Last weekend John and I went up to Sedona (finally) receive delivery of all his worldly possessions he left behind when he abruptly moved to Arizona just about one year ago. He’s spent the last year living either in my home or my father’s condo with basically what he brought with him in one suitcase and other people’s stuff. He’s never complained about this though. John rarely complains about anything.
When we bought a brand new property in beautiful Sedona earlier this year, we knew the next step was getting it outfitted and furnished, ya know, to live in it! John came back to Tempe from that trip and spent his days combing furniture stores for good quality and deals. One day he told me he thought he’d found the right store with great prices and a great selection of good quality furniture. For years with his level of dysfunction, no one would have expected John to perform such a monumental task. So this declaration, and my trusting it, was one of many illustrations of the many milestones he played leapfrog over to get to a nearly normal level of function in just a few short months. John took me out to Mega Furniture, introduced me to the salesperson who had helped him pick things out and I was both shocked and pleased that John was absolutely right. This store had the best quality and prices of any other place we’d looked and the furniture he’d already picked out was perfect for our new place. He even showed me the large room of mattresses and how he’d laid down on every one and found the perfect one, at a remarkably reasonable price that felt “just like sleeping on a cloud, Kathy. It’s just like a caahhhloud”.
Here is a little collage I made of the furniture John picked out.
Now by this point, John had been the person who saw the sign which brought us to our new house, is the person who is picking out the new furniture we need and the rest is to be furnished and outfitted out of his tiny apartment he vacated back in Illinois. He has been the focal point of the creation of our new home. Our new life.
I never saw John’s apartment in Illinois. I just couldn’t stand the thought of it honestly. I don’t want to even write about it because it’s too upsetting to me. He lived in a tiny apartment in subsidized housing for twelve years. I am also upset with myself that I didn’t intervene sooner. After John lost many of his services in Illinois, things just started falling apart and I couldn’t see any alternatives. To be honest, I stopped looking. In many ways I abandoned my brother as well when he needed me the most. I left it all up to my father to manage him. As the situation became increasingly unmanageable. I have a lot of making up to do with him.
Illinois had proven at one point to be the best place for him to live in terms of mental health care. When that deteriorated, so did my faith and I hate to admit it but I just kind of checked out. It took a crisis to wake me up finally and I promise I will write about that in detail soon.
John, on the other hand, was disintegrating yet responding to some sort of larger calling at the same time. He had started, during that last year in Illinois, amassing new furniture and furnishings for some reason even unknown to him. When I asked him this weekend what was motivating that, he said “I just felt like it was time for a change”. Now his mental illness in the past has driven him in to some bizarre shopping/spending behavior so we could blame this all on that. He crammed a 700 square ft apartment with a large suede look sofa, two dinette sets, a large leather recliner, two sets of new dishes, three sets of new flatware, new pots and pans, a new (nice!) coffee maker, a new waffle iron, bedding and boxes and boxes of new clothes.
You see something in John was falling apart, yet something else was sprouting. That’s the best way I can put it after going through all of those boxes and furniture with him this last weekend.
John had told me for months “you’re going to really like my stuff Kathy, it’s all going to go perfectly in our house”. Now my father had taken on the monumental task, at 82, of going to John’s apartment in IL and closing it all up, hire a moving company, sort and pack much of it and kick starting the whole process that led us to this moment.
There were five of those huge crates containing at least 25 large boxes and a large rustic suede look sofa, his leather recliner, two dining tables, chairs and an antique bed and dresser that were my father’s father’s.
As piece after piece came in John beamed and kept saying “I told you you would love my stuff Kathy”. In reality, it was like a designer was bringing new things in to that house that they’d been picking out specifically for it. The size, style and color of everything was amazing. I kept thinking this wasn’t purchased for Illinois, this was purchased for Sedona.
Yet John’s crisis- forced move to Arizona nor this new home purchase was even a glimmer in anyone’s eye when he set about shopping.
We opened box after box of items that just fit perfectly in this space–dishes called “Santa Fe” for, as John said “casual dining” then a more elegant Paula Deen set for “dinner parties”. I am sincerely loving every single thing. My schizophrenic brother has amazing taste. We both kept marveling at how it seemed like somehow he just knew all of this was coming.
What moved me the most deeply though was watching John open a box of old family photos, ones he claimed he’d not seen before. He had to call my Dad to make sure they came from his apartment as he repeated over and over, somewhat disturbed by it “I’ve never seen these pictures before”. Most of the ones he referred to were of our mother in her younger days. One of them is on the right here. That’s our mother Dottie when probably she was just in college.
I went upstairs to work on some boxes for awhile and came back and John had created a little montage of photos across the fireplace mantle. He interspersed his beloved Marilyn Monroe with photos of our mother and of ourselves as kids.
John’s obsession with Marilyn Monroe goes back years. Let’s just say there was a whole lot of Marilyn paraphenalia in those boxes. Mostly posters, calendars, note cards, post cards. I told him he could hang exactly three posters in his bedroom, the Master bedroom in our house so he had to choose carefully. We laughed at my comment “you are not allowed to turn this in to a Marilyn house”.
I’ve often wondered what drove that obsession. John knows every bit of trivia about Marilyn Monroe in a savant like way. You can ask him any question about her personal life or career or movies and he will have it immediately accessible. If there was some kind of “Marilyn Monroe Jeapordy” game I’d sign him up immediately. He also has frequently heard Marilyn Monroe talking to him in his hallucinations. In fact he did this past weekend while in Sedona. He also heard our mother.
Marilyn Monroe died tragically at the age of 36 in 1962. Our mother died tragically at the age of 36 in 1965. Our mother, a brunette, in the last two or three years of her life dyed her hair platinum blond and had a short hairstyle that I imagine many women were getting in those days inspired by Marilyn’s.
So to find this photo display was something I found very poignant and we left it up all weekend. It’s still there.
There were probably 18 boxes of clothes of John’s in that delivery. As we opened box after box, often the acrid odor of 12 years of indoor cigarette smoking, rose out of them. John methodically sorted through clothes, washed some, hung up others and created a huge pile of discards for the Goodwill.
What got my attention though were the boxes and boxes of clothing still in the plastic packaging from the King Size catalog he’d ordered from. I kept telling him he could open a store with all those clothes. There were no less than 75 shirts, 5 coats, at least 15 sets of sweatshirts/pants, on and on it went. I had such mixed feelings going through all of this thinking this crazy purchasing was all symptomatic of his illness yet at the same time it was this ray of hope peeking through him. That one day he would have a life where he could wear all of those clothes that he was preparing for. I think I’ll stick with the latter explanation now that I’m writing it out. He does have a life now where he can wear all those new clothes, just patiently waiting for him in all those plastic wrappings.
The most difficult moment for me going through this what felt at times like “Schizophrenia in a Box” weekend involved John’s mattress, the one he’d been sleeping on for nearly twenty years. It’s not that it was in horrible shape. I laid on it and it was amazingly comfortable. It’s just that it was so drenched with the horrible odor of chain smoking that it filled our entire new beautiful home with it.
I woke up in such a funk that morning and couldn’t figure out why. This was a very fun , exciting project to be involved in in a place of paradise! I realized it was that damn mattress. After figuring out that’s where the smell was coming from, I did my best to clean it, spraying it with vinegar, sitting it in the sunshine, Febrezing it, until I realized some things, no matter what it took to get them moved, just have to go.
As much as the stench was filling the air, so was the imagery that came with it. My brother, alone, with limited support sitting inside that tiny apartment and chain smoking.
I could scrub and polish those antiques, Fantastik off the film on DVD cases, picture frames and things that like but this mattress needed to be replaced. It doesn’t fit in our life anymore. Letting it go in my mind was some kind of saying NO to his past.
Interestingly John said to me at one point in the weekend “Kathy I will never smoke in this house. I will only smoke outside even if it’s cold in the winter.”.
This is also one of the reasons I insisted John take the beautiful Master bedroom in our house. It has a balcony off of it facing the mountains. It also has a grand master bathroom with a deep tub facing more mountains and a huge walk in shower, two huge closets. He gets that bedroom because of the smoking section off of it. But more than that, he gets that bedroom because he deserves it.
This is the view from the Master Bath.
John has taught me in the last year what a mother’s love feels like. It feels like you want to sacrifice for the well being of someone else. Giving John a place of honor in that home is not only deserved, it’s balancing out the universe of my own timeline.
So we’re letting go and rebuilding. Hopefully someone else can use all these boxes. We’re finished with them.
And this is what it looks like for someone, finally at the age of 51, to step in to a new reality, a new mastery of his domain both internally and externally.