The other trailer park refugee

My sister, T, may be the one i should credit with the phrase “Trailer Park Refugee”.  We were drinking beer with my children in a ski lodge a few years ago and she said “Your mom and I are refugees, but the trailer park’s got long arms”, as my offspring listened attentively to her tales of hillbillism and stupidity.

T also got out.  It was essential in her becoming a productive and accomplished member of society.  She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 26, as she was completing her PhD program.  It is a marvel that she wrote her entire doctoral dissertation in a week, while on a manic high.  It was accepted a few months later with only minor revisions. 

To say that she is brilliant is an understatement.  To say that she brings her own brand of “special” to my trailer park family is an even greater understatement.

Her breakdown came as a surprise to the family.  She was arrested for walking out of the university bookstore with an armload of books.  Explaining to the bookstore security guard “Look, Fella, I NEED these for my dissertation!  What’s wrong with you?” wasn’t a sufficient reason to allow her to shoplift about $700 in merchandise.

Landing in the psychiatric ward at the university hospital, the staff responded as they do to all cases when a patient is “acting out”.  They slugged her with enough Thorazine to stop a charging rhinoceros.  It took about six months of the standard “test and tune” protocol* before they ever got around to a diagnosis. 

She was released after a month, returning to live with Mom and Dad while she recovered.  Her research and doctoral program provided a purpose, and she used that to bootstrap herself back to work.  She graduated, Summa Cum Laude** a few months later, and decided to do her post-doctoral work locally to help with the recovery.

Along the way, she acquired a new partner***, K. We were tolerant, K seemed supportive of T and was helping her regain her independence, so no one really paid all that much attention.  Until T started preaching the gospel of Mahikari**** – a new-age spiritualistic movement.  At first, it seemed to be helping T maintain focus.  Before long, however, she was explaining to us that her disease was due to impurities in the family history, and that we all needed to help so she could be cured…

Mom and Dad were pretty freaked out by all of this.  Torn by their desire to support their daughter and appalled by the fact that their brilliant child was spewing unabashed horseshit, they were vexed.  They sent T up north, to visit me, and see if i could help them unravel the mysteries.

This was in late 1986, and i had just given birth to The Girl.  T showed up one afternoon to visit, and i welcomed her into my home.  We talked about the medical challenges, about her work at the university, and about what it was like to be a new mom.  Normal “sister” talk. 

Doting on my daughter, she started explaining that her blue eyes were the critical link to the past.  i explained that my daughter’s eyes had absolutely nothing to do with family history, other than from a genetic perspective.  T was adamant that my 3 month old daughter was the most important link to cleansing the family history of impurities…

Oh, i let this go on for perhaps a half an hour before i politely said “there is no way in fucking hell you are going to subject my child to a ‘purification ceremony’.  We aren’t going to have her baptized in the christian faith, much to the disappointment of our families for fucksake, so why would we ever allow any other organized religion to mess with her?”

It was then that my brilliant sister mentioned the horrible abuse that we’d both been subjected to by our parents, and why that was at the core of her mental disorder. 

daisyfae:  Abuse?  What abuse?  i was there, T, and if we got hit, it was because we deserved it… community standards at the time meant all kids got hit with paddles and belts…

T:  It was the verbal abuse.  The horrible emotional abuse!  Did you know that Dad said I was ugly?

daisyfae: What?  He’d never say that…

T:  When I was in high school, he told me that it was very important that I get a good education because I’d never catch a rich husband…

daisyfae:  He told me the same thing!  That wasn’t abuse.  He was encouraging us to be independent!  And it kinda got me to stop getting drunk during lunch period…

T:  Yeah, but you married well in spite of your looks!

It was right around this moment that i threw her out of my house.  Screaming at her, while holding my freaked out 3 month old daughter.   “Little Sister Hits Her Limit.  Film at 11:00”

Mom and Dad were amazing throughout this process.  They agreed to allow the “priest” come to the house and perform a cleansing ceremony.  They figured that if T believed it would help, then perhaps it might be useful.  T paid the “priest” for his services, and several members of the group came to visit Mom and Dad.  Dad and Mom later regaled me with the story of the “cleanse”.

The “priest” walked the house, swinging incense, chanting, posing and meditating.  My Dad finally hit his limit, and began following the man around with a rosary, reciting his incantations in Latin. 

i don’t have many regrets in life, but i’d have given anything to be an unclean fly on the wall of the house that day…

sisters

* Mom was a psych nurse at the time.  This was – and i believe still is – the standard method of “triage” for many people who arrive at a psychiatric hospital.  The slam them with anti-psychotics to keep them under control, then slowly wean them off the meds to see if they can figure out what the fuck the underlying problem was… have we made progress since the 1800’s?  Sure.  But one has to wonder if there ain’t a long way left to go…

** Highest academic honors.  For the third time – having graduated Summa Cum Laude for her Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees as well…

*** T was a lesbian from birth, in my opinion.  i learned of this fairly early, and in a rather harsh way, but the rest of the family eventually figured it out and no one really gave a shit… We were much more freaked out a few years later when she decided to marry a Palestinian man she’d met driving a taxi in San Francisco at the height of the Persian Gulf War… But that’s another story….

**** Mahikari may be a fine spiritualistic practice.  Not judging the concept/followers.  Just taking a bit of exception to the assholes who took money from my sister and promised to “cure” her of her bipolar disorder…