Wednesday, August 26, 2009
(Part I of this discussion is here.)
Up until her ADD diagnosis, life with Kitty was pleasant with a chance of chaos. I had begun to resign myself to the fact that she was just going to be messy...and a mess. Every now and then, I'd offer to come help her clean her house, and Mom and I even occasionally half-joked about getting her out of the house while the other would just wholesale clean out a room or two, but I knew from experience that we couldn't just dump an entire room's contents into a haul-away. I knew that a) I'd end up dumping something important that she really did need and b) in order for it to really stick, she had to be involved. She had to do it (or participate in it) herself. I would see glimpses of her capabilities in little moments: one weekend when I was visiting, I went through a stack of papers that I had collected from all around the kitchen/dining alcove floor. I could hold each one up to Kitty, and she could within three seconds tell me if it belonged on her desk or in the trash. It appeared that if someone were around to help her, to focus her attention on the task at hand, to point the way towards organization and even sanity, she could totally do it. But neither I nor Mom could be around to do this all the time. While it was tempting to take a week off, fly to Georgia, and help Kitty clean her house in this methodical manner, it just didn't seem right. It was me, saving her again. When was she going to save herself?
After Dad died, I mused to my therapist that of the five family members left behind at my house (sister, stepmother, two stepsiblings, and me), I was the only one in therapy. Apparently, it had become my job to go get the therapy, then bring it home for everyone else. It was my job to be Dad for my stepfamily, who were bowled over by the immensity of his death. For Kitty and me, Dad's murder was one more crappy thing to happen in a long line of crappy things, so while it was tragic, we were rather accustomed to the constantly-unfolding tragedy. However, it was yet again down to me, time after time, to make decisions and take action: to decide whether we were to bury Dad and my uncle, his murderer, in the same ceremony (I'm 21 and all the aunts and relatives eyes are on me yet again, waiting for the Final Answer), to stand up yet again to my aunts who "just couldn't wait" for Kitty to get back from her honeymoon to talk about what to do with our inheritance funds, to pick everyone up and dust them off, over and over and over. There I am in my dorm room on East Campus of Georgia Tech, trying to talk Kitty out of possibly offing herself because she felt like no one cared about what happened to us, about us in general. I wish that was the first time I had ever had to have that conversation, but it wasn't. (Interestingly, Kitty had a pattern of expressing the wish to off herself, then telling me to go get her a knife. I figured she wasn't ever really serious if she wanted me to run errands for her. So when I come back from the kitchen with the knife, should I bring you a popsicle too? Maybe the ADD was saving her from her depression, inadvertently--"Oh God, I wish I could just di--ooh! Popsicle!")
On Kitty's blog, Woolywoman commented about why no one ever thought of taking Kitty to a therapist and having her checked out and good. A couple of reasons come to mind, the first and foremost being that ADD was still kind of a new ailment back in the 1980s, and it wasn't diagnosed that often in girls. Most folks just thought Kitty was spacey, not "hyper", which is what ADD is, isn't it? Not so much, it seems. She wasn't hyper, just easily distracted. Dad took us to family counseling more than once, which was pretty noble and open-minded of him as a Southern man, but sometimes we got the impression that he was hauling us in so the therapist could "fix" us, not really work things through as a family. So while there was a chance that someone could have found this in Kitty, all the pieces didn't fall together just right to make that happen. I believe there was also a cultural component. The South has a long history of holding up the Good Southern Martyr as an acceptable and even noble figure in society. Lawd, Kitty's a mess, but look how well her sister does. And you know Pixie gets them both ready in the morning? Mm-mm-mm, ain't that a shame. How sweet of her to do that, though. She's so sweet and kind and helpful, always minding, behaving. I'm only mildly surprised that it never occurred to someone to have this checked out to help me as well as Kitty. After all, if it's acceptable for someone to take care of another peer in a constant manner, why should anyone possibly try to help me? And it didn't help that just as Kitty moved off to college, my stepsiblings, whom I barely knew, moved into the house, and I now had to get two people ready in the morning other than myself. Didn't anyone think that I might be ready for a fucking break?
Funny thing about growing up with someone who needs constant help staying focused and organized and balanced--if you rise to the challenge, it makes you extremely capable. When someone gives me a goal to accomplish, almost immedately I can see the start point, the end point, and all the steps in between that I'll need to hit as I go from A to B. I rarely shake hands with everybody's friend, Mr. Procrastination. When I tell "typical" people that, their mouths drop open and ask how I do it. My response is, "It's like instinct, like a flash--I just see what has to be done." I took and passed the ARE in ten months while working 60 hours a week for eight of those months. It was a gauntlet of seven-day workweeks and two to three hours of studying a night and then arising at 6am to swim for 50 minutes in the pool or lift weights or run. Even now, I'm up before 8 even on weekends, unable to sleep in, unable to nap, unable to sit down and read a magazine because there's clutter to clean up or books or posts to write or floors to Swiff or laundry to do or cat boxes to scoop or I could even go for a walk because I had that brownie last night and I might as well burn it off now but I'm sleepy but you can't nap because there are things to do and no one likes a lazy bones sleeping in and not cleaning their room remember what they said about Kitty remember what they said about Kitty remember what they said about Kitty.
So, for nearly thirty years, I've cleaned and listened and wept and prayed and sighed and wondered and seethed and cleaned some more and wondered when Kitty would decide to pull herself out of the fog of her chaos, because I wanted to help, I thought I could help, I just knew I could help, but I couldn't help. So when?
Wrap-up on Friday.