Date: Spring 2009
Location: Pine Rest Mental Health Clinic
We sat in the office waiting for the therapist. Tears streamed down my face, at this point they were beyond control. We sat silently, patiently. I look to my left and see my Dad, staring at the floor with his hands in his lap, twiddling his fingers in anticipation. Across from me sits my Mom, whom I haven’t spoken to in months. She looks around the office, studying, although this space was not new to her. To my right was my younger brother, his eyes filled with terror. Too ashamed to look at anyone else in the room. My parents divorce would be official in just a couple of weeks and tension filled the room from floor to ceiling.
After what seemed like a lifetime the therapist finally made their way in. It’s funny how in times like these your memory can become extremely selective. To this day I couldn’t tell you whether the therapist was a man or a woman, what they looked liked, or if they were kind, because that just wasn’t important to me at the time. My mind was raced through the events of the passed 24 hours, recounting all I could remember. I couldn’t bring myself to comprehend how we got here, living my worst nightmare, fighting away blame.
We had been in this position before, but never with my younger brother. My little brother. My baby brother. Of course he wasn’t a baby anymore, he was almost 15 years old. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that by his current ability to communicate.
“Do you know where you are right now?” asked the therapist.
He nodded his head, “I’m at a mental hospital,” he finally replied. This was the first coherent thing he had said in two days.
The room was silent. The three of us were asked to leave so he could speak to the therapist alone.
They talked for a while, I wondered if he was making any sense. Philosophical gibberish seemed to be his language of choice for the last couple of days. We just thought he was feeling extra introspective, until he said he wanted to take his own life.
Within next two hours we learned a lot about my younger brother. We had learned that him and his girlfriend of a couple months had started having sex, and he had gotten her pregnant. He had found this out earlier this week, and his world became darker and darker as the reality of the situation sunk in. Although telling my parents was not going to be a fun event, his deepest fear was the conversation he would be having with his girlfriend’s Dad. He was a big, intimidating man with a history of violence. He was sure his life was over about to be over. So after he received the news, his coping method and “brainstorm how to tell the scary Dad” method were kicked off by the same thing: hard drugs. He took a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, thinking “well, if I accidentally overdose, it wouldn’t be so bad.”
We all sat in the room together once again.The therapist had talked to us individually and was now doing a bit of a reassessment now that the drugs were wearing off. This time around my Dad sat across from me, leaving a empty chair between him and my Mom. The therapist would ask my brother questions about his personality and behavior and suggested we chime in if we feel the need. I watched my brother, completely vulnerable, full of shame.
Eventually, the therapist hit more intimate questions, and finally asking us if he had a issue with “servicing himself in public.” Servicing himself in public? I looked around the room. Confusion was painted on the faces of the four of us. “Public masturbation,” the therapist clarified, “Do you have an issue with public masturbation?” The confusion sank in deeper. Apparently, many people who struggle with specific mental illnesses struggle with this and other personal boundaries, so this wasn’t that strange of a question in retrospect. I look around the room, as I shook my head “no” with a look of surprise still on my face; I just couldn’t help it. Across the room my Mom was also shaking her head. I turned to look at my Dad who had a completely different look on his face. He was staring at the therapist, eyes wide, lips pursed, nodding his head “yes”, so absolutely. He caught the other’s attention and the look of terror and confusion took us over. We continued to shake our heads in disagreement, and even voiced it out loud, but he was persistent, relentless even. His continued to nod heavily and confidently, his expression lacked any doubt.
The therapist had recognized this and pressed for some elaboration. Finally, my Dad spoke. “I have walked in on him several different times,” He admits, “in his room…”
We sigh in relief. My Dad had not understood the difference between public and private apparently, and didn’t think it was normal for 14-year-old boys to service themselves in the privacy of their own living quarters. (And you wonder how he lacked knowledge of “safe sex.”)
I shook my head in disbelief. It was so like my Dad to throw my brother into the category of the extremely disturbed and inappropriate. He will pretty much agree to anything if it will explain an abnormal behavior. I looked over at my Mom who rolled her eyes, then preceded to put her palm to her forehead. We had had enough.
The room went silent again. I stared at the floor trying to comprehend what just happened. All I could see was my Dad and his beyond purposeful nodding. Then, out of nowhere, I started to laugh.
I laughed at the ridiculousness of his accusation. I laughed at pursed lips and his beady eyes. I laughed at his fear of my brother’s sexual maturity. I laughed at his ignorance. I laughed because I couldn’t do anything else. I looked up, at this point unable to control myself, tears filling my eyes. I looked across the room at my Mom, who had joined in on the laughter. I turned to my right to see my younger brother letting out a chuckle here and there. Still mortified, but chuckling.
This was the first time in years that I had laughed with my Mom. We laughed so hard that we couldn’t breathe.
I threw my head back and took a deep breath, an attempt to gain composure. I looked at my Mom, tears streaming down her face, matching my own. We all settled down and we were back to business.
At the end of it all the therapist decided that my brother stay at the clinic until the drugs are out of his system as a hope to avoid any attempt at suicide. No one argued.
We said our “thank you’s” and “goodbye’s” and I turned to my Mom and gave her a hug. The first hug since she left us in the middle of the night two years prior.
I climbed into the passenger seat of my Dad’s car and buckled up for the ride home.
“Not a bad day,” I thought.