Chapter Three: Oh, Brother!

 

We left off with the will stuff and I want to clarify one thing before we get cracking today on some high[1] fuckin’ drama:

 

It does not and did not surprise me in the slightest that their wills were different.  I was a little surprised that he admitted it in open company, and that they left it that way for so long… but oh, to have been a fly on the wall the day that shit went down.  See, it’s actually a long-standing disagreement between my father and stepmother, the way their spawn should be treated.  Each thinks the other should embrace their maritally acquired children as their own without having to do the same themselves.  On Dad’s side we have the your children were grown-ass adults with substance abuse problems by the time we met so why should I adopt them and bail them out financially with my hard-earned money? argument; on Marsha’s side there’s the classic whatever we do for one child we should do for the others because that’s the only way it’s fair gambit.  To give a real-life example, when my father cosigned a student loan for us mere months after refusing to loan Kenny several thousand dollars, it nearly ended their marriage.[2]  Marsha felt that if he wasn’t willing to “help” Kenny he should also refuse to “help” me; Dad saw it as two different issues in that I wasn’t borrowing money from him and also I was a significantly better credit risk than my stepbrother.  The debate rages on.[3]

 

Now, let’s move on to our main character in this chapter: Fucking Mark.

 

 

I had precious little contact with Mark after I left Colorado that first time; I continued to check on my father’s health at the LTAC and the staff there continued to update me.  I texted Kenny once to see where he was at in his race home to drop off Katie, his wife Whatshername, get FMLA sorted at work and turn back around to care for his mother.  I texted Mark once to find out when Marsha was being moved from hospice to her home, since her wish was to die there (though we had no idea how long that would take—estimates ranged from weeks to months; she had basically all the cancers and they were everywhere) and called once to see if he’d gotten my father the lawyer he was shouting for—he had, and had been granted a limited Power of Attorney for financial matters only.  Cool.

 

When I got the call from his shitty rehab[4] that they’d nearly killed him, they asked me which hospital I wanted him sent to.  Naturally, I started listing hospitals here in St Louis but there wasn’t time for that.  So they offered me their recommendation of two nearby that were supposedly excellent: the first was the one Marsha took him to when he broke his leg and she nearly killed him with her “fibs”—this being the hospital that lost his fucking dentures,[5] I chose the other one.

 

You know what?  Let’s back up and talk about the teeth.  Because they’re actually really important, and not just because my malnourished father needs them for chewing.

 

On the first (and only) full day my father spent in that shitty facility, I got a call from a social worker.  He wanted to talk to me about how we could possibly get the dentures replaced because, quote, “it’s a quality of life issue.”  I agreed that it absolutely fucking was and promised to get on it.  I called my father’s room to talk to him about the teeth and assure him his daughter was on the case, and that if she had to she would go into full bitch-mode to make things right for him.  See, I’d been under the impression that the teeth were being handled.  By Mark.  Who had assured me, the one time we talked on the phone, that he was handling literally everything and I needn’t worry my pretty little head about anything.  You know, since I was so far away and all.  “Go back to your life and let us handle the end of his” was the clear message.

 

I recalled the name of the dentist (nosy me, I’d asked Marsha as part of an innocent bedside chat) and rang them.  Got them to send me a copy of the bill the hospital would need to pay, then rank Mark to discuss next steps.

 

 

ME:  Hey Mark.  I just talked to Dad.  Well, I talked to the social worker at the rehab, the dentist, and Dad… But anyway, Dad wants you to bring him five shirts, five pairs of pants, and the mouse for his laptop.
MARK:  Nah, he don’t need any of that.
ME:  …
MARK:  …
ME:  I’m… sorry?
MARK:  He don’t need any o’ that yet.
ME:  Okay, well… he’s asking for it.  So he must.  Or at least he thinks he needs it.  So…
MARK:  Well he doesn’t need it.
ME:  Okay, I hear you.  But he did ask for it.  And he’s asking you to bring it.  So.  You should bring it.[6]
MARK:  He don’t—
ME:  (sharply)  Also.  I got a call from the social worker at the rehab—you know he’s at (rehab) right?
MARK:  Yeah, I know.  I know everything.  I’m down as the first contact.  I’m next of kin.
ME:  (bites tongue hard)  ‘Kay.  So he called me because of Dad’s teeth.  The dentures.  We need to get those replaced.
MARK:  Yeah, but we can’t get that done yet.
ME:  We… why not?
MARK:  (sighs)  (patronizingly)  Because he can’t go to the dentist.
ME:  Okay, but… that’s not… actually… true.
MARK:  It—
ME:  And also, I was just on with the dentist, and they said if he can’t go to them they can go to him.
MARK:  No, they can’t!
ME:  …
MARK: They can’t go there because they’re not licensed to work in that facility!  And he can’t leave until he works hard and gets better enough to go to the dentist!
ME:  Okay, but… they’re calling it a quality of life issue.  That gives them some leeway.  Because he’s malnourished because he can’t chew most foods.  And he can’t chew because he doesn’t have teeth.  And he doesn’t have teeth because his were stolen.  And in order to get them replaced we need the hospital—
MARK:  I took the bill to the hospital the day we met with the lawyer!  Took it there myself, in person.
ME:  And?
MARK:  And they’re mailing a check this week.
ME:  It’s Thursday and the dentist doesn’t have a check.  So—
MARK:  They’ll have it!  But it doesn’t matter because he can’t—
ME:  He can.  He can because the dentist says he can, the facility says he can, the doctors and social workers say he can.  They all say either the dentist can go there or he can be transported—on their dime—to the dentist.  Because it’s that important!  We can’t continue to expect him to “get better” without proper nutrition, and he can’t get proper nutrition without being able to chew.  We’re doing this backward.  So we need to get the teeth, then he can eat, then he can get strong and do amazing rehab.
MARK:  That’s not how it works.
ME:  That’s how literally everyone in charge of the thing says it works.  And can work.
MARK:  He can’t—
ME:  So.  You say the dentist will have the check this week?  Super.  That’s what I’ll tell them.  And you’ll take those clothes out to Dad, right?
MARK:  Now just a damn minute!
ME:  Gotta go, Mark, that’s my other line!  (hangs up)  (screams incoherently for several minutes)

 

 

And then I called my Dad to apologize for fighting with his brother.  Not because I did anything wrong (I didn’t) or because I felt bad (I don’t) but because I knew my father would find out and that he hates, above all things, the thought of family fighting amongst each other right now.

 

Dad promised to do something about Mark.  “Set him straight,” as he put it.  Then he cried because I wasn’t out there and couldn’t say when I could afford to come back.  Offered me the loan of one of his cars, a space in the house, said Mark would pick me up from the airport, the works.  Said he’d talk to Mark about paying for my plane ticket.

 

Husband came home just in time to find me bawling about being the worst sort of daughter and insisting that we had to find a way to get me out there more often because he wouldn’t let me bring him to St Louis while his wife was alive.[7]

 

The next night, just before midnight my time, I got the call about sending him to the hospital.  They’d been complaining to me all day about how “unmotivated” he was, and I’d gotten in a fight with a nurse about their lack of charting, documentation, and accountability since no one could tell me if he’d received a medically necessary treatment overnight.  Basically, they couldn’t get enough oxygen in him and his blood pressure was in the basement so he got a noisy ride to the ER.  And I got another sleepless night up with my bank account and discount travel sites.

 

 

Now I will confess to you one area in which I might—might—have fucked up.  I didn’t notify Mark that Dad had been sent to the hospital.  I didn’t do this for several reasons:

  1. I honestly didn’t think of it until sometime the next day
  2. By then, I was sure he’d been notified by either the rehab or the hospital because
  3. Remember that thing he said about being the First Contact? I assumed that what had happened was they’d called him and got no answer but left a message, then called me.  I was up, because I haven’t slept well since this whole thing started.  Surely, I thought, there was no way they’d only called me.[8]

 

 

I did text him, to say I was planning to fly out and to request that he make up the third bedroom.  His reply?

 

There’s no room at the inn.

 

This is a loaded phrase amongst our family—these were the words spoken by my grandfather’s second wife when informing any of us, her deceased husband’s family, that we were unwelcome in her home the week of his funeral because every room in his goddamned mansion was going to be occupied by her friends and family.  Some might say that was her right, and they wouldn’t be exactly wrong… but they’d be next to it.  Because that’s not how my grandfather did things, and that’s not how our family did things, and it was just the first warning we ignored in her crusade to steal every last dime of that estate.[9]  Not a penny went where it was supposed to, and by the time anyone could do anything about it the money was gone and she was dead.[10]

 

So those words?  They sting.  And yes, he fucking remembers them.  We all do.

 

I replied:

 

Make room.

Last time I talked to Dad he was crying because I said it would be a bit before I can afford to come out again.

 

Then he called, and predictably, we fought.  I hung up on him because I was in my nail salon and the argument was unnecessary and embarrassing.  I mean, what must people have thought, hearing me argue for space in my childhood home?

 

He texted back that I was disrespectful and there was no room for me, etc.  I replied that someone else could get a hotel room for a change.  Then I got my fucking nails done.  And waited for the fireworks.

 

Which came later that night in the form of a nasty voicemail which I won’t repeat word-for-word.  The highlights, on the other hand, are basically as I described them in Part One:

  1. How dare I speak to him like that
  2. I am unwelcome in that house. Marsha says so.
  3. How dare I talk to doctors?! Or any medical personnel!  I do not have Power of Attorney, Marsha does!  And he is the First Contact![11]

 

Why did it take so long for me to get that voicemail?  Well, once again you can put that down to men underestimating my father’s daughter.  See, he thought that when he sent me an angry text telling me off for hanging up on him and reminding me that I’d Better Not… yadda yadda… well, obviously this meek little girly would be sitting at home hanging her head and wishing she could go to Colorado where the Grown-Ups were making Very Important Decisions.  He certainly didn’t expect me to answer a call from the social worker on my father’s case and inform them, honestly, that my stepmother was on a fentanyl patch and got a morphine top-up every morning, and would occasionally break off conversations to sing at the ceiling.  Or that the tumor in her jaw made speaking difficult.  Or that I, as his only child and the only member of the family with any form of medical training, was the logical choice for proxy while my father was in a medically-induced coma.

 

My reply to his venom was complete radio silence.  I was going to let my presence do the talking next, because I’m big on the shock part of shock and awe.  So I let him think I was cowed, and meek, and totally not coming in just a few days.  Then I frantically messaged every friend I still had in Colorado who hadn’t fled south of 70 when rents up north took off exactly like a Sky Dancer.[12]  Armed with a friendly spare bedroom (and a friendly spare car, because it pays to be friends with collectors) I was ready.

 

Offspring, I’m sure you guessed, wished he could be there so hard I’m surprised he didn’t spontaneously teleport.  He loves it when I badass in front of the unsuspecting.

 

When I arrived at Dad’s room I was intercepted by a nurse who quickly instructed me to gown up.

 

ME:  For a bladder infection?  That seems excessive… what do you think I’m going to do in there?  That’s my father!
NURSE:  No, no… this is for the C. Diff!
ME:  (recoils)
NURSE:  It’s a really gnarly (mimes) intestinal—
ME:  (waves frantically)  Yeah, I’m familiar with his work.
NURSE:  Okay so we just need everyone to wear the gowns and gloves and wash your hands with soap and water when you’re leaving because hand sanitizer won’t kill it; only soap kills it.
ME:  Got it.  Anything else?
NURSE:  Nope.  Oh!  There are three older gentlemen in there ahead of you… I think they might be family?
ME:  (growling)  Perfect.

 

 

And so, resplendent in my yellow party dress and blue gloves I breezed into the room and stunned four hardened men into complete silence.  Mark fled while I was still taking my seat, without even a word of greeting.  James—the youngest brother who spends most of the year at a “retreat” in Mexico—went looking for him when he didn’t return.  Which left me with Daniel for long enough to be absolutely certain Daniel is the stupid one.

 

 

ME:  Surprised to see me, Daddy?
DAD:  Oh yeah.  (smiles)
DANIEL:  Now, what’s that you brought with you?
ME:  Uh… Gooey butter cake.  It’s a St Louis specialty.   (smiles at Dad)  I figured he could use a treat.
DANIEL:  I’ll take some o’ dat!
ME:  Well I’m not sure you should be eating in—
DANIEL:  (opens container, devours bit of cake)
ME:  (weakly)  … here.
DANIEL:  Ooh, dat’s goooood.
ME:  (smiles)  My husband says it’s basically butter with just enough other stuff in to technically fit the definition of a cake.
DANIEL:  I’ll drink to that!
ME:  (still staring at gloved, contaminated AF hands)
DANIEL:  So who are you?
ME:  Pardon?
DANIEL:  We haven’t been introduced.
ME:  … You’re Daniel.  And I’m… Chase.  (points at door, the better to jog his memory)
DANIEL:  Right, but who are you?
ME:  I’m… Chase.
DANIEL:  (stares)
ME:  His daughter?  His only child?  The only person in his life with that name; the only person in the family with that name?
DANIEL:  Oh, are you?  Wow… I haven’t seen you since…  gosh, have I ever—
ME:  (sharply)  Grandpa’s funeral.
DANIEL:  Oof, has it been that long?
ME:  (tightly)  We’re not a close family.
DANIEL:  (laughs)  That be true!

 

 

Eventually all three brothers left, the other two expressing their confusion at Mark’s sudden desire—nay, urgency—to depart; I tried not to get smug all over the floor.  Dad and I had a nice chat, but he did eventually ask where I was staying and I had to tell him: with friends, about an hour away.

 

 

DAD:  Why so far?
ME:  Well… they had a room.  And a car I could use (smiles) so that saved me a bit of money.  And I even got a ride from the airport, so—
DAD:  Mark didn’t pick you up?
ME:  Nooo… he was here with you, remember?
DAD:  (scowls)  But I said you could borrow one of my cars.
ME:  (sighs)  Yes.  You said a lot of things.  But then Mark said I wasn’t welcome in the house, had better not come, et cetera.
DAD:  (glares)  I’ll talk to him.  I’m gonna set him right.   He needs to learn—
ME:  Daddy, don’t worry about it.  He doesn’t want me there, doesn’t want me here, but look at where I am.  (gestures)
DAD:  (smiles)  Right here.  (pats hand)[13]
ME:  That’s right.  Nobody stops me.  And nobody (leans close) keeps me from my family.
DAD:  (chuckles)
ME:  But this brings us to a difficult point, and a thing I want you to consider while I’m here.  And it’s a big decision, so consider it carefully.
DAD:  Okay.
ME:  I want, very much, to be allowed to take care of you.  And it’s difficult when I’m so far away and people—certain people—keep interfering and—
DAD:  (ferocious)  I’m gonna talk to him.
ME:  (nods)  Sure, fine.  But then I go.  (gestures)  And I’m far.  And he’s near.  And I get cut off.  And then things happen that I don’t like—like you being sent to bad places, places I can’t investigate; like you not getting the care you need—
DAD:  They left me in that hallway!
ME:  You said.  And I reported them.  But if you were closer, and if I had more authority… I could really put the hurt on ‘em.  So I’d like, very much… for you to at least consider giving me Medical Power of Attorney.  So I can take care of you.
DAD:  You want that?
ME:  Very much.
DAD:  (nods)  Okay.
ME:  (smiles)  Thank you, Daddy.

 

 

Then he called Marsha.  I tried to leave them to their phone call, but he grabbed my hand and held me in place while they talked.  I didn’t catch most of it, but I watched him tear up as they shouted their I love you’s at each other, which was too damned cute.  When he hung up, he reported that Marsha had told him to get me to leave Mark alone, and asked what was going on between us.  I told him I hadn’t spoken to Mark in days and relayed the whole story, in full; even offered to show him the texts and replay the phone calls.  He declined, repeating that he would talk to Mark and “set him straight” but that he hated to see family fight.  For my part, I happily avoid those who only want to start drama and said as much, which seemed to calm him.

 

And that was that.

 

Until the next morning, when I arrived at the hospital room to find my father shouting for a priest.

 

 

Next up:

Why it’s so much worse than you think.

 

 

[1] Heh.  It’s funny because Mark… I’ll explain later.

[2] The fact that he asked her, she said no, he did it anyway and kept it secret for years might have had something to do with that.  I have mixed feelings on the whole matter, as you can imagine.

[3] I mean, not anymore technically… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

[4] Literally—I reported them for elder abuse after they ignored his call light and his calls for help for over an hour and left him sitting in his own feces.

[5] Yes, really.  And they still, as of the moment I type this sentence, haven’t paid for that shit.  Even though they legally had only three days to do so.

[6] Here is my take on this—and please let me know if you have a different one and then explain yourself—if you are a person who is living, rent-free, in another person’s home; eating their food; sleeping on their sheets; cuddling their cat; having been tasked with running their life in their absence and that person asks you to do a thing for them?  You do the fucking thing.  Period.  I don’t care if my father had asked for his brother to bring him a can opener, two fishing poles, and all the coffee filters in the house.  He wants the things, they are his things, bring him the things!

[7] I tried broaching the topic once, gently.  I got as far as, “have you ever been to St. Louis?” and she went on a rant about how she drove through once and hated every inch of it.  So.  That was a non-starter.

[8] I had forgotten this was a truly shitty rehab full of faux-fessionals.

[9] Some of you might cry hypocrisy that I care about his will and not my father’s.  The difference is, that was my trust, and my cousins’ trusts, which were supposed to fund our college educations.  How different would your life be if you didn’t have student loans, or had otherwise been gifted your education?  Maybe you did anyway, I don’t know your life… but if you live in the US, you know how much money was lost to That Woman.

[10] No, I didn’t kill her.  Why does everyone keep asking me that?

[11] Yes, I am aware this is not a legal thing.  He is not.  Trust me, this becomes a theme with us.

[12] Does anybody remember those?  I could never get mine to launch properly, which was probably a blessing since they were hella flammable and most of them melted and burned down homes in the process… which honestly makes them the perfect simile for that housing market—flung upward unpredictably, but certain to land somewhere dangerous.  I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something… maybe people will always be willing to pay a premium to enjoy a hellacious commute.  Maybe I’m the weird one?

[13] Seriously, so different now that he’s not drinking.  If you’re struggling with this issue or people in your life are telling you that you have a problem, please consider believing them and getting help.  Because I could have had this father all along and my life would have been different.

 

 

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