Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lubricated by Love (Part One)

     I have five siblings, an older brother and sister from my father's first marriage, and two brothers and a sister from my parent's union. Edina (Eh DEE nah) and Leszek (LEH shek) are twelve and ten years older than me, respectively. They are actually my half-siblings, but because they were living with us when I was born, I've considered them to be nothing less than my "whole" brother and sister. I was born in 1962, about a year after Mom and Dad married. Edina started college in 1968, and I vaguely remember Leszek's high school graduation in 1969 or 1970. Leszek was in the Glee Club, and I thought he had a really good singing voice. When he'd come home from high school in the afternoons, he'd drink a bottle of Dr. Pepper, the old kind with the clock face showing "10-2-4" on it, as well as a Ding Dong or a Twinkie. As teenagers, Edina and Leszek used to take me places with them, and their friends were all very nice to me. One time, they had a pool party in the back yard, which I briefly was allowed to attend. I was a good swimmer, so I swam around in the pool with them, while they socialized and listened to music. Edina and Leszek both eventually attended the University of Kansas (KU) in Lawrence, which from what I recall, was a cool hippie town. Leszek lived in a commune with a big peace sign in front of it, and drove a VW van. He and some of his friends took a trip down to Mexico in that van, and in preparation for the journey, Leszek taught himself everything he needed to know about repairing it from a VW technical manual. That van was really temperamental. In order to give it enough "oomph" to go up the huge hill near Osawatomie State Hospital, across the street from which we lived, we'd have to rock our bodies forward and back, saying "PUSH!" until we'd ascended and leveled out. I have many happy memories of traveling downhill in his van, headed into the heart of Osawatomie to the Tastee-Freez, where Leszek would take Emi and me to play pinball and eat ice cream. In 1972, Edina married my brother-in-law, Mahmoud, and shortly after that, they moved to Iran. She wrote my sister, Emi, and me lots of letters, some of which I think I still have. We briefly saw her in 1974, when our family took a summer trip to Poland. At the time, Mahmoud was a political prisoner under the Shah's regime, and our family, as well as his, were trying desperately to get him and his brother out of prison. Edina ended up coming back to the U.S. with us that summer, and along with Leszek, helped our family move down to Georgia. All of us kids took turns riding with Edina and Leszek, who drove separate vehicles over the course of the trip. Riding with Leszek was lots of fun because a) he loved driving and could stay focused amidst chaos, and b) he permitted us to be as silly and loud as we wanted to be. We talked with fake British accents, and yelled out the windows at other cars, saying things like "We're from England!!!!" or, mimicking Leszek's televangelist alter ego, "Ah am the Lord, and Ah can eat twaylve aigs!!!" Edina was a bit of a nervous driver. She did not like for us to have the radio on at all, which was kind of a bummer, but because she was so well-versed in international culture and politics, we had lots of serious, grown up conversations. Like my father, Edina was gifted with language. Italian was her first language, followed by English, French, Spanish, some Polish, and now, Farsi. Mahmoud was eventually released from political prison, and several years later, Edina, Mahmoud, and their infant son, Romin, moved back to the United States. They lived in Columbus, Georgia for awhile, moving to LA after their youngest son, Samad, was born. Edina went back to school and obtained her master's degree in linguistics. In the mid-80's, they moved back to Georgia. This time, they moved to Marietta, near where my parents lived. Mahmoud, an accountant, got his MBA, and Edina taught English as a Second Language for many years in the Cobb County school system. Although they are grandparents now, in their early 60s, I still don't think of them as being that old. Leszek was (and still is) an amazing photographer and pianist. A bit of a recluse, he has his own piano tuning business in Columbus, Georgia, which is where my family lived from 1974-1985. He's recorded a CD of original piano music, which I often listen to on my iPod. Most recently, he's learned how to crochet, and has surprised me with a couple of skillfully crafted, colorful afghans, which Brad and I use to keep warm when we're watching TV. With the advent of TMing and Facebook, most of us siblings have gotten complacent about talking to each other on the phone. Although Leszek has email and a Facebook profile, he isn't very computer savvy, so I don't talk to him too often. I am hoping to get down to Columbus in the near future to visit Leszek, as well as to see some old friends of mine from high school, with whom I've reconnected through Facebook.
     My other siblings, are all products of my parent's marriage. Emi is two years younger than me, and she and I were always very close growing up. We shared a bedroom until I was in 12th grade. Emi was somewhat of a neat freak, and insisted on vacuuming our room every day. We had a couple of furry foot-shaped area rugs, hers red and mine blue, and if the toes on either of those rugs were the least bit curled, it sent Emi into a tizzy. I, on the other hand, was a slob. I never made my bed, and Mom, the only person who was brave enough to look under my bed, was routinely confronted with crusty old plates of food, dirty clothes, and God-knows-what-else that I'd conveniently shoved beneath the box spring. My slovenly disposition became a real source of consternation for Emi. One day, upon entering our room, I found that she'd transected it with duct tape, right down the middle. She informed me that, from now on, I was to stay on my side of the room. Unfortunately, she had forgotten that the door was on her side of the room, making it impossible for me to escape my sister's watchful, glaring eyes without traversing her self-imposed Maginot line. A few days later, she ended up moving into Dad's old home office. She rigged her new room with an under-the-door burglar alarm, so none of the rest of us would touch her stuff, namely her stereo and her big glass jar full of babysitting money. For college, Emi went to the University of Georgia, where she met Carl, her husband of 25 years, on a blind date. They have two sons, Alex and Evan, who are both very close in age to their twin cousins, my sons Nick and Rory. Carl's job ended up moving them to Columbus, Ohio, where they've lived now for about ten years. Although Emi and I don't get to see much of each other, we remain pretty close. Because she and I are two very different people in terms of our levels of introspection, insight, and individual perspectives regarding the distribution of parental attention and resources, which has led to some resentments among siblings within our family, we've had our emotional ups and downs with one another. Somehow, they always seem to get worked out. Quite a few of my blogs have featured stories about her and me, from our childhood and adolescent escapades to becoming mothers together.
     My youngest brother, Peter, was born in 1970, shortly after we'd moved from Cincinnati to Osawatomie, Kansas. At that time, I was eight years old. Peter had delicate features: blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair, and an intriguing orange-y complexion, which I now know was regular old neonatal jaundice. I remember him having some kind of mild immune deficiency problem, for which he had to receive gamma-globulin shots. I guess it was a self-resolving problem because he grew up normally, just like the rest of us. In Kansas, Peter shared a room with my brother, Adam, and my Polish grandmother, Babcia (BOB cha), but once we moved to a slightly bigger staff cottage, it was just him and Adam. Peter was a mellow little kid. As a toddler, he allowed Emi and me to dress him up like a girl, and was a willing student in our "classroom." Growing up, I don't remember Peter causing too many waves; he was compliant and seemed to do as he was told. When we moved to Georgia, Peter and Adam's room was right next to Emi's and mine. In order for them to enter our room, they had to ask permission by reciting "Hindoo-a-la-la-la-meeno" as they stood in the doorway. Emi and I fabricated a terrifying story about the Three Dead Men and The Lady With Black Hair who lived in our attic, using our brothers' fear of these apparitions to manipulate them into bringing us snacks upstairs from the kitchen or to reserve our place in front of the TV on the two beanbags in the downstairs den. In the mid 90s, Peter got married, and received his bachelor's degree in city planning from Southern Polytechnic University in Marietta. He and his wife have two sons, Davis and Zack, who are now 15 and 12 years old. Peter, who's now divorced, lives in Tampa with the boys, where he's worked for Skanska for many years. He and I share a love of music, as well as Apple products, and talk on the phone fairly frequently. I'm embarrassed to say that, mostly because of working so much over the last few years, I've never been to Tampa to visit him. Since I am not working as much now, I'm hoping to get down there sometime later this spring or summer.
     Adam was born in 1968, when we still lived in Cincinnati. I remember being very excited about him. I was six, old enough to understand that I was going to have a little brother and very curious about the whole process of how babies were made. My parents, who never used silly euphemisms for body parts or functions, explained simply and accurately to me how Adam came to exist, and that was enough for me. I felt I'd been let in on life's greatest secret. I think that was when I began drawing penises, which was probably quite alarming to my mother. The penises were eventually replaced with ballerinas and toe shoes, my new obsession after Emi and I started ballet lessons at the YWCA in the spring of 1968. In November, Adam was born. The day he was born, Dad took Emi and me to visit Mom and Adam. We stopped in the hospital's gift shop, and for some reason, I pocketed a tin of cherry Sucrets. I have no idea why I did this, and my parents never found out about it. As a toddler, Adam was fearless and daring. He spent the majority of his early years, sporting a permanent goose egg on his forehead from trailblazing his little four-wheeled ride-on scooter down the basement stairs. He was a really affectionate kid, especially toward Mom, but he also possessed an explosive temper.
      Like me, Adam is left-handed, and unfortunately, he went on to assume my former position as our family's most notorious black sheep. Although he's bright, he had a fair amount of trouble in junior high and high school, perhaps because of his disregard for authority. After some remediation, he graduated from high school, working at odd jobs for a while. For a variety of reasons, he never seemed to grow up or become wholly self-sufficient, his adolescent and early adult drug experimentation evolving into a devastating addiction, clouding any shreds of judgment or self control he'd managed to retain amidst a haze of impulsive recklessness and instant gratification. There were some periods where he seemed to "get it together." In 1994, I was a single mother, and Adam lived with me for a little while, helping care for Nick and Rory, who were about three and a half years old, while I worked full-time 12 hour night shifts as an R.N. The boys absolutely adored him; Adam has always been very good with kids. Later, he enrolled in Johnston & Wales Culinary Academy in Charleston, SC, where he completed his two year degree in restaurant management. He briefly worked in Atlanta as a professional cook, but it wasn't long before he grew tired of that, and ended up back in trouble.
     In 2000, after years of living on the edge, Adam went to prison for two years, convicted of drug possession and theft by taking in both Florida and Georgia. Fortunately, my father, who had long said he'd die a happy man if he could see me graduate from medical school and Adam released from prison, got his wish. I graduated from medical school in 2001, and in 2002, Adam was not only released from prison, but flourishing in his recovery from drug addiction. Dad died in February of 2003, while Adam was on his eight year parole, and in 2004, my mother received special dispensation for Adam to travel with all of us to return Dad's ashes to his birthplace in Poland. By this time, Adam was married with a 12 year old stepdaughter, had started his own wallpapering business, and with Mom's help, bought a house in Acworth. He really seemed to have turned his life around, once and for all. He was going to AA meetings, and later, helped start a halfway house for people like him who, because of their addiction issues and legal problems, needed a second chance in life.
     Four years ago, Adam and his wife had their daughter, Jerney, who is clearly the love of his life. Shortly after she was born, he and his wife started having problems, and once again, Adam's life began to unravel. He and I had become alienated, so we rarely spoke to one another. In September of 2009, about a month before Brad and I got married, Adam tried to commit suicide by poisoning himself with carbon monoxide. His marriage was falling apart, and he was deeply in debt. Apparently, he'd also relapsed. He'd gone down into his garage, closed all the doors, turned his car's engine on, and lapsed into an asphyxiation-induced coma. His stepdaughter, whom he'd adopted, discovered him and called 911. Adam was resuscitated and intubated by the paramedics, and later woke up in the ICU at Northside Hospital in Canton. I talked to him briefly by telephone when he was in the hospital, and he did make an appearance at our wedding. After that, I didn't have any communication with him for about a year.
     The night before the Superbowl in 2010, Adam called me, wanting to borrow a huge sum of money, which he told me was for health insurance. Knowing that he'd relapsed, I didn't trust him, and didn't loan him the money. The next thing I heard was that he'd been charged with theft by taking in Cherokee County, which violated the terms of his remaining probation from his original 2000 conviction in Cobb County. In late fall of 2011, he turned himself in, and has been in custody at the Cobb County jail ever since. During the time he's been incarcerated, I've developed a relationship with his sweet daughter, Jerney, who stays with my mom every other weekend. It's been wonderful getting to know her. Adam has called me a couple of times from jail, just to talk. He sounds good, and our relationship seems to be on the mend. Mom copies my blogs for him to read. Several of the pieces I've written have been about Adam or Jerney, which Adam tells me have brought him and his cellmates to tears. Yesterday, Mom, Edina, and I went to Cobb County Superior Court for his probation revocation hearing, the results of which I'll share with you tomorrow.
     One thing I've learned about growing up in such a big family is that it prepares you for the unfairness of life. Indeed, it is the squeaky wheels who tend to get the grease. To assume that because these children require additional "lubrication", they are somehow valued or loved more by their parents than other siblings whose wheels glide smoothly is not only inaccurate and erroneous, it is also most unfortunate. This faulty reasoning accomplishes nothing but a multitude of life-long resentments. As the mother of twins, my sons have had different needs, and have required differing levels of attention throughout their lives. I've never felt oppressed or motivated by a need to make things fair and equal between them because that's just not how life works! Although they are identical twins, they are two incredibly different people. They've both managed to get what they've needed, when and as they've needed it, and there has never been a cross word of resentment between either of them. Brad grew up with three brothers, two of whom are still alive. They have always been extremely close. Although they differed greatly in age, with Brad being the youngest, Brad tells me they grew up "wanting the best for the other guy", instead of counting beans about which brother got what or how much of it he got.
     As I previously mentioned, in our family, Adam and I were the black sheep, the ones who needed a little extra help. We are lucky to have had parents who refused to give up on us when we'd given up on ourselves. Our parents made sacrifices for us, based on love. That doesn't mean they loved us more and our other siblings less: they simply loved us differently. They were insightful enough to recognize that we're not all cut from the same cloth, that we had unique sets of problems, needs, and talents, and I think they compensated for any perceived inequities the best they could. I'd challenge anyone who resents their family's squeaky wheels, or operates under the notion that parenting is supposed to be fair and equitable, to stand in Adam's prison jumpsuit today, or to have traded places with me, during my low point back in 1983. Being lubricated by love isn't exactly a joy ride; it's a detour from the highway to hell. It's an opportunity that you either run with or waste. Depending on which option you choose, you can go on to live a productive and honest life, or you can continue to subsist in the downward spiral of self-destruction.  No one else can make that decision for you; it has to come from within. Our parents did what they had to do because our lives were at stake.
     My hope is that Adam has finally reached rock bottom, and that he'll take advantage of the time he has right now to focus on himself, internalize his commitment to recovery, and become the man I know he's capable of being. He's got plenty to live for, not just Jerney, but a whole new life ahead of him. Through ongoing recovery, I'm confident he'll achieve the precious qualities of insight and growth, along with all the tools he needs to live a calm, contented life, one day at a time. Although Jerney doesn't understand that Adam is in jail right now, I know she can't wait to have her daddy back. As for me, I'm looking forward to having my little brother back sans the black wool and drama, no longer a squeaky wheel, but a well-oiled engine, fueled by love and dreams of a life yet to come.
His Name is No Go (A related post about my brother, Adam)
What Children Know: A Wish for 2012 (a related post about spending New Year's with my mom and Adam's 4 year old daughter, Jerney)
Adam and Jerney, in 2010
 Adam, holding Rory, and Nick, circa 1992
Addendum: I have received permission from Adam to write about all aspects of his life's events, in the hope that his story may inspire and help others. Some of the subject matter, especially with regard to family issues of black sheep, squeaky wheels, resentments, and favoritism is uncomfortable to read or think about, but is common in many families, and I submit that the best way to deal with these differences of opinion is to discuss them, openly and rationally, instead of ignoring them or sweeping them under the rug.


  1. This was great a post Aunt Kris. There's so much I don't know about the lives of my aunts, uncles, and my mother and the stories of their time growing up. It goes without saying that the entire family is awaiting the release of Uncle Adam. A soul with as great of a personality, presence, and humor as Adam doesn't deserve to be behind bars.


    1. Evan, I am so glad you enjoyed it; stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow. And, I agree with you about Adam. My hope for you and Alex, Rory and Nick, and Davis and Zack is that you'll grow into men who realize and accept that, as brothers, you're all different people with different needs and desires, and because of that, you've ended up receiving different types and amounts of attention from your parents. Your grandma and grandpa (my parents) had a tough job, and I think they tried hard to give us all what we needed as we grew up. Life is too short to harbor silly resentments, and recovering from them is difficult. I am enjoying listening to your various musical pursuits! I hope you'll come down for a visit sometime soon. Love, Kris

  2. Wonderful writing, Kris. Families are so diverse, arrows flying in all directions. I hope Adam obtains his release soon and finds love and contentment in the years to come.

    1. Thanks, NP...I think this time will be different for Adam.

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  4. I need to remember that a person’s blogs are that one person’s recollections: Their thoughts, their perceptions and their facts according to him or her and NOT universal and clearly not all the time even factual. (Our nephew, Samad was born in Columbus, GA – not Los Angeles, CA.) It is erroneous and unfortunate to say that “a little help” was given.

    Certainly, unlubricated wheel’s perceptions of “a little” is much different from a squeaky wheels’ perspective. The “little” sacrifices are subjective. Those little sacrifices, to me, consisted of our parents uprooting the entire family and moving from a great lake home, suffering financial problems and most recently near financial ruin, leaving a job and a business behind, and forcing a family to live with complete drug addicted strangers, not to mention the authoritarian rules we were subjected to – NOT playing any music or watching TV, NOT having alcohol or caffeine or certain foods in the house even, NOT letting people who were not “checked out” to enter our new digs. (Carl’s first time at my parents ‘home’ in Peachtree City when he picked me up for our 2nd or 3rd date – he was disallowed to step foot in the house cause he had not been “screened” and my Dad, angered and embarrassed by it all, luckily managed to make Carl feel welcomed in the confines of our front yard on that muggy June evening. My Mom, was not home to meet my handsome date – she was working 30 miles away at Straight and had been there all day, sometimes 7 days a week. She was also trying to run a laundry business back in C’bus, GA where I would have to go down once a week to do stuff that she simply didn’t have time to do). On top of that, my grandmother Smith was about to move in – a life changing event for her, leaving her home in AZ to live in a house with self-absorbed grandkids who disrespected her. Another time, a family member who was having car problems had to stand outside in minus 30 degree wind chill on a bitter cold night, because he wasn’t ‘checked out’. To me, that’s a “little” crazy and insensitive, but I’m the overly sensitive sap.

    Those are byproduct of inequities. Similar to the inequitably distributed fairness of the ‘haves and the have nots’ in politics people (or children) who experience neglect or “back burner syndrome” in the form of less care because it is assumed they’re “OK” and because they didn’t squeak loud enough…sometimes we need to speak up and revolt against the entitled 1%ers. But like the working grunts, we find a way, and learn to survive, luckily, with a lot of creative help from friends we had to turn to. Or like other ungreased, bean counting wheels in families, we must disengage in order to heal. Psychologically, if you’re the one w/ more beans, it’s almost always more difficult to understand (empathise with) those with fewer beans and sadly, that selfish “get over it” mentality kicks in.

    The neat freak w/ glaring eyes, a compulsion to vacuum and inadequate or ‘faulty reasoning’, introspection, insight, and individual perspective was a sad little girl silently screaming for control and order in her own quiet way (not counting the buzzer door alarm J) in a big, chaotic, family which always focused on other’s more important or action critical ongoing dramas. That girl was obviously detouring her own highway to hell navigating the twists and turns mostly all alone.

    1. Thanks for clarifying about where Samad was born, Emi. I had forgotten. I agree with you, stories and blogs are written from the writer's unique perspective and experiences, and because everyone's perspectives and experiences differ regarding a given situation, it raises lots of questions. Just like we all have fingernails, we all have opinions. Whether you choose to personalize another person's observations or opinions is entirely up to you. I hope that verbalizing what seem to be very strong opinions has somehow been cathartic for you, and that maybe you feel a sense of relief in having done so here.

    2. It's also good to be able to laugh at ourselves, not to take ourselves too seriously...I poke fun at myself in much of what I've written.