Death

“Your sister’s dead.” – Text message from my mother. 7807695890_90e7f24c3f_z

We were training for a sky dive when I told my brother I thought he might be making a big mistake with this marriage. I told him something to the effect of two wrongs don’t make a right – he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia not too long before and I had some serious concerns about her mental health as well. Our father had convinced him that his schizophrenia had been a misdiagnosis, so he never received any treatment. I was afraid that without either of them getting the help they needed that this marriage would be a jump without a parachute. He just laughed and told me that that’s exactly why they’re so perfect for each other – they understand each other better than anyone else ever would. So, terrified, we leaped out of that plane.

Their marriage was certainly rocky. They were children, she was only 17 and he was 18. They beat on each other. They both abused drugs. They’d have a fight or temporarily break up, and my brother would be jumped by a gang she was affiliated with, axe-wielding members taking aim at his face. They’d forgive each other and begin again. Shortly after they were married, my brother put a baby in her. She was very pregnant when my brother filed for divorce in June. She had the baby shortly thereafter, and in mid-August, I got the text while I was at work. A TEXT MESSAGE. My sister-in-law, 18 and with a newborn, had committed suicide.

I’m not sure if they would have gone through with the divorce or if it was just another little fight. I know my brother absolutely loved her. And now he was left with a beautiful baby girl who looks just like her mommy, a broken heart, a sick mind, and so much uncertainty. My sister’s death really fucked my brother up. I’m sure he felt that it may have been partially his fault having filed for divorce a month or so before, and her being pregnant. I’m sure it hurt to look into his daughter’s beautiful face. I’m sure he had no idea how to be a father or how to live without his wife.

He tried to work, but would have to miss here and there when his daughter was sick or daycare plans fell through. He got fired from his job for his absences. He got fired from his next job. He’s grieving, trying to figure out how to be a father, battling the demons in his mind, and now can’t pay his bills or hold on to a decent job. He lost his mind, spiraled into the darkness. He committed armed robberies of convenient stores and robbed other drug dealers, and dealt some himself. He was arrested and sentenced to hell on earth, decades in prison, missing the entire childhood of his daughter and then some.

In prison, he continues to deteriorate. He starves, eating food off the floor if he has the chance. He’ll experience episodes of psychosis, and hears demons telling him that he’s the Anti-Christ. They tell him to eat his own shit. That he should just kill himself. And he tries. During these episodes, he gets put into solitary confinement, the most excruciating torture imaginable. Leaving him to face his demons alone, screaming.

My brother is not dead. He still has a life to live. But I seem to be grieving him. It feels as if he’s been completely lost. Like I don’t know him anymore. When I talk to him, I’m talking to a stranger. He’s more and more frequently attempting suicide. I haven’t spoken to him in weeks because of this. I’m terrified that one of these days he will be successful in his attempt. This fear looms over me each day. With every phone call, my heart skips a beat. I don’t know if I could handle another text message from my mother.

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I Wish I Could Ctrl + Alt + Delete You?

Ctrl Alt Del

Clusterfuck

/ˈkləstərˌfək/

noun

A disastrously mishandled situation or undertaking.

As in: I recently visited my prison brother, and the experience was quite the clusterfuck. Let me set the scene…

On the night before the visit, my husband and I attended a concert at the state fair. My husband was terribly bored, leading us to leave early, and somehow turned into an incredibly stupid fight. We both anger-walked out to the car, hardly speaking, and then were pulled over shortly after leaving the parking lot, making the evening even sweeter.

The next day, I left work early for the visit. I pull into the lot much earlier than required and for a split second, I was feeling peaceful, happy to see my brother, and glad to be early to something for a change. I was ready to jam out to some music and collect my thoughts. Then, I realized – SHIT. I don’t have my FREAKING driver license. I had put it in my pocket for the fair and it was left on my nightstand. So I immediately enter panic mode and race home like a maniac, sprint inside, grab my I.D. and drive like a mad idiot all the way back. I’m late, but the visit time hasn’t begun yet so I may be in luck.

I run to the prison doors and enter. A very strange lady prison guard is standing by the metal detector, and continues to have random abrupt fits of laughter. I get through and head to the visitation room. The woman in charge sees me and exclaims, “Oh, no. You can’t do visitation in that.” WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, LADY? She responds, “Don’t you know our dress code? Nothing see-through is allowed”, referring to my (new) blouse I wore to work. See-through?? “It’s just my arms!” I say. It’s my freaking brother, for crying out loud. She says it’s not allowed, but fortunately is feeling generous so she also mentions that there is a dollar store around the corner if I hurry.

I have minutes until visitation starts. So I whip around, power walk out to my car and remember that my husband’s jacket is in the trunk. I don’t know if it will work, but I throw it on and run back inside. The aggressive laugher wiggles her finger at me and says jackets aren’t allowed either. EFF. Now I have less than minutes to get to this stupid dollar store. I run back to my car, and pull out my phone to GPS to wherever-the-hell it is. I take off. I’m raging out in my car now, yelling profanities, angry at myself for not knowing the damn dress code, trying not to murder pedestrians with my driving, and fly into the dollar store parking lot.

There are a strange amount of people loitering, having full, pleasant-looking conversations in the parking lot. They all freeze and stare at this maniac that just screeched in. I run into the store and find the clothing section. I grab the first shirt I see, run to checkout and there’s a line. When it’s my turn, I start to swipe my card and freeze. I realize that this freaking shirt is see-through too! I ask the checkout lady to wait and run back to the clothing. ALL THE SHIRTS ARE SEE-THOUGH – WHAT THE HELL IS THIS WORLD COMING TO?! Finally, I see a crappy blue t-shirt that seems solid enough, grab a large, and check out with the sweet little lady as she tries to make polite conversation.

She looks at my shirt, squeals delightfully, and exclaims, “Well isn’t this just the cutest shirt EV-ER! Is this what you do to people on the Facebook that you don’t want to be friends with anymore?” I realize then that the shirt says “I Wish I Could CTRL ALT DEL You” in ridiculous glittery lettering. Dear God. There’s no time. As politely as possible, I snatch the shirt from her and run out the door. I screech all the way back to prison, rip off my nice blouse, throw on this stupid shirt. That’s when I realize that I had grabbed a CHILD’S large. It was stupidly tight and short, making me look even more insane as I sprint past the Giggle Box to visitation, with only 5 minutes left – I made it. The officers try not to smirk at my appearance.

Finally, I’m able to see my brother via video chat. YES, it’s video chat. I get there just in time to pay for the 15 minutes I missed, and add an additional 15 minutes, totaling a $20.88 charge to visit my brother on a computer screen. Absolute robbery. It also costs $10.44 just for one 15-minute phone call. He looked happy to see me as I tried to focus and collect my thoughts after the clusterfuck that just occurred. He asks me how I am and what I’ve been doing, and I reply something IDIOTIC like “Well, not too much, it’s been pretty BORING and uneventful lately – tell me about what’s been going on with you!” Yes, I told my locked up brother (potentially 45 years to life) that I was bored with my freedom. Because I’m an asshole. He actually found it funny, and pointed out the stupidity, which I appreciated.

He then proceeded to tell me the most interesting prison stories. He and his roommates have been making trash bag “hooch” with oranges, sugar packets, bread, water, and other stuff. Apparently, the oranges bring the yeast out of the bread, and when it ferments, it tastes like total shit but lets them get crunk. He also filled a trash bag with loads of water and uses it to work out with, which I thought was very creative of him. He’s thinking of getting some prison tats, and promised me he’d make sure the needles are clean – so that’s nice…

Most interestingly, he told me that he’s been doing a little dating. A couple of floors above him is where the women stay. He and his roommates have been communicating with them via toilet pipes… Yes. Toilet dating. He said if you stand on the toilet, and talk loudly into the pipes, that you can have actual conversations with the ladies up there. He said that you can actually write them as well. How you ask? Well, he said he wrote a little bio of himself, put it in a plastic bag, and flushed it in the toilet. He refers to this process as “sending a kite”, which I feel is a real missed opportunity (why wouldn’t you call it “flying a kite”??). He said if you hold the flusher, that the message goes up a couple of floors and the girls pass it around until someone is interested in him. Then, they begin their courtship. Sounds magical.

And yes, my brother does have schizophrenia, so this story may not be real. But I’d like to think that it is. It seemed real when he was explaining it. My husband suggested that maybe the pipes are full of water, and when he puts the message in the plastic bag, the air carries it upward to the women’s floor. Who knows. It’s prison romance.

And too soon, my visitation time runs out. I’m in my stupid-ass-too-small shirt, and do the walk of shame back out to my car feeling the eyes of many onlookers. I had another engagement to attend after this visit, so I take off my shirt to put my blouse back on and see that when I ripped it off, I also ripped a huge hole in the delicate fabric.

So I decide to call it a day.

Tragic Hero

I always knew there was something a little off about my brother (see Degrees of Reality – Bro 1). I figured that the fact that he hears voices can’t be a good sign, but my parents chalked it up to his being “immature.” He and I fought often as we were close in age. The usual really… At one point the four of us were sharing one small bedroom – triple bunk beds and a crib for the youngest. I slept on the middle bunk because the top was too close to the ceiling and gave me asthma trouble. Bro 1 slept on the top and every time he moved, the bed creaked and drove me batshit crazy. So I, of course, would threaten his life, saying that each time he moved, I’d punch the underside of the mattress so hard. And I did. I beat the shit out of that mattress.

We fought once over who should do the dishes, and I threw a Magic 8 Ball at his head. I’m starting to sound a little violent… but that’s the extent of it – I promise. He got me back by stealing my tooth from under my pillow as I slept, and putting it under his in the hope that the tooth fairy would bring him money instead of me.

Later, when he was about 16 or so and had his severe mental break at church camp (see Crazy), he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His wild behaviors had calmed down quite a bit when he was finally released from the hospital, but his mental illness was no longer shy. Sometimes, it was like he forgot that I was his sister and he would come on to me. Other times, he’d visit me at work and then take off sprinting into the employee-only back office area and run around like a maniac. He received no treatment for his illness because our father had convinced him it was a false diagnosis, which he still believes to this day.

Around this time, he met the love of his life. She, too, suffered from some mental illness as well as a serious blood disease. He decided that he would marry her when she was 17 and he was 18. I tried to talk to him about this decision once prior to the wedding. I told him that I was concerned, that he has some serious mental issues and so does she, and I’m worried that this union may not be the healthiest to start off from. He told me so sweetly confident that “she understands me” and that’s why it will work. So I supported him.

Their relationship was rocky, to say the least. Both were physically abusive to one another, and both abused drugs and alcohol. My sister-in-law was affiliated with a local gang, and when they would have a nasty breakup, she would send her gang-bangers out to f*** him up. With an axe and other terrifying weapons in broad daylight in a restaurant parking lot. However, they would usually just kiss and make up. Then, she got pregnant.

During this time, there were more fights and divorce was filed but was never finalized. Shortly after giving birth to my beautiful little niece, she committed suicide in the hospital at age 18.

My brother tried so hard to be the father his little girl deserved, but he had so much going against him. The unthinkable grief of a lost spouse, untreated mental illness, a history of drug abuse, and a childhood filled with abuse and neglect. It would be enough to bring anyone crashing to a destructive end. After a couple years of immense turmoil, it did.

He now faces life in prison for a string of armed robberies, drug trafficking, and other crimes. He said he had lost his job and was mad with grief and thinking that his wife’s death was his fault, and he couldn’t bring himself to ask for help. So he sought “easy” money, and even enjoyed the little bit of fleeting “power” he felt. He now takes full responsibility for his crimes, but struggles every single day to cope with his decisions. He has tried to take his own life twice while in prison. He needs psychological help. It’s what he’s needed all along.

I’m powerless in that I can do nothing to save him from this misery. All I can do is try to be there for him, but those fifteen-minute phone calls now and then hardly seem adequate.

I think about those sweet times in our backyard as children. I used to make him eat mud brownies. We used to try and dig to China. He always played Peter Pan and I was Tinker Bell.

My brother.

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