Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Uncles' Keeper


You know, I truly wish that we had more time to sit down and discuss this in person when I was visiting last week. Alas, we were both busy with our hectic schedules, and that didn't happen. I appreciate that you added at the end of your note that you weren't mad at me. It will allow me to respond to you in a less defensive tone; however, I do have quite a lot to say, and I would hope you take the extra time to read ALL of it. I'm not mad or pissed at you either, Kurt, but from what I've just read in your letter, you've been harboring a lot of assumptions about me that are incredibly inaccurate and, coming from you, especially hurtful. Frankly, that needs to stop, and it needs to stop NOW.

First off, I am fully aware of the trouble that Kris is facing both with his alcoholism as well as with his license/registration/insurance. I am fully aware that he WILL soon see the inside of a jail cell or drink himself to death. I've been aware of that ever since I've seen him shuffle off to bed with a handle of vodka at his old place in Reno. I was aware of it even before I went up to his cabin in Portola in December. When I sat down with you and Lisa the day before I went to find him, I had already gathered information from Andy and Ruby about how bad he was doing. Like I said when I asked you to come with me, I was NOT on a mission to hold an intervention for Kris. I've had plenty of experience with alcoholism throughout my life, Kurt. I even grew up around violent and manipulative drunks (see: Jon Bell), so I was NOT being naive about what I could (or could not) do for Kris when I decided to go see what he was up to.

At that point my main concern was ANDY. It had been obvious that Andy had been having an especially difficult time dealing with Kris. Unlike you or me, Andy does not have an extensive history with serious family drama, and all my cousin (and friend) wanted was another family member to check in on his dad. I have ALWAYS held Kris in high regard and actually wanted to see him -- not just check up on his well being -- so I volunteered to go. I asked you to come along just to show Kris that even if he chose not to join us for the usual family functions, we were still around and interested in seeing him. I thought of it like this: "It's one thing for Justin -- who only comes home to visit for two weeks at the end of the year -- to stop by and say hello. It's another thing for Justin, Kurt and whomever else to pop in and say, 'Hey, asshole, quit being such a hermit and come join your family for the holidays.'" Ruby had already told me that she and Kris's friends had tried to arrange a huge intervention for him -- had even offered to pay for his detox and counseling -- and Kris declined. Frankly, I wasn't expecting a miracle on my part either. And when you declined to come with me, I didn't take it personally. It was just an offer for you to join me. You were (understandably) busy with other things, and I was going to go with or without you. The End.

But things changed when I actually arrived there to find Kris huddled under four comforters in a cabin without power or heat. I had driven out there with the idea of finding him drunk and watching football in his underwear on the couch. Instead he was huddled and shivering in his bedroom. The house was a mess -- furniture knocked over, the toilet covered in vomit and shit, all the food rotting in his fridge. He had a black eye, a cut on the eyebrow and a huge bruise on his back. Best of all, he had been detoxing for three days without any food. HOWEVER, he was clear-headed and quick to answer my questions. I convinced him to come to Reno with me -- Andy had requested that I bring him back to his place -- and Kris got out of bed without any assistance. We searched for his glasses, gathered a basket of clothes and got in my car. At this time I told Kris that he really looked like shit and ASKED HIM IF HE WOULD LIKE TO GO SEE A DOCTOR. He declined and said all that he needed was some food and a hot shower. I considered it a victory to get him out of the cabin without a big argument, so I wasn't going to give him reason to leave by fighting and bickering with him about seeking medical help. (You yourself had even warned me about Kris and his temper the day before. I wasn't in the mood to see it flare up in his condition or with me behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.)

And then the real problems began. The moment my cell phone reception kicked in, I received a call from Ann. She pleaded -- PLEADED -- with me, Kurt, NOT to bring Kris to Andy's place. Her words: "Andy cannot deal with this right now. The last time Kris was this bad, he had a seizure in front of Andy and Andy flipped out. He had to see a counselor for a few weeks after that. Justin, you CANNOT do anything for Kris at this point, and you need to either take him back home or take him somewhere else. You're a good nephew for caring so much, but you cannot save him." That's the most fucked up part of ALL of this, Kurt: I WAS NEVER OUT TO "SAVE" KRIS! It's ridiculous that anyone would even think that! My simple goal was to get him cleaned up and try to help him figure out how to get his power and heat back on. Thing was, it was a Saturday, and nothing could be done about the utilities until after the weekend was over. And if I couldn't take him to Andy's, where in the fuck could I take him? I needed to think about this AND talk to Kris, but first he needed to eat. Thus, we picked up a pizza and stopped by your place.

Before I go further into this, let me state this loud and clear: I DID NOT BRING KRIS TO YOUR HOUSE TO GUILT-TRIP YOU OR GLOAT ABOUT BEING RIGHT ABOUT HIM BEING IN DIRE STRAITS. If I had the option, I would have taken him somewhere else to avoid you seeing him like you did. I had no interest in dropping off his problems on your doorstep, ESPECIALLY after the tense conversation we had the day before. That's why I told you, "I'm sorry, Kurt, but I couldn't take him to Andy's. We're just here to eat lunch while I make a few phone calls. Go about whatever it is you were doing." I wasn't trying to make you feel like shit or rub your brother's disrepair in your face, Kurt. I simply wanted to put him somewhere warm where he could eat, talk with me about what's next and possibly take a shower. After we ate and I counseled briefly with Andy, Ruby, Ann and Lon, Kris and I finally started a serious discussion.

Q: Ann told me that you've experienced seizures before. Are you feeling okay now?
A: Yeah, I feel fine. Better, actually, now that I ate.
Q: Do you feel any symptoms that usually preclude a seizure?
A: Nope.
Q: Lon told me that he has AA buddies who can come over and talk to you about going to a detox center. Would you be interested in that?
A: FUCK NO. I would rather go to JAIL before I go to a detox center.

I wasn't going to start arguing with Kris, especially in his state. I needed him to know that I was being supportive yet pragmatic. I told him that we needed to find a place for him to stay for the weekend so we could check out his finances on Monday. I told him that he COULD NOT stay with you -- you didn't have the room nor would it be fair to drop him off at your doorstep without warning (and don't you DARE think for a moment that I was going to do such a thing to you, Kurt; you know damn well that I respect you too much to pull a stunt like that) -- so we needed to think of somewhere else. He wasn't giving me any suggestions, so the initial plan was to take him to Leon and Joe's place and look after him there. Fortunately, my mom picked up when I called and told me to bring him over to her apartment.

It was never my intention to have my mother become Kris's keeper. Like I said, I just needed him to stay somewhere for the weekend. My mom said she could handle that, no problem. Well, the weekend turned into the week. Leon and I started running Kris around town in my car, and it seemed like he was getting back on his feet. Meanwhile, he was either camping out at my mom's apartment or Leon and Joe's house. Everything was getting back on track until he had his fucking seizure on New Year's Eve. And that's where all this came to a head. You see, Kurt, NO ONE HAD FUCKING TOLD ME THAT HIS SEIZURES COME 5-7 DAYS AFTER SERIOUS DETOXING. Not Ann, not Ruby, not Andy -- NOT EVEN FUCKING KRIS -- had the foresight to let me in on the key detail that the imbalance of electrolytes in the body caused by all the hard liquor causes serious damage days afterwards. It doesn't happen during detox or even just after -- it happens DAYS after. If I had known, you bet your ass I would've taken him to the hospital the same day that I found him in the cabin. Instead, I was left to coordinate with everyone from an Albertson's parking lot in Phoenix on New Year's Eve.

Meanwhile, you chose to call me at that exact moment to holler insults at me and offer up nothing but unkind words and unhelpful advice -- something that you've still yet to apologize for (and I doubt you ever will, so I'll simply write it off to you being upset about your brother's condition) -- but just remember this: I never ONCE dropped Kris at your doorstep with the expectation that you clean him up and take care of him; I never ONCE accused you of being a bad brother or uncle for not helping me find a solution for/with Kris; I never ONCE thought of you as a shirking your duties to your family. I WOULD NEVER THINK THAT. Like you've said time and again, Kris is a big boy who knows right from wrong. He is killing himself slowly and hurting his loved ones in the process AND THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO STOP HIM. I am FULLY aware of this, and if you don't think I am, then you are obviously not paying attention. Why do you think I retrieved his car in a fucking snowstorm the moment I returned to Reno, Kurt? I already KNEW beforehand that he's operating on a revoked license! But like Ann, Lon and Ruby told me, "You are not your uncle's keeper, so the only thing you can do is let himself go down the road to oblivion on his own volition." I don't like the idea of Kris driving around the city with a revoked license (let alone under the influence!), Kurt, but it is NOT our job to chauffeur him around or look after him 24/7. None of us have the time or money to babysit him! He's 52 years old! And if he wants to throw his life away, that's his call. I hate the idea just as much as you do, but this is the choice Kris will make for himself, regardless of how little or how much we lecture him about it. My mother has repeatedly given him the option of taking him to a detox center or her counseling sessions; he's declined every time. Not much she (or you or I) can do after that.

And that's where we come to the crux of the situation, Kurt. Just as you need to STOP ASSUMING that I think you or my mom will be the "heroes" who will save Kris, you also need to STOP BLAMING me for his condition. It is SO. FUCKING. EASY. to criticize me for bringing light to an ugly situation, but you MUST understand that I am and will continually be on your side. In simplest terms, WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. WE ARE FAMILY. All I wanted for the holidays was to have my closest family members come together and share a meal; it's been such a long time since it's happened, but it didn't mean that it was impossible. (Example: Lisa and I convincing you to invite my mother over for the first time in three years!) It was never my intention to make you feel like you (or my mom) had to go about keeping a constant vigil over your brother. And just like you've had to kick others out of your house (i.e., my mom and Monty '04), you might have to bar Kris from coming in as well. I've told the EXACT SAME THING to my mother, too. I've said to her, "Jan Margaret, it is not your job to take care of Kris. You need to look after yourself first, so if it gets to a point where you can't handle it anymore, you send him on his way." Fuck, Kurt, I've said the same to Kris(!): "Kris, my mom and Kurt (or Leon and Joe) can't look after you all the time. If they ask you to leave, you better have a place to go, so get your shit together." Despite what you think, I haven't been running away from any responsibilities. I've kept in touch with everyone who can keep me informed, Kurt. And when Kris needs to talk to someone, he's never hesitated to call me. But just because I'm realistic about what's coming next and refuse to treat my uncle like a child -- You really think I myself haven't warned Kris about DUIs and jail time? Or the dangers of having another seizure? You really think he listens to anyone? -- doesn't mean I'm short-changing anyone. NOT YOU, NOT MY MOM, NOT KRIS -- NOT ANYONE.

As far as my mom goes, yes, I am thankful for her kindness, compassion and love for her family. But as far as your advice of "practicing what I preach" goes -- and please take the following statement with a grain of salt -- go fuck yourself, Kurt. If you had ever generated enough interest these past few years to actually sit down with me and ask about my issues with my mother, I would have happily told you why I had little interest in getting involved in her dramas. I would have told you that I have no interest in continuing to support her codependent lifestyle, that I had had my fill in life with the Jon Bells and Monty Fullers of the world and had no interest in dealing further with the likes of them. I had no interest in supporting her drinking, the suspending of her nursing license, the voluntary homelessness, the debts she racked up around town, the bouncing checks, the vitriol she spewed about her best friends and family who no longer supported her on her downward spiral and especially THE THEFT OF HER BROTHER'S TRUCK. In fact, the primary reason I stayed out of touch with her for the past three years was partially out of respect to you; her stealing your truck was the last straw for both of us, Kurt, so I would appreciate it if you would stop pointing a finger in my direction. (Seriously, if we're going to futilely lob stones at glass houses, wouldn't it be easy to remind you that you once said my mother was "dead to you" after stealing your truck? Shit, Kurt, even I've never said such a hateful thing!) I rarely if ever badmouthed my mother in front of you. But as far as I was concerned, I had NO mother to come home and visit for the longest time. My mother was a respectable woman who raised me to be upfront, honest and kind to those who gave me the same respect in turn. She stopped giving me that respect; thus, she lost mine. She changed for the worse a long time ago, and she's just now slowly working her way back from whatever dark corners she's been slumming around for the past decade. I am proud of the progress she's making. It is my sincere hope that she doesn't backslide.

And while we're addressing everything at once, please stop blaming me for Tammy's behavior, too. You made a cruel jab recently saying, "If you want to spend time patching up family issues, tell your cunt Aunt to quit suing me." Kurt, you know damn well that barb was simply uncalled for. Whether you like it or not, I come home once a year to see my family. Like it or not, Tammy has been in my family for 23 years (you can blame yourself for that). No, I do not support her recent behavior and have even promised you that I will not maintain contact with her until she decides to knock it off and leave you alone for good. (Trust me, Kurt, her actions are painting a very ugly picture of her, and I am already less inclined to keep in touch even after all this is over.) But you need to respect why I would keep in touch with her in the first place and then get the fuck off my back. It's simple: When I first moved to Chicago and came back home, I had nowhere to go. My mother was AWOL and I had no "home" to call my own. That's where you and Tammy came in. If you don't remember, you and I didn't even have much of a bond until that first time I came home. Same with Tammy. Both of you extended a kindness and support that I had never seen before, and I still appreciate that same kindness and support from both of you to this day. Yes, you are my blood and I would pick you in a heartbeat if it came down to it, but you can't expect me to spurn the woman just because she's always suing you. One of my biggest regrets in life has been losing touch with Ann. She was a wonderful aunt, and now the only time I get to talk with her is when we're chatting about the sorry state of Kris. In that respect, I don't want to permanently distance myself from Tammy. I have never gossiped with her about your life nor do I allow her to make snide comments about you either. One day this all will be over, she will finally retract those claws and then I will make my decision about keeping in touch with her. Rest assured, though, if I do keep in touch, IT WOULD NOT BE TO SPITE YOU. So, please, knock it off!

Finally, I want to say this again: WE ARE ON THE SAME SIDE. Bickering, finger-pointing and blind accusations will only destroy us. We can help Kris the best we can -- kind words, a pat on the back, a good meal -- but we must accept that he will live and die by his own choices AND we did nothing wrong in letting him do so. I do not have the time to take a sabbatical any more than you do, Kurt. I myself have $8000 in credit card debt and owe another $1000 to my friend for a loan after all my cash was stolen in Africa. No one will pay off my debts for me, and they need to be paid. That said, we all have our problems . . . but we are not alone in our worry and suffering. I have helped Kris every way I can at this time; I know you have done the same. I understand that you are angry, frustrated and worried about his predicament but lashing out at me will solve nothing. You, too, need to understand that you are NOT your brother's keeper. You are a WONDERFUL brother, and I am proud that you are my uncle. I love my family, Kurt. I love you. I respect and admire you. In many ways you are a hero, but I don't ever expect you to be invincible or omnipotent or have the solution to all life's (or Kris's) problems. I don't expect you to pick up your brother's pieces. Just be there when you can like you always have been and know that you did your best when the chips finally fall where they may.

No, Kurt, I truly don't look forward to that phone call in the near future, but I will pick it up when the time comes.


No comments: