Unsettling, Offbeat: Clear Skies On Xmas

To those who sent holiday cards my way: They add to our festive display – thank you so much!


I have found that my family neglects to put on its best behavior when I come home to visit. There have been domestic episodes when my father chooses to stay out in the trailer beside the house and drink, my mother spends 99 percent of the time in front of the computer to play Runescape and my brother Chris flies off the handle, wielding a little hatchet an inch away from whoever’s face he’s currently pissed off at.

“Your family is one of nature’s masterpieces,” read a fortune cookie. It was one for the wallet.

My younger brother had started to call me in times of personal distress. I would tell him to take a deep breath, find something in the house that he could eat and retreat to his safe haven where he should just lie down and fake sleeping until he actually could, to not listen to a word his mother would currently be screaming about disowning him, etc. And it’d be tough, getting a word in between his peculiar rants on Nostradamus or John Lennon or finding a way to use the phrase “moot point” – not to mention constant references to bad music such as violent, unhappy Insane Clown Posse verses.

Apparently all that shit about how kids shouldn’t listen to some music is painfully wise for the schizophrenic.

A few weeks ago I got a call at 4 am, that personal ring tone going off, and I couldn’t stumble through the dark in time to catch him. The voice message was a creepy breathing and nothing more; I phoned and he told me that he was starving to death, that he was throwing up and needed help, that his mom was trying to kill him and asked if I’d talk to Mom before apparently yelling for her from the other end of the house. By now I’m used to going on not enough information. As soon as Mom walks into the room she sees the phone off the hook and hangs it up.

I get another voice message while ON HOLD TO 911 and it’s Chris in the background talking with her – a shouting match, actually, about whether or not it’s just the flu and how he needs help and how one’s upsetting the other. Chris hasn’t slept in days and something about the early morning call is a signal to me to follow this through with a procedure I should have done years ago.

The number 911 gives me, because apparently 911 is just an operator, rings and rings. I call back. Yes, it’s still an emergency. No, I’m not calling from the emergency. Yes, I called that number. Yes, I’ll hold some more.

No one in my little town was apparently available for an emergency house call. I get dressed and drive down to the police station, explaining that SOMEONE needs to go to my house to make a report and ask if my brother is doing all right.

Why is it that if you dwell and dwell long enough on a bad situation that the urge to call 9-1-1 goes away? At least, it did for me, growing up in an abusive household. Cops are embarrassing. Admitting that you’re reaching out for the same kind of help that redneck low-lives resort to is embarrassing, even if you and your dog have just gotten the shit kicked out of you by your mother. Admitting that your family has now become one of those families that physically, verbally and mentally attacks each other is embarrassing. No, this time I’d answer Chris’ badly timed distress call with the proper response.

Dad had to hear from his mother, who heard from her Mayor Son, that it was heard all over the scanner:

“Sister in Detroit wants someone to check up on her brother who is believed to be having a schizophrenic episode. He carries a hatchet and is potentially dangerous,” Dad repeats to me on Christmas day, rolling his eyes because it’s humiliating.

The Xmas card from his mother reads to me: So good of you to thank me for the coffee maker. I worry about your family all the time, I wish I could help Chris. Then there’s the printed “Merry Christmas” and she signs “love, Gramma”.

How good of me to thank her for the used, leaking device I had to replace? How pretentious.

“Moot point,” my brother would say, pointing to me in his oddly hunched-over appearance at times.

Everything else in life is great. I’m kicking ass at work and often walk through the door to find Brad in the kitchen, grilling something on the Foreman. Yesterday I got home and he was making chicken salad while trying out his Christmas present to me, having selected an old Aerosmith album. The smell of Cajun-seasoned chicken, the glow of the tree, the record spinning – everything else is a happy story.

I’m sitting down on the loveseat debating whether to play Guitar Hero II or do absolutely nothing when Brad comes around the corner, spatula in his hand.

“Your brother’s in the hospital.”


Choose Brad, Not Bread

Brad has been doing well. I got some homemade bread from the fridge last week and he stormed up to me, yelling, “DON’T YOU EAT THAT NASTY BREAD IT’S STALE, AUTUMN!”

I continued to open it from the zip-locky freshness and tossed it into the micro, “But I don’t see any mold on it. I’m hungry. I wanna eat it.”

“Homemade bread doesn’t last as long and that’s from THANKSGIVING!”
“I know. My aunt made it. It would be so good.”
“Are you listening to me? It could make you sick.”
“Fine. I think it’ll be okay.”

I held the warm, ungreen bread in my hands for a moment but the shouting had made me feel really bad. Pissed that I had been yelled at, I pitched the little loaf into the trash.