Tonight I got to go to Wal-Mart all by my little lonesome. It was a delightful treat. How pathetic am I? I only went for milk, cold medicine and bread, but since I was alone, I also got a pumice stone, half price Valentine candy and a book.
During my leisurely stroll down each and every aisle, I feel my cell phone vibrate in my pocket. I check to see who it is. Sam. My brother. He's already left me three voice mails today, but I haven't had a chance to call him back. I answer.
"Wow! You finally answered!" he says. His reaction when I don't answer every single time he calls, which can be half a dozen times in one day. "Where are you?"
"I'm in Wal-Mart."
"Where's the kids?"
"They're at home with their dad."
"Oh, he's home? He's not answering his phone."
"Well, he's probably got the ringer off. What's going on?" I reply, trying to hide the irritation in my voice and sound cheery and friendly-like.
"Well, I think I should come up tomorrow. It looks like Friday is going to be bad."
Allow me to fill you in on the conversation I had with him last night. He calls me yesterday afternoon, Valentine's Day, and wants to come over. He said he had a roommate who was drinking and smoking in the room and he can't take it. He said he was waiting on his next unemployment check so he could get his own room. "It's Valentine's Day," I said. "Oh, do you and Todd have plans?" he asks. I told him we did, even though it consisted of staying home. "Well, I could come over and watch the kids for you" was his suggestion. My brother won't even have a pet because he doesn't want the responsibility. I'm going to leave my three children in his care? Yeah, right. I was able to explain to him that it wasn't a good time and offered for him to come over Friday.
Now, tonight, I'm standing in Wal-Mart, having my glorious solo shopping night interrupted, listening to him try to manipulate me.
"Bad? What do you mean bad?" I ask.
"Well, the weather. It's going to get bad Friday."
"Well, I have plans," I say. It's no lie. I really do.
"Oh," comes the disheartened answer. "I just thought it would be better with the weather and all. I don't know if I can make it Friday."
Fortunately, the connection started breaking up and I had to cut it short. "Let me call you back when I get home," I say. About 30 seconds later, my hip vibrates again. It's my husband.
"You need to call your brother," he says in a very annoyed tone.
"Yes, I already talked to him."
"What's he want?"
"He wants to come up tomorrow."
"What?! No. Absolutely not. You need to tell him no. Did you tell him to call and ask me?"
"No! I told him I'd call him back when I got home. He was breaking up. Why are you avoiding him?" Sam loves my husband. Probably as much or more than he loves me. My husband has always been very kind to him, and treats him like a real person. That's not something he gets every day. But lately, he's been avoiding his calls, just because he calls all the time. I'm feeling trapped between the two of them. My brother is needy and looks to us to fill a need. My husband is annoyed with that and is trying to put some distance between them. I am afraid to get angry with Sam, who is emotionally fragile, so I vent on my husband, who I know will not flake out on me.
Allow me to flash back again, about two years ago. Sam gets arrested and put in jail. Honestly, it's happened so many times, I can't remember the particular charge. My parents have bailed him out time and again. On this occasion, they did not. He was there for three weeks. During this time he called me collect from jail at least twice a day, asking me to forward messages to my parents and just to cry. He told me how sorry he was, how it wouldn't happen again. How if he could just get out of there he'd turn his life around. After about a week of this, the calls began to take a serious manipulative dive. He told me he couldn't take it anymore. If he didn't get out he was just going to end it. He told me no matter what happened, to remember that he loved me. And he hung up, leaving me screaming and crying hysterically into the phone. I called my mom in a panic, barely able to speak. I've always had this fear in the back of my mind that he would kill himself. I could see it playing out with a very tragic ending. But he didn't do it. And it seemed everyone but me knew he wouldn't. My husband was irate, to say the least, that he played me like that, and refused any collect phone calls from him from that point on.
So, I'm standing in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. I know Sam has an ability to manipulate me, and I let him. I would love to forget he called and just avoid him rather than confront him honestly. I am afraid to be honest. I don't want to crush him. As I stand there, blankly staring at the People magazine cover, I see a scenerio where Sam is feeling desperate because my husband is avoiding him and I am refusing him and he kills himself. I blame myself, and then my husband for not taking his calls. I don't want to be in this position. I don't like feeling responsible for his emotional well-being. Should I? Why am I? I am either willing to let him suck me dry or I completely ignore him. I'm having a hard time finding that happy medium with Sam. And I'm not sure if happy medium is okay.
I call my husband when I get in the car. "You have to establish some boundaries with Sam," he says. I know he is right. I know it is my job, not his. I have to suck it up and do it, and not play into his game of emotional chess. I take a deep breath and dial Sam's number.
"Poo?" he answers. Yes, my nickname is Poo. There is a disgusting rhyme that my family attached to it, but I won't get into that.
"Can you hear me now?" I joke, trying to be like the cell phone commercial.
"Yeah," he laughs. "Hey, do I need to wait till Friday?"
"Yeah, Sam, you really do."
"Well, I know. I understand."
I am relieved.
"I don't think the weather is going to be that bad," I say. "It's going to be cold, and we might get some rain, but it should be fine."
"I'm so excited to see you guys. Are the babies okay?"
"Yeah, they're fine."
"I talked to Mom tonight. You know, Dad didn't get her anything for Valentine's Day."
"Really?" I say, not too surprised.
"Dad, you know, he's...well, he's not the dad he used to be, Poo. That doesn't mean I don't love him, though." His voice cracks a little. "It's not easy to love him, you know?"
"Yeah, I know," I say. "Sometimes it's not easy."
"I do love him. I don't tell him that, though. He doesn't like to hear it. Well, I'm excited to see you. What time on Friday?"
"How about 5:00? Come for dinner," I say, as I'm pulling into the driveway
"Ooooooo, what are we having?"
"I don't know. We'll think of something."
"I'll see you then. I love you, Poo."
"I love you, too, Sam," and I cut the engine.