Fire Fire Fire!
The house where my family lives is on fire. I can smell the burning char and the smoke all the way from here, in the safety of my own home over 1,000 miles away. They’re burning.
What would you do if it were your family? You love them dearly, no matter what. You can’t bear to hear the pain in their voices over the telephone. Wouldn’t you go straight to them?
I’m sure you would want to, as I do.
At the very least you’d tell them to hang up and call the fire department. Or let you call.
Wait. They don’t want the fire department to come. They say they have this fire under control. You see, they’re using Big Gulps from 7-11 filled with water to throw at the fire. They don’t want any outside people coming in with fire hoses and such.
I say to them, “Uhhhh…but you’re all going to burn.”
“No, no, no. We’re calling another agency. We don’t like that one. We want you to come, though, and help us. You’re so good with aiming a Big Gulp. We need you. When can you come?”
This is where it gets tricky. How do you say no? You can see that the whole house is going down, and no one, not a single one of them is leaving. They’re sweating with the efforts of filling their Big Gulps at the kitchen sink and dumping the water on the flames. The house will definitely cave in on itself. Do you go down with them? Are you willing to burn alongside your family?
I’ve heard that every fire has its own life, its own personality. That is true with this one. This fire has been burning forty years. For most of that time my folks have been able to keep up with it. Barely. They were young and in mostly good health.
But over time, the fire grew up and morphed, and morphed again. My folks aged. Like embers in a forest fire, the embers floated into all the corners of the house until one day, say, in January 2018, the house was engulfed.
That fire is my brother, Junior.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but he is a raging inferno of a fire. He is taking down the whole family, and they are going willingly, in the name of love.
Junior was in the hospital intensive care unit over the holidays. He had pneumonia. My brother cannot walk. He is non-ambulatory. He’s been this way for about fifteen years. No one is exactly sure why.
You read that correctly.
No one is exactly sure why.
We all have our theories. I’ll share them with you in the future. But for now, back to the fire.
For the last fifteen years or so, my brother can’t walk and he aspirates on his own spit. All day he has a long rope of drool hanging from his mouth. The viscosity like a bungy cord. It doesn’t break.
The hospital needs beds and they kick Junior out of the hospital. Or release him. However you want to look at it.
The doctor says, “Yeah, we know he still has pneumonia and his health is fragile, but there’s nothing more we can do. We’ll send a nurse out once a week to check on him.”
My folks, fragile themselves, in their 70’s with multiple health problems of their own take their fire home. They blend his food, thicken it, feed him, shave his face, brush his teeth, hold him on the toilet so he doesn’t fall, wipe his butt,…and now they have a nebulizer and other hospital equipment necessary to take care of him. They’re overwhelmed.
Then the fire needs a shower and somehow, they get him in the shower-chair and bathe him. But they can’t get him out. He’s retaining a lot of fluid. His feet alone are heavy as rocks in steel-toed boots. He’s too heavy for my dad, who has severe Parkinson’s symptoms. Dad can barely walk. He shuffles along bent forward looking as if he is going to fall at any moment, and my mother, who now at 70-something years of age, has shrunk down to a solid 4’10” and weighs maybe 120 lbs. The youngest brother who still lives at home hurt his back getting Junior out of the car and he can hardly move.
So we have a naked Junior in the shower-chair shivering and he’s still sick with pneumonia.
My mother runs down the street and flags down a neighbor she has waved to once since they lived there. He is virtually a stranger from half a block away. He agrees to come and help get Junior out of the shower.
I don’t want to visualize what that looked like. Junior, naked and shivering in a shower-chair, drool draped across this stranger’s shoulder as the man tries to wrap him in a towel before lifting him. I’m grateful to this neighbor, this man, who so willingly dropped whatever he was doing on a Sunday afternoon to bring his Big Gulp to help my family throw some water on the fire. But I bet he won’t be back. It’s too much. There are professionals for this kind of backbreaking work.
“Dad, are you taking any of the medication the doctor gave you for the Parkinson’s? Half of my friends have a parent with Parkinson’s and they say the drugs are amazing. Makes them almost like new again. Have you, Dad? Have you tried the medication?”
If I was a stronger individual, I’d say, “Do you see the house is burning down, Dad? That we need you as whole as possible? That you are only making things worse by not taking the meds. Or even trying them out. Dad! How do you plan to take care of Junior if you won’t take the medicine?”
“Well, I got my Big Gulp right here. It’s all I need.”
I try my mom next. “Mom, please place Junior in a facility where they can care for him. You and dad are getting older. If something happens to you, what will you do? Please go look at some of these places. You need help with Junior.”
“Your father and I agree we can’t live without him here. You know those places won’t take care of him like we do. They don’t care if he’s clean and shaved and eating well. They’ll just medicate him and that’s not the life we want for your brother.”
I don’t know if they realize it, but Junior hasn’t had a life for quite some time already. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia at six years old along with autism, bipolar disorder and some defiant oppositional disorder. He’s been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD. He has had it all. And here’s the clincher.
He was never medicated.
Why not? Because…the Big Gulp. No interference from any government agency ever. My folks had it under control. They would take care of him themselves.
Junior has suffered so much. Forty years of suffering. If I was Junior I would welcome some drugs.
If I was a stronger individual I would say, “But mom, you guys can’t take care of him now. You couldn’t get him out of the shower.”
And her answer would be, “Don’t worry. I got a Big Gulp right here. We’re fine.”
If I press the subject, I’ll be back in the situation I was in back in September with my mother screaming at me Jerry-Springer-Style, “You’re never here! You can’t come here and tell us what to do!”
We didn’t speak to each other for three months after that. So I guess I won’t be that stronger individual who pushes them to do the right thing to save themselves and my other brother who can’t seem to pull himself out of the house and away from this fire.
The other brother.
Perhaps he’s doing the right thing by being the loyal son who stays and helps in whatever manner mom and dad want. But I see a man who has never lived his own life, always sacrificing to take care of his brother. To my knowledge, at forty years old, he has never dated, never even had a first kiss. He lives at home where he can be “on call” at all times. His role in our family is the caregiver. He is absolutely committed to going down in this fire, and I fear there is nothing I can do to save him.
There is nothing I can do to save any of them.
But no. I’m not going there. I’m not leaving my home and little family to fly there and get burned. I have no desire to go down in this fire, no matter how good my aim is with a Big Gulp.