No Other Options
Lucy had always found that journaling had helped her to understand whatever the situation was at the time, and there certainly was a situation now. So she fixed a cup of tea and sat down on the front porch with her favorite spiral notebook and began to write.
“The problem is this: my beloved 70-something sister has realized that her time on this planet is winding down. Well, of course it is; she never thought she would live forever. But the question that has always pestered her is plaguing her all the time now: how to provide for her 40-something disabled son?
“Thomas is a very bright man, but he had suffered a dire birth accident that had left him oxygen-compromised for almost ten minutes. He had certain intellectual/emotional deficits that affected every facet of his life.
“If you met him, you’d think he was all right; he’s physically fine – a bit on the thin side – possibly a touch of anorexia? But after talking with him for a few minutes, you’d know that something was off.
“He has multiple diagnoses: Possible bipolar. Possible schizophrenic. ADHD, ODD, GAD, SAD, maybe even DID. A veritable alphabet of difficulties that often render him anxiety-ridden and fearful or hostile and belligerent. He reads well but has memory deficits. He has dyscalculia and is hopeless at math.
“He’s prone to self-medicate with OTC concoctions; at least it’s no longer the heroin and meth of his younger days.
“He’s not easy to live with – leaves messes everywhere, doesn’t help with household tasks and likely as not, gets angry when asked to do so. He steps out of the tub and drags water all over the bathroom floor. He’s high-maintenance; it’s like living with a six-year-old, except that you’d be teaching a six-year-old how to take care of those small necessary daily tasks. Thomas refuses to learn.
“His mother had said for years that Thomas never hurt anyone but himself, but that was no longer true. Always verbally and emotionally abusive, he had of late gotten physical with both her and with his aunt, squeezing the former’s wrists and pushing the latter to the floor. These conflagrations occur two or three times a year, usually after he has consumed large quantities of alcohol (there’s a liquor store within walking distance, so not driving is only a deterrent if the weather’s nasty) and mixed the alcohol with phenylpiracetam or other nootropic substances. The last three such incidents resulted in an ambulance ride and a hospital stay, after a couple of hours of sheriff’s deputies and EMTs descending on the house. They’ve been here enough; they know what’s going on. Is all that necessary? Perhaps not, but neither his mother nor her sister is willing to put herself in harm’s way to keep his impaired ass from falling down the stairs to the concrete basement floor.
“Live independently? Thomas wouldn’t be able to keep toilet paper in the house. His rather generous SSI payment of just over $1500 a month is always spent within the first few days. Overdrafts on his account are routine, and since Social Security requires that his mom’s name also be on the account, she can either cover those expenses or have the problem show up on her own records.
“Thomas believes that any monies he receives should be his to spend as he wishes; he resents the $460 contribution to the household budget that is required of him. His teeth have rotted out due to negligence, but he doesn’t think he should have to pay for dental work.
“His memory problems are a frequent source of dysfunction. Depending on the situation, he declares an ability to remember what he’s doing from one minute to the next (that’s why he forgets to clean up after himself after making a sandwich) or absolute total recall of everything his mother ever did that he believes damaged him.
“And yet, if you remember an event from the past differently than he does, he is sure that you are: 1. Lying. 2. Getting old and feeble-minded. 3. You were also poisoned that time the CIA came in and sprayed toxic gases in an attempt to assassinate him because of all the secret knowledge he possesses. He never admits that he’s wrong.
“But I digress. Back to the present problem. What to do with Thomas when his mother is no longer here to provide for him and keep him safe?
A. Independent living is outside the realm of possibility.
B. Thomas has an older brother who lives three states away. He’s a recovering addict with his own set of challenges. Thomas stayed with Malcolm for several months a few years ago, trading rent for babysitting his infant niece. Malcolm sent him back when Thomas passed out drunk while at home with the little girl; when Thomas didn’t answer his phone, Malcolm raced home to find Julia sitting in a gallon-sized puddle of milk which she had pulled from the fridge. There are two little girls now. Thomas will not be invited back.
C. Thomas also has a sister a few years younger than he is, and it’s pretty much always been assumed that Abigail would take over Thomas’s care when the time came. But really, Abigail can barely take care of herself financially, physically, or emotionally. Ghosts from her own past still haunt her days. While she would never flat-out refuse to take guardianship of Thomas, it’s doubtful that she could make it work and retain her sanity.
D. Thomas’s Aunt Dodra loves him and thought at one time that she’d volunteer to take responsibility for him, but that was before she’d lived with him for several years. She is no longer interested in being his caretaker. She’s just entering her fourth quarter and is beginning to see her belated writing career blossom and flourish. She’s not willing to sacrifice her own chance for creative fulfillment to care for someone who, frankly, doesn’t appear to even try to have healthy relationships and who will not give up using substances that impair and endanger him. Nor are her five children willing to let her do so.
“Since no family member can/is willing to act as Thomas’s guardian, what other options might exist for him?
“If he were a rich man from a wealthy family, he could afford an excellent and appropriate medical placement in a state-of-the-art facility where a dedicated team of professionals would keep him safe and he’d have opportunities to participate in activities he might enjoy. He is not a rich man from a wealthy family.
“Perhaps a half-way house or group home of some sort? Been there, done that. But Thomas’s history of Oppositional Defiant Disorder means that he is not willing to follow anybody’s rules for long. He could get a placement, but he’d be invited to leave shortly after breaking curfew or using drugs. That’s what happened before. He is simply not going to comply with rules.
“That leaves the only other option I can come up with. Thomas must not outlive his mother.”
Lucy stopped writing and put her pen down. Whoa, where did that come from? She stared out at the grass, brown and pathetic this time of year. Then she picked up her pen and began to write again.
“I know, it’s unthinkable.
“But here we are.
“While Thomas has attempted to take his own life several times in the past through drug use and even once considering suicide by cop, those attempts, obviously, were unsuccessful. It does not appear that ending his life has occurred to him lately, although he did some serious damage to himself a couple of years ago; that did not appear to be intentional.
“So. What next? There’s no one in the family who could actually murder him, even with the probability that the death would not look suspicious to the authorities, given his history. There’s just no one in the family who could or would do such a thing.
“Hire someone? This family doesn’t run in those circles. We’d never find someone who would do it for pay. We don’t have much money, either. And the chance of getting caught would skyrocket. Nah. Bad idea.”
Lucy stood up. What the Hell was she thinking? Was she seriously considering this? She gathered her things from the table and went inside to start dinner.
It woke her up in the wee hours. This feeling that it had to happen. That no one but her was seeing the problem that was looming before them all. That somebody had to do something, and it looked like she was the one. It would be irresponsible not to head off disaster if you saw it coming, wouldn’t it?
She couldn’t go back to sleep. Was she really a person who could take someone else’s life? Even for what she thought was an honorable cause? Wouldn’t it be worse to put him out on the street and let him get knifed or overdose or something? Or starve to death or walk into traffic while high? Wouldn’t it?
If she did it – IF she really did – it would make things so much easier. Carol could stop worrying about what would happen to him after her death. She could even maybe enjoy her last years, however many there might be. She could be the next Grandma Moses.
Lucy had read an article a while ago that said when parents lose a child, they are devastated, but the vast majority of them are okay after two years. Not okay okay, but functional. Over the worst of it. Able to continue their own lives.
Carol deserved that. She’d been looking after this child for forty-some years, and not one day of it had been easy. Truth be told, they probably should have let the baby die the day he was born. Apgar of 1. As close to a dead baby as you could get. But no, they had prayed and believed and refused to let the little boy go. And the child had had problems every day of his unhappy life. And made sure the people around him had problems, too.
It would be a mercy. All around.
But why did it have to be her? She didn’t have a mean bone in her body; she would only even consider such a drastic act as a means to make her sister’s life better. Well, everybody’s life, really.
The next day, while she was outside with the dogs, she continued to ruminate on the problem. Her eye fell on the hole in the flower bed, where she had dug up that Devil’s Trumpet plant that Mary, her other sister, had planted there and promised to get rid of but never had. The new puppy couldn’t seem to leave it alone, and they all knew that every part of that plant was toxic to animals and to humans.
Lucy had dug it up in a fury, stuffed it in a plastic trash bag, and thrown it away in the garbage bin. Why would anyone keep a plant that was toxic to animals and to humans?
To humans. She stood stock still for a moment while that thought took hold.
It was gone, and yet there was a possibility… in the spring, when things began to grow again, something might come back from the roots….
It felt right. It felt like an answer. It was like a deep fog lifted in her mind, like heavy drapes fell away from a window and showed the way. Deep inside, she knew she’d been led to this moment by some force outside herself. Relieved to have the possibility of resolution, Lucy said nothing to anyone and waited for spring.
Her anxiety dissipated. She enjoyed the remainder of the winter reading, writing, and playing with the dogs. Walks on mild days. Afternoons on the couch with a blanket and a book, or writing at the desk in her bedroom.
The household was quiet. It was one of those periods when Thomas was relatively satisfied with his lot in life; or, if not, he was suffering in silence. Looking in, one would have seen an only slightly dysfunctional family.
Sure enough, one mild April day, Lucy saw shoots coming up in the hole where the poison plant had been.
She knew what she had to do. She had thought of her plan at odd moments, and she still knew inside herself that she was doing a good thing. She just knew. Like she knew gravity. Like she knew her name. Perhaps, as it said in the Bible, she was born for such a time as this.
It was time.