Friday, July 31, 2015

Chapter Foruteen

“God Cliff,” I said as I did the best I could to clean his face up.  “And stop smiling you … you … god Cliff.” 

Refusing to drop the smile he responded, “Relax Gypsy.  I got it all home.” 

I felt like puking.  “You shouldn’t have tried …” 

“I wasn’t going to run away.” 

I could have hit him myself and the only thing stopping me was the fact that someone – several someones – had gotten to him before me. 

Changing the subject a bit I asked him, “You sure about Mr. Oppenheim?” 

Cliff answered, "Yeah, his daughter said her mother said he’d be fine.  Who knew?  I thought all them people were pacifists.” 

“Amish and Quakers are absolutely; Mennonites practice it in principle.  Reality is something different however.  Besides, the Oppenheim family aren’t strict adherents.” 

“Coulda fooled me.  They dress just as weird as the rest of them I’ve seen.” 

Feeling irritated all over again I nearly threatened to sew him up instead of just using butterfly bandages.  “Don’t pick at them Cliff.  They could have closed up shop instead of helping us out like they did.  They’re good people.” 

“Sure.  But they’re still strange.” 

I shook my head.  “They’re just different is all.  Now hold still so I can fix this cut on your chin.  Unless you want a big honking scar.  Hack me off and I might just use staples instead of tape  I ought to be bashing you instead of fixing you.” 

Instead of being angry Cliff patted me on my back which was definitely a weird feeling then he said, “I don’t need fixing … but I ain’t gonna be shaving there for a while, that’s for certain.”  Then with a frown he said, “Maybe I should just grow a beard like them Oppenheim guys since you seem to like it.” 


“Jakob kept asking how you were doing.  You two must be … er … good friends.” 

“Jakob?  Oppenheim?  Don’t be a dingbat Cliff.  He asks the same question over and over because … look he doesn’t look it but there’s a reason he is thirty and unmarried.” 

“He’s 30?!  No way! Ouch!!” 

I jerked him back into a sitting position and said, “Now look what you’ve done.  That cut on the bridge of your nose has started bleeding again.  Will you be still?!”  After I put pressure on it I told him, “Jakob had measles as a teenager and his grandparents wouldn’t take him to a doctor.  His fever fried … look there were complications … it left some damage.  He and Maria Zernike will probably get married when she turns 18.  It’ll cause a little bit of a scandal they’ll have to weather but Maria has her own issues.” 

“Er …” 

“Yeah.  Like I said the Oppenheim family is different.  And so are some of the people they hang with.  Including the Zernike family.  They don’t ostracize for marrying outside their faith even though they don’t encourage it.  The Zernike family, that branch anyway, … anywho the Dad left his sect when he was a teenager and … geez … how did we get on this subject?” 

“Beats me,” Cliff said grinning once again. 

“Stop it Cliff.  Nothing about this is funny.  You got hurt.” 

“I don’t run away.” 

“Duh.  Like I don’t know that.  But if you hadn’t gone out …” 

Still smiling Cliff shrugged.  “It needed to be done.” 

Really concerned that he didn’t seem to be taking things seriously enough I asked, “Did it?  Or was I just greedy?  Or slow?  If we needed …” 

Cliff gently brush my hand away from where I was trying to clean the last of the blood off of his face and pulled me to sit across from him on a bench in the screened porch.  “Stop it Gypsy.  No way either one of us could have known how fast people would go nuts.” 

“Oh yes, we could have … and should have.  The riots should have stamped that onto my forehead so deep and permanent no one could miss it.” 

“That was all kid stuff.” 

I closed my eyes briefly and sighed.  “No it wasn’t.  Kids did most of the rioting, sure.  But all of the other trouble that came out of it …” 

Cliff didn’t feel like arguing so he said, “OK, you’ve got a point.  But no sense crying over spilled milk.  I’m back and I got what I went for.” 

“And then some,” I muttered in aggravation. 

“Yep, I did.  And it’s all good so enough.  I want to get the rest of this stuff inside and carried down to the basement so the Old Woman doesn’t wig out about it.” 

“Cliff …”  I growled at his casual disrespect, but he’d had all he was willing to let me do for him and stood up and started moving bags and boxes. 

A few minutes later after watching him limp into the house with a ridiculously heavy load and looking at the blood rags I needed to put to soak, it all just hit me.  I slid down the wall and put my forehead on my knees and tried not to cry at how it all seemed to be coming unraveled again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Chapter Thirteen

“Cliff!  Cliff!!” 

He ran out of the barn and asked, “What’s wrong?  Did you aunt fall again?” 

“No!  The … the radio!”  I couldn’t explain even if I had the breath left to do it with so I pulled him towards the house completely ignoring how sweaty, dirty, and smelly he was.  Well, mostly ignoring it. 

Cliff gave me enough credit that I wasn’t just pulling a girl and ran with me.  He could hear it through the open window as we jumped onto the porch. 




After listening to the EAS announcement until it started repeating itself Cliff sighed and said, “Well that tears it.” 

My response was a tad more emotional.  “Tears it?!  It blows it out of the water!  And I can’t reach Uncle Carmichael.  The phone just says all lines are busy, try again later.” 

Calmly Cliff told me to, “Try texting and then give it a rest.  You aren’t going to do any good trying to call out if they are trying to call in.” 

Aunt Rachel called to us in a quavering voice, “Winifred, are the water jugs full?  Did the feed come this morning?” 

Since she’d already signed for the feed and watched me fill the jugs earlier in the day I knew we were in for a bad episode brought on by agitation and fear.  The only way to handle it was simply to answer her calmly and try and redirect her. 

“Yes ma’am.  I’ll wind your radios for you.” 

In a suddenly calm voice she answered, “Yes do m’dear.  Farm report is due on in a moment.” 

Cliff and I glanced at each other and in unspoken agreement we knew we were on our own for a while.  I got Aunt Rachel settled in the area she called her parlor while Cliff went upstairs to get his radio and take it onto the back porch.  By the time I got there he was pretty pale. 

“What?” I asked almost afraid to hear. 

“The president was one of the targets and no one is willing to confirm she survived the attack.  They’ve declared all of the US states and her territories a no fly zone.  The interstate system is going to be shut down at six pm eastern standard time.  They are calling up all of the National Guard troops still on US soil.” 

“Oh … oh no.  Are you …?” 

“Me no.  Dad, Carl, and Chris yes.” 

“And Uncle Carmichael.  Oh my gawd.  And then there is Christine.  What is she …? And your mom.  Can … can Connor handle your mom by himself?” 

“No way.  He’s her biggest enabler.  Then there’s Cevin.” 

I took a breath but before I could even suggest it Cliff said, “No.” 

“But …” 

“Look, Dad already has a plan.  He put it together after the big riots then modified it when Carl, Cev, and I stopped living at home.  Dad will make sure Connor and Mom get installed at my grandparents’ place.  Papa and Nana know how things stand and Nana and my Aunt Leona – she’s the one that had the pink tips in her hair in Chris and Christine’s wedding pictures – used to be a nurses out at the state hospital so getting Mom to take her meds will hopefully be a non-issue.  And Dad laid in a supply of her meds with the help of her psychiatrist.  Connor gets along great with my Uncle Buff who lives in the duplex right next to Papa and Nana and will room with him.  Cev’s ALF is just around the norner from them so if for some reason Cev can’t stay there Uncle Buff says he’ll go get him.  That just leaves Christine.” 

“She can’t stay by herself.  She’s pregnant!” 

“Relax.  She won’t be.  Chris signed a lease with Uncle Buff to rent the other half of the duplex.  It wasn’t gonna start until they finished rehabbing the space but I expect they’ll go ahead and stick her in there and let Flacco and his brother move into the apartment over the business.  They’ll help my Uncle Dan, who is partners with Dad, keep an eye on things.” 

“I wonder what Uncle Carmichael is going to do about Barb.  She was on that cruise with her friends.” 

“Not your problem,” he said ruthlessly.  “We gotta figure out what we’re going to do.  I’m glad you got out of your funk long enough yesterday to get your Aunt to go shopping.” 

“Cliff, it’s not that I don’t appreciate your honesty but could you not like … take my skin off with it?” 

“Huh?” He said looking at me like I’d just given him an answer he hadn’t asked a question to.  “Oh.  Look Gypsy, this is just me.” 

“No kidding.  I just don’t need to hear about how big a wuss I am right now.” 

“You aren’t a wuss … you’re … I had a computer class professor who used to get on to the girls in the class that would get frustrated at his criticisms.  He’d come back with something about them emoting too much and that they need to push on through.  Well … you’ve done all the emoting you’re gonna do.  It’s starting to get in the way even if it is how girls do things.  Screw your head on and hit the field.” 

With resigned horror at the inevitable I said, “Tell me you did not just use a football analogy on me.”  When he just stared I said, “Fine, just for pete sake, no more sports references.  I have enough trouble following that stuff normally.  I so do not want to figure it out under current circumstances.” 

He gave a small grin of triumph because he knew he was getting his way just like he always did and said, “Deal.”  It’s not like I thought he was wrong, I’m just admitting that his phrasing rubbed me the wrong way.  It also made me wonder about all of his apparent success with the female of our species ‘cause I just wasn’t seeing him getting away with this with most of the girls he dated.  Most of those cats could be ruthless in proving that you had to take their feelings into account over every little thing.  Sure, I may pull a girl on occasion but I’m no drama queen.  And I gave myself a mental shake and decided I wasn’t about to pick that moment to start being one either. 

We listened to the radio another ten minutes then Cliff shook his head and said, “They’ve started repeating themselves every other sentence.  Keep listening just in case they actually say anything new.  I’m gonna bike down to the gate and see when the electric company is going to be finished.  While I’m gone think about what we could need from the store if Aunt Penny Pincher wasn’t watching over your shoulder.” 


“Hey, you know it’s true.  Do YOU know anyone else that saves plastic wrap from church dinners, brings it home, washes it and then puts it in a Christmas box to be reused?” 

Rolled my eyes.  “Ok, she just has a few quirks.” 

With a snort Cliff muttered, “Quirks?!  Is that what you call it?” 

Cliff brought the bike down from the porch and then pedaled off.  I was so involved in watching him leave that it took me a moment to realize what I was hearing and had to run to answer the phone that had started ringing in the kitchen.  “Prissy Britches?!” 

“Uncle Carmichael!  I can barely hear you!  I tried to call …” 

“Hush and listen up.  You heard the news?” 

“Yes Sir.” 

“I love you girl.  I wish I could promise you things will turn out.” 

“We’ll deal Uncle Carmichael, that’s what us Baumann’s do.” 

“That we do Prissy Britches.  Now I’m going to ask you and Cliff to … to help each other and look after the Old Woman.  It won’t be easy.  At some point she might even start fighting you.  I’ll keep in touch as I can … but …” 

There was some weird crackling then the phone croaked.  The last that I could just make out was to mind m p’s and q’s. 

I looked at my phone until I heard something on the porch.  I whipped around in sudden fear but it was just the barn cat depositing a mouse shape care package before scampering off.  Having stepped on one or two of her previous care packages I grabbed the broom and dustpan and took care of it so I wouldn’t have the pleasure again. 

While I did that I also did what Cliff had asked me to and decided as far as groceries we were doing pretty well under the circumstances, mostly thanks to Uncle Carmichael getting a little crazy about the way Aunt Rachel ran things. 

“This isn’t the ‘blipping’ Depression and I’m not going to let anyone come out here and say I’m not taking care of my family!”  Followed by lots of male snorts and growls. 

Aunt Rachel, whose memory has gotten considerably worse since her stay in the hospital, doesn’t know about all of the stuff that Uncle Carmichael bought and stored in the basement.  I was still in a splint when he sent Cliff and I to the nearest Warehouse Club with a List.  Capital “L”.  Cliff’s dad also sent a list with him.  While understood Uncle Carmichael doing it – or at least thought I did – I wasn’t sure about why Mr. Montgomery felt the need to get involved. 

It was Cliff who explained, “I’m here that’s why and Dad has been doing a little overcompensating.” 

“A little what?” 

“You know, trying to prove – when he absolutely doesn’t need to prove – that he cares about me as much as he cares about the others.  Sometimes when he gets stressed out over Mom and her damage he lets the guilt get away from him and he … you know … over compensates.  This is just his way of making sure that I’m taking care of.  Don’t let it flip your wig Gypsy.” 

I remember trying to weigh just how much my hand would hurt if I punched him for “overcompensating” with his attitude. 

As it was when Cliff and I went out into the world to play at being adults we realized the lists we were given were pretty good but there were still some holes where our personal comforts were concerned.  We managed to put a dent in our own savings filling those holes.  Cliff likes those disgusting protein bars and powders so we got four big boxes of his cardboard flavored namesakes and several large cans of protein and whey powder.  I on the other hand, not wanting to rebulk parts of my anatomy I had only started to get trimmed up, stuck to things more on the low-fat, high-fiber end of the spectrum like my favorite rice cakes that I could guiltlessly munch on when my monthly made me want to constantly have something in my mouth.   

I had also gotten used to drinking all the milk I wanted and remembered how much I had missed it when the cow had gone dry last winter.  To address that craving I added a couple of cases of evaporated canned milk and several large cans of NIDO which was real dried milk and not the fluffy stuff that you normally got that tasted like white water if you didn’t doctor it up.  That wasn’t all we added.  Cliff and I both prefer tea to coffee.  We aren’t tea snobs, and Cliff tends to hide his preference when there are other guys around, but he didn’t complain at all when I put on the cart a big variety pack full of different tea flavors plus another one that was all herbal tea flavors.  When I would have bypassed the chocolate to try and avoid the inevitable plantation of zits that would result if I even thought about it too much, Cliff added the fixings for a winter’s worth of hot chocolate.  By that point we were both feeling our oats. 

I splurged and stocked up on all of the spices and extracts Aunt Rachel turned her nose up at because of the expense.  We both grabbed large tubs of various lemonade flavored drink mixes – my favorite is strawberry lemonade but Cliff can chug the more exotic flavored mango lemonade like he’s on the beach being served by girls in bikinis.  And because we’d both been raised on it we got giant cans of orange flavored powdered breakfast drink.  Afterall the astronauts used to drink that stuff so how bad could it be? 

I tried to send him away for one of my last additions but Cliff shook his head.  “Forget it Gypsy.  You’ll wind up pushing this cart into something expensive and knocking it over and that stuff doesn’t phase me.  Mom used to send me to the store to pick it up for her.” 

“What?! But … just ew.  Geez, damage you for life why doesn’t she.” 

Cliff slowly smiled but it wasn’t a happy one.  “She already thought I was and … and I just got to where I refused to give her the satisfaction.” 

The more I know about what I didn’t know the … well really, Mrs. Montgomery … sometimes there is no right word to describe something or someone adequately. 

On top of what we bought on and off The Lists, Uncle Carmichael and Mr. Montgomery bought more than a few things themselves for storing at the farm.  They tried to play off the curiosity and concern of certain family members by calling it “feed for the metal animals” that we had to take care of.  They thought they were being funny of course and most ate the bait hook, line, and sinker.  Cliff and I were less prosaic but then again we were more directly involved since we got all sorts of instructions on what to do and what not to do with it all.  They bought barrels which they then filled with fuel and stored in the older of the two storm shelters on the farm.  They also brought in junk to maintain and repair the family vehicles.  I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me but it did when I found out that carpentry wasn’t the only skill that Cliff had.  And then there was the ammo that we were instructed not to even tell Cliff’s brothers about … all except for Carl who was in on that buy and even asked that most of his personal gun collection be stored by Cliff.  This was for multiple reasons, but biggest one was Mrs. Montgomery but the other one was because he was going through a rough break up with his longtime girlfriend whose parents had suddenly taken to hating cops in general and him in particular because a friend was busted for taking a swing at a cop during a traffic stop. 

Together with Cliff, Uncle Carmichael and Mr. Montgomery went over all of the small machines regularly used on the farm and bought things like bar oil and extra chains for the chainsaw, special oils, and lubricants and to be honest I don’t know what all.  I left that up to Cliff because Aunt Rachel requires a lot more time than she did before.  Her hip may not have been broken but she was still pretty banged up and not getting around too well on her own. 

I jumped when Cliff asked, “Got that list together?” 

After forcing myself to relax I answered, “I looked; we’re in good shape.” 

Cliff stopped what he was doing and sighed.  “Gypsy …” 

I winced.  “So I made a mistake?” 

“Yeah,” he said using a tone that said he didn’t want to start a fight but that it was important.  “I need a list.  One like we got from the dads … uh … dad and uncle.” 

I turned to look at him and saw something that gave me worse shivers than the news had; Cliff was scared.  I’d never seen him scared; ever.  Not even during the riot. 


“Don’t freak out on me Gypsy.  We’ve got to keep our heads in the game.” 

“I’m trying not to.”  I mentally shook myself.  “Ok, serious I think we are OK on groceries.  But … look, you know that canning stuff I ordered?” 


“It would be really good if it has come in and you pick it up.” 

“What else?” he asked. 

“Pastas, rice, vinegar, dried beans, ammonia, lemon juice, borax, honey, white and brown sugar, bleach tablets …” 

“Whoa, when you start a list …” 

“I looked up Depression Era and World War II cooking and living when Uncle Carmichael flipped a switch and kept growling about it.” 

“’K.  I’m gonna change shirts.  Can you write down the list?” 

I did just that adding bulk oatmeal, grits, wheat berries, and more dried milk and eggs.  I also made a call. 

Cliff came in the kitchen right as I was hanging up. 

“Phones are up?” 

“Local calls only but yeah,” I said reminding myself to tell him what Uncle Carmichael had said and to ask him if he’d heard from his dad or brothers.  “I got through to Mr. Oppenheim at the Mennonite grocery.  He said the canning stuff came in this morning.  He is also pulling an order for all this stuff on the list.  Instead of the store he wants you to pull in the warehouse entrance and his son will show you where to go from there.  This is pay back for helping his brother when his buggy broke down.” 

“Hey, I didn’t  

“Shut up Cliff.  This is the way things work around here.  Take this cash and …” 

“Holy ****!  Where did THAT come from?!” 

“Aunt Rachel’s Bank of Sealy.” 

“Oh no.  You ain’t saying …?!” 

“She’s got a grudge against the bank for charging her a fee for something back in the 60s.  And yes I know how crazy that sounds.  The only reason she has a bank account at all is because of her social security and pension checks started requiring direct deposit.  I’m her payee – Uncle Carmichael set it up – and he and I emptied things out making like it was to pay her medical bills.” 

Cliff shook his head like we were all crazy, not just Aunt Rachel.  “Explain it to me later.  I gotta run.”

Monday, June 22, 2015

Chapter Twelve

Several days later I was still trying to get my head on straight and deal with how quickly things had gotten out of control again.  Despite having tried to keep the two incidences separate the attack at the butcher’s shop brought back some of the old nightmares from what happened to me at school.  Most of the time I did a pretty good job of not making everything about me but it was harder than I care to admit.  And then there was Aunt Rachel.  She wasn’t in the hospital long but it was obvious to anyone with eyes that she was a lot worse off than when we’d left that morning to get thick sliced bologna. 

I was sitting on a stump watching Cliff and he asked, “How’s your hand?” 

“Good enough if you need a break.” 

“Huh?  No.  That’s not what I mean.  I just saw you rubbing it earlier.” 

“Oh.  Uh … I wracked it carrying the laundry basket out the door.”  I stopped then rushed on.  “Thanks … for … for all you did, are doing.  You … uh …” 

Cliff looked at me then grinned.  “Stop trying so hard Gypsy.  You’re gonna break something.” 

Not the least amused I almost stomped my foot and walked away.  Instead I told him, “You don’t get it.  This is my job.  All of this is supposed to be my job.  What good am I doing if you are doing it?  Why even have me around?” 

“You do enough … you do the laundry and cook.” 

“Yeah right.  You can’t cook, Aunt Rachel isn’t safe in the kitchen right now, and I’d have to be on my death bed to let you do the laundry and handle my … er …” 

He chuckled, “What’s the difference?  You handle my ‘er’.” 

“Not funny Cliff.  And definitely NOT the same thing.” 

“Whatever you say Gypsy.”  He continued to smile like … well like he never had in my memory.  It was weird.  I wasn’t sure that I cared for why he was smiling but at the same time I didn’t want to break whatever new mood he was in. 

“Yeah … anyway … thanks.” 


“No buts.  I’m just glad that I’m not completely useless on top of everything else.  And … and thanks for not rubbing my face in stuff.” 

“I thought you were getting over that.  The reporters are off on some new story since they can’t get one out of you.  I thought it was pretty cool that that Wilhelm guy started that new farm road making it so you need a 4x4 to get back this far off the county road.  That’s one way to slow down the traffic.”  At the look on my face he shook his head.  “C’mon Gypsy, you aren’t …” 

“A pariah?  Oh sure.  I’m totally over all of the crap they’ve been saying about me.  Just like that,” I told him with a snap of the fingers on my hand that wasn’t still the color of moldy grapes. 

Changing the subject Cliff asked, “Talked to your uncle today?  I did.  He said everyone has been cool and asking how you were doing.” 

“Knock it off already.” 

“No.  ‘Cause it’s getting old watching you feel sorry for yourself.  Face it.  Some people are just going to go to the dark side.  Sometimes helping them … enabling them … only gives them a mode of transportation to get there faster.  I think what you said to that last reporter set a few people straight on where you stand.” 

“So?  It’s true.  It’s not about the color of your skin or the contents of your wallet but about the content of your character.  That’s not exactly a new concept and I’m sure as heck not the only one to have ever said it.” 

“Probably one of the reason some of them went looking for a new drama to report on.  Although there has been some good arguments from the other side.” 


“You gotta admit culture and community play a role in how people turn out.” 

“Sure but that still isn’t what some dumb people try to turn it into.  And I’m honestly just ready for it to be over with so we can all get back to normal.  I’m so tired of the fighting and everyone justifying it one way or the other.” 

As nonchalant as if we were discussing the weather Cliff said, “And you complain about Christine wearing rose colored glasses; you're as bad as she is."  He shook his head slinging sweat droplets every which direction.  "For better or worse the cat’s out of the bag if it was ever really in there all the way.  Too many people on both sides are making money off the race baiting and law suits.  Sure, most people still have their heads on straight and know it’s all just stupid-in-motion but the scale is tipping the wrong direction as more and more act like they’ve got liquid heat in their jock strap.  Now let’s get this to the spring house so we can get inside.  Dad said I should keep up with the news.  It isn’t just our little corner of the world that can’t keep their heads out of their butts.” 

“Charming Cliff.  Really, really charming.”  I rolled my eyes when he grinned unrepentantly.  “I’m not against keeping up with the worldwide crazy but can you listen to it upstairs?  I don’t want Aunt Rachel to get as agitated as she was earlier today.  She got so fired up over something that she used her new cane to knock one of her radios off the table.  I’ve never seen her get like that.  Threaten to yes, actually do it, no.  And I can’t figure out why.  When I tried to ask her it was like … well she … oh you’ve seen her.” 

Cliff nodded in understanding.  “Might be one of her meds.  Mom’s get out of whack when her weight changes too much and according to you your aunt has dropped several pounds.” 

As we put the fresh milk into the separating pans, and I turned the cheeses we were keeping on the shelves until Cliff could finish some of the renovations to the basement pantry that Uncle Carmichael had ordered, I asked carefully, “When you talked to your dad this morning did he mention your mom?” 

“Yeah, he keeps me up.”  He glanced at me then looked away.  “She’s still refusing to go back to the treatment facility.” 

“I’m … I’m sorry.” 

Cliff shook his head.  “Don’t be.  She’s gonna bring it on herself.  She’s not so bad she can’t make better decisions.  She’s just … just making selfish choices, choices that she knows are going to hurt other people.” 

“But if she loses her job …” 

“The shape she is in she shouldn’t be teaching.  I’m just glad that Cev is out of the house.  All she used to do is point out the things he couldn’t do or would never do.  I thought when I moved out that would stop but it didn’t and it was really starting to hurt his progress.  Cev feels things deeper than most people give him credit for.” 

“I … look I know you know your mom isn’t well … healthy … geez, you know what I’m trying to say.” 

“Of course I do but I also know she doesn’t want to do what she needs to do to get well and stay healthy.” 

“But …” 

“No buts Gypsy.  Let me see if I can explain it so you don’t get sucked into it the way the rest of us used to.  See it used to be that even though Mom and I … couldn’t connect … she was still invested in staying well as she could stay.  She exercised, watched her diet, took her meds the way she was supposed to, saw her counselor regular.  When she got out of whack it wasn’t because she meant to or wasn’t trying.  But about the time I started high school she .. well she stopped trying so hard.  To get back at Dad or Carl she’d stop taking her meds, kinda have a pity party like no one wanted to understand how hard it was on her.  When Con didn’t get perfect scores she’d get mad and go into a spin – sometimes real, sometimes not.  When Cev started going to the high school instead of going to a special school like she planned you would have thought she’d be happy but it was just the opposite.  Chris has it worse in a way ‘cause he can’t do anything wrong and by extension neither can Christine because Christine feels the same way about Chris that Mom does.” 

“And … um … you?” 

He snorted but it sounded like something had changed in how he was dealing with things.  “You know how it is but Mom has pretty much started treating me like I don’t exist since the school fire.  She's stopped even bothering to act like she is willing to hold out a bone to me if I will just be something or do something.  But that’s separate from what I’m talking about and it’s stopped bothering me unless it’s in my face for days on end.”  He shook his head.  “It … look … Mom … I don’t know all the terms a counselor would use but boiled down to a few words it’s that Mom has gotten addicted to the drama-high.” 


“Drama, stress, whatever, triggers the release of … of these hormone/chemical things in your brain.  It makes your heart pump, head spin, etc.  It kinda gives your brain a … a sort of chemical high.  Mom’s meds are supposed to, you know, help her stay balanced … no spikes, no drops … this way she can manage her depression and anxiety.  Only …” 

“Only what?” 

“Only Mom has started to think – or has talked herself into thinking – that staying balanced is a bad side effect rather than the purpose of her meds.  She’s convinced herself she feels better when she isn’t on her meds ‘cause she thinks the meds make her foggy, colorless, and that life is boring.  She’s got it backwards, not taking her meds right is what is causing the problems and then she self-medicates with drama.  That’s a lot of up and down.  Mom’s psychiatrist – and the treatment team for her case – think she’s developed some kind of personality disorder and is trying to talk her into seeing a behavioral therapist.” 

“Is she worse than the few times I’ve seen her since the school fire?” 

“Yeah and it is starting to really wear Dad down though he won’t come right out and say it that way.  He needs some back up with Mom.  I’d give it to him but … we all agree that might not be the best thing as it would confirm to Mom that … that the … things … she thinks are the truth instead of … well, it just wouldn’t be the best thing.” 

“Your dad is in a rough spot.” 

“To say the least but from what I heard from Chris and Connor both, Mom took her latest hissy fit out into the yard and there was a big blow up.  Carl got in Mom’s face the other day and basically told her that she was either going to take her meds like she is supposed to and start going back to counseling or he’d do what it took to get her admitted to a residential facility whether it was against her will or not.” 

“Uh … how big a blow up?”

“Big enough that some people that hadn’t known about Mom’s history do now and big enough that Mom embarrassed herself and realizes she went too far in front of the wrong people.  She’s trying … for now.  We’ll have to see how long it lasts this time.” 

“Cliff … isn’t … isn’t that cynical?  I know she hasn’t treated you right but your mom isn’t totally useless.  I mean if nothing else you can’t fake the love she has for your dad.” 

“Or my brothers.  Or my grandparents.  I just … I have to be realistic.  I know she’s my mom and all that, I just can’t feed into the drama anymore.   I’ve got to pick my battles and the one with Mom is one I’m never going to win.  I don’t even care whose fault it is anymore, I just … I just know I don’t want to keep living like … like … I just don’t want to wind up like Mom.  Dad and I really don’t fight much but during one of the biggest ones he said … he said he worried that … that …”  He stopped and shuddered.  “It was like a turning point or whatever kind of crap you want to call it.  It made me look at things.  And then moving out gave me a chance to … think about stuff.  Mom … she makes things harder than they have to be and hurts herself and other people.  I was making things harder than they needed to be and was hurting me too.  One of us had to stop.  Mom can’t.  I can … and that’s what I’m doing.  And that’s what you need to do too.” 

“Excuse me?!” 

“Don’t turn into a porcupine Gypsy.  I just mean you can’t control other people and the things they do that hurt you … and you know good and well it hurts your feelings for those people to think you are some kind of a racist a-hole.  So since you can’t control what they think you have to learn to control how you react to it.  Neither one of us is ever going to figure out what we are going to do with our lives if we are always dancing to someone else’s tune.” 

Easy for Cliff to say.  Or maybe not.  Guess we both have issues.  It kept us from being friends for a long time and now I can’t imagine not being friends with him.  Life is way too complicated.  Why do people have to make it so complicated?