom in the kitchen, at the stove or the sink with her back to me. I’d start chattering about my day and as Mom turned, I’d realize she was the wrong mother. Instead of Momma Jekyll, I’d see the face of Mother Hyde.

    Small kindness perception. Dr. Carver states that in threatening and survival situations, we look for evidence of hope — a small sign that the situation may improve. Sometimes that sign is simply the controller not subjecting you to verbal or physical abuse in a situation when she normally would. My mother’s anger was anything but predictable. There were many times I expected her to explode and instead she’d be quite understanding. My relief was always tethered with confusion. Had I misread the signs? Maybe Mom wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe I was making the whole thing up.

    Isolation from other perspectives. If there is one quote in the article that truly hits home, it’s this one:

    In abusive and controlling relationships, the victim has the sense they are always “walking on eggshells” — fearful of saying or doing anything that might prompt a violent/intimidating outburst. For their survival, they begin to see the world through the abuser’s perspective. They begin to fix things that might prompt an outburst, act in ways they know makes the abuser happy, or avoid aspects of their own life that may prompt a problem.

    20130211-010800.jpgAh. Now we get to the crux of the matter. “Walking on eggshells” describes Dad’s behavior and I know all too well what that feels like. Funny how I always hated how controlling Mom was and yet I’d do my best to control her by trying to avoid any missteps that might set her off. For example, whenever I visited my parents, I would spend all of my time with Mom whether just keeping her company in the kitchen, antiquing, or running errands. I wanted to hang out with the nieces and nephews but knew if I did, Mom would feel neglected and that was a trigger. This explains, too, why we could all so easily make Jerri the scapegoat. Mom said our family issues were Jerri’s fault. We all knew better than to disagree with her. Devour or be devoured. That was the choice. I can see that now. Dad, like all of us, was, and is, simply trying to survive.

    Perceived inability to escape. Obviously, as kids, we were trapped. Until we were old enough to get jobs or husbands to support us, it wasn’t perception; it was a fact. There really was no way out. Even after I moved out, Mom still tried to maintain control. For years, she encouraged me to divorce Stan. Without him, I would be more vulnerable; I would need her more. Mom has also found ways to keep everyone else on a leash. JM, Jerri’s youngest son, still lives with her and Jerri has to toe the line if she wants to be allowed to visit him. Mom wrote her daughters out of the will and made a point of informing the nieces and nephews the inheritance would be split among them–I suspect so they’d realize what is at stake should they ever decide to cross her. And Dad? Well guilt is a powerful motivator. I suspect one of the reasons Mom was so keen on getting custody of Jerri’s kids was to keep Dad ensnared. She’s told him Jerri’s addiction was caused by his drinking. If he’d been a better parent, Jerri would have been able to raise her own children. How could he live with the guilt of failing his grandchildren on top of failing his daughter?

    Wow. Who would have thought it? As angry as I’ve been, as hurt and sad and torn about the rift with my parents, all things considered, I’m the lucky one. Of all my family, I’m the only one who is truly free.

    Photo credit: bp6316 / Foter.com / CC BY


    So This is 2013 . . .

    My father has lung cancer. Neither of my parents are talking to me about it. What I hear trickles down from conversations between Mom and Jerri. I have no idea what the truth is since history has shown my mother to be an untrustworthy source of information and Jerri doesn’t understand much of what Mom says. At first, Jerri said it was stage 1 which meant the cancer had been caught in the earliest phase, consisted of a single tumor in one lung that could likely be removed with surgery, and my dad would have a 60-80% 5-year survival rate. Now Jerri says it is stage 4 which is the last phase and indicates the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body. About 40% of lung cancer patients are already stage 4 when diagnosed. Average life expectancy following diagnosis is about 8 months and less than 10% survive for 5 years. What a difference one little number makes.

    My parents called our other relatives to tell them of Dad’s cancer. They did not call me. Having
    NOT notified me, Mom still managed to be shocked that I hadn’t called Dad to express condolences. She told Jerri I would be sorry after Dad is gone. Sadly, it feels like she is almost looking forward to the day so she will have one more weapon in her arsenal to weld against me. “Your father was dying from cancer and you didn’t even visit him. You never even called!”

    I emailed my parents the following:

    It’s unreasonable to expect me to respond to news I receive third-hand—you don’t even know for sure that I’ve received it–so please know that in the future, I will only respond to news that comes from you. For example, if Dad is in the hospital and you or Dad don’t tell me, I will assume you don’t want me to know and you don’t want me to visit. Please don’t use Jerri to communicate information to me or to gather information about me. If there is something you’d like to share or know, you can call or email at anytime.

    Mom’s reply:

    Terri, I assumed that you did not want ANY CONTACT WITH US AS IT HAS BEEN YEARS SINCE YOU HAVE.

    What is interesting in this response is I have never, not once, told them I don’t want contact. I just stopped initiating contact myself. They interpreted that to mean we were no longer speaking. They have never, not once, acknowledged that it takes two parties to “not speak.” They have informed our relatives that “Terri is no longer speaking to us.” They failed to inform the relatives that they are no longer speaking to me. They accept no responsibility in any of this which demonstrates that all along the responsibility for our relationship has been mine and mine alone. I suppose I’ve always known this. It is why, after the fallout, I stopped calling them. I needed to validate my theory. And now I have.

    Is this twisted or is it just me? Please, somebody, some objectivity!

    As the Trophydaughter in this family, there is immense pressure for me to step up now and “do the right thing” which is presumably forget all the pain they’ve inflicted on all of us (Jerri, her children, and me), the coercive scheming that has gone into making me an accomplice in their sins against Jerri, their vindictive attempts to punish and lasso me back into their dysfunctional world, their slanderous propaganda about me to the family, set all that aside and be a good daughter to my dying Dad. Whatever that means.

    My friends have counseled me to imagine how I will feel after his death. To do what I need to do in order not to have any regrets. Honestly, I don’t even know how to process that. It’s almost impossible to explain to someone who has an actual relationship with a father who participates in their life the enormity of the dysfunction that is ours and how it so skews the normal, expected human response that even the laws of physics seem not to apply.

    Will I regret not having spent time with him over the past 6 years? The truth is even if this rift didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have spent time with him. Whenever I was with family, I had to spend all my time with Mom or else she would pout, cry, get jealous, get angry, get moody, and generally become unbearable. Perhaps in Dad’s mind, keeping Mom happy was equivalent to spending time with him. I can tell you, in my mind, it is not.

    Will I regret not talking with him? The truth is even when we’re communicating, we’re not actually talking. He talks to Mom and she tells me. When I heard of Dad’s diagnosis, I texted him (don’t judge, it was the best I could muster under the circumstances) that I was very sad to hear it and even sadder he hadn’t told me himself. He did not respond. He did not text back. He simply showed the text to Mom according to Jerri. In her email, Mom wrote, “Your Dad and I have been married 53 years this April and your attitude toward me has hurt him as much as me.” Really? I guess I’ll just have to take her word for it. As I have my entire life.

    When I’ve tried to force the issue and talk to Dad directly, it has not gone well. The last real conversation we had was about their decision not to allow Jerri to stay at their house a few days after her release from the hospital following her colostomy. Her surgeon did not want her to be alone given the possibility of complications such as a clot. He asked my parents if she could stay with them for 2-3 days and they said no. She had no one else to stay with in town. Jerri called, crying hysterically, “I just want to go home. I’ve been here for 2 weeks and I just want to go home. They won’t let me leave unless someone commits to staying with me. And Mom and Dad won’t do it. They say I can’t stay with them.” She was living about 100 miles from me at the time but only about 7 miles from our parents. I called Dad and challenged him. He said, “It was a family decision.” I know it was not. Left up to Dad, he would have said yes. He went along with Mom because if he hadn’t, she would have made his life miserable. I said, “I can’t believe you won’t take care of your own daughter. For 2 days, Dad. Two measly days!” He said nothing. “Don’t you even care what happens to her? The doctor doesn’t want her alone because if something went wrong, she could die!” He said nothing. “Don’t you know that one day you will have to give an account for your actions to God?” He said nothing. “Fine. Don’t you worry about Jerri then. I’ll take care of Jerri.” He said, “Are you finished?” and hung up.

    You may think me heartless. I am not. I am deeply saddened that Dad is now at the end of this life. But I don’t believe death is the ultimate end, just the opposite, I believe it is the ultimate beginning.

    When I think about regrets, I think mostly of things out of my control. Like Dad’s seeming inability to have a relationship with me that doesn’t go through Mom. There are some things I’d like to say to him but I can’t decide which I will regret more: saying them or leaving them unsaid.

    So this is how 2013 begins. Taking into consideration the family drama and the fact that right before Christmas I fell over one of our dogs while running and slid on the asphalt on my face, you’ll understand why its been a few weeks since you’ve heard from me.


    Just Setting the Record Straight

    Dear Mom,

    Jerri shared what a nice visit she had with you and JM a few weeks ago. It’s got to be inconvenient for Dad to pick her up in High Point and get her back in time for the return train. But I also believe JM will be a stronger, healthier adult if he grows up knowing his mom loves him despite her disabilities. I’m sure that’s what you want for him as well.

    Jerri said you commented recently you knew I was angry and you’d made a lot of mistakes when I was in high school. But that you and Dad had “loved me so much my freshman year that you drove to the college every weekend and brought me back home.” Every single one.

    Huh. That’s not the way I remember it. What I remember is posting ads on the bulletin board in the student union, “Hey, anyone going near Winston-Salem for the weekend?” and bumming rides with total strangers so you would not HAVE to pick me up. I remember you urging me on the phone to try and find a ride “’cause it sure was a long way for you to come.” I remember spending many weekends at school because I couldn’t find a ride or I didn’t have money to share gas or I just didn’t want to beg.

    And just to check my memory, I asked Stan, “do you remember my parents coming to get me every weekend from Gardner-Webb?” He said, “We bummed a lot of rides with other people. They had to pick us up from somewhere but we always got as close to Winston as we could.”

    It’s interesting that you would remember “loving me so much” my freshman year. That was the year you called and asked for my house key because you’d made Jerri give up hers (after robbing you) and “it was only fair.” That’s also the year you called the school and told them to apply my work study income to my tuition. Without consulting me. I went to pick up my check and was informed of your directions. We agreed when I chose Gardner-Webb that I would pay half and I was doing so, already, through scholarships. Apparently, you felt my share should be more. On top of the fact that I saved up my money all summer, every summer, to cover my books and living expenses. You never offered to help me out financially, even when I lost down to 98 lbs and was clearly not getting enough to eat. If that’s what “loving me so much” looks like then I’d have to say, yeah, you almost loved me to death.

    Just felt the need to set that record straight.

    Regards,

    Terri


    Confessions of an Angry Sister on the Verge of Becoming Her Mother

    Apparently, Jerri and I aren’t speaking right now.

    On Thursday, I had a mandatory Diversity training class at work. This is about the fourth one of these I’ve attended in my 17 years with the company. They always throw me into a foul mood. Maybe because I don’t like being reminded how much the world sucks sometimes or how despicable people can be to each other. Maybe because I always leave more fully aware of what a rotten person I am and that no matter how much I hate it, I still stereotype and I still have biases. Maybe because it brings back memories from childhood of the nasty racist sentiments vocalized by my parents and grandparents who lived in Birmingham, AL during the heyday of the civil rights movement. Sometimes I cringe at the sewage contaminating my gene pool. It makes me want to gargle with chlorine and take a long, scalding shower. Or maybe because there is always some squeaky white male in the group acting all shocked and horrified that anyone in this day and age would discriminate against women or people of color at our company. Pa-leaseeee!

    So when I left the meeting in my foul mood, I checked my phone and found a message from Jerri. (Mental note, never call your sister when you yourself are in a bad place. Just don’t.) Jerri has had a number of teeth pulled—when you’re not in your right mind you tend not to brush—and she’d had the final one, a front tooth, pulled that day. The other teeth have been in back so aren’t that noticeable. She will be getting a partial—Medicaid covers this if you’ve had 5 or more teeth pulled—and last I heard, she’d planned to wait on the front tooth until the partial had been approved. I called her back to ask what’s the deal?

    I could tell by the way she answered the phone, Jerri was in her own black cloud. Her mouth was hurting and there was a man in the background which is never a good thing. Jerri has the absolute worst taste in men. If I had to describe her “type” it would be unemployed, homeless, substance abusing ex-cons.

    In the course of the conversation, I reminded Jerri that she had a $35 bill from the Ophthalmologist due on November 2nd.

    “I can’t pay it. I don’t have any money left.” She just got paid on Tuesday.

    “How much did you get paid?”

    “$200. Why?” She said this defiantly, like its none of my business. And it wouldn’t be except, if you’ve been following the blog you’ll remember how Dr. Bryant treated Jerri with respect and compassion, giving her free samples and discounting her costs by over half. Is there any wonder there’s such a lack of civility in the world today? Whenever someone like Dr. B does a good deed, she gets kicked in the teeth for it. You’ll also remember that Dr. B is MY Ophthalmologist too.

    “And you’ve already spent it ALL?”

    “I’m going to pay her just not by the 2nd. And I can’t pay her next pay day because I’ve got that big phone bill due. And I need the rest for groceries. But I’ll pay her by the end of the month.”

    What had she spent the money on? She spent half of it at Walmart on things she wanted—a Netflix box, crochet supplies.

    And the rest? She was saving for groceries. Catherina was taking her tomorrow.

    “I TOLD YOU I would pay it. What do you WANT from me? I forgot about the bill. You only told me about it ONCE. This is what I do. I don’t pay stuff on time but I EVENTUALLY pay it.”

    What a freakin’ lie. That’s why she doesn’t have cable or Verizon. She just stopped paying them.

    At this point she stopped giving me the chance to talk. Every time I tried to say something, she talked over me, getting louder and louder, never taking a breath, drowning out anything I wanted to say, filling the airspace with twisted justifications and somehow making out like it was as much my fault as hers that the bill hadn’t been paid. And in the background is this guy yammering and I can’t understand the words but it sounds like he’s egging her on.

    And I snapped. I started screaming back at her, talking over HER and now neither one of us was listening. When I hung up (and have you ever noticed how unsatisfying it is to end an angry call on an iPhone—I just wanted to slam down the receiver and there wasn’t one) my first thought was, God, I’ve become my mother.

    My anger stemmed from at least three things, probably more, but these are the biggee’s: 1) diversity-training-inspired self-loathing. 2) hurt from being totally disrespected by Jerri’s incessant over-talking which, BTW, I also experienced from work colleagues this week and it makes me feel smaller than a pimple on a bug’s ass. Sorry. Anger brings out the profanity in me. 3) concern that Jerri’s late payment would cause friction between Dr. Bryant and me.

    The way I blew up and started screaming is exactly like my mom. The way I thought, “I wish I’d never gotten Jerri an appointment with Dr. Bryant because now she’s going to embarrass me” is exactly like my mom. The way I put 2 and 2 together (bad temper, guy in the background, $100 unaccounted for) and came up with “using” is exactly like my mom.

    Aaaacckkk!

    I guess it goes without saying that we haven’t spoken since . . .