I submitted this short story, a chapter out of "Voicemails From My Sister," for a contest. Enjoy.
“How’ve you been?” Siobhan, my schizoaffective sister, asked in one of our strained, intermittent phone calls.
We spoke once a week, maybe less.
“I’ve been sick, actually,” I answered.
“Oh, yeah? Well, I’ll bet it’s not as bad as what I have,” she challenged, instantly turning the conversation to her.
‘Here we go,’ I thought. ‘Dare I ask?’
“What do you have, Sibby?”
I sighed. The only surprising part of this sexually transmitted diagnosis was that it took thirty-five years for her to contract.
… Then again, this might be a delusion.
I took a breath.
According to Siobhan’s many doctors, I should treat her schizoaffective hallucinations as if they are true.
“Sibby, why aren’t you having protected sex?”
“No, I got it from the stripper pole,” she explained, as if that were somehow better.
My sister periodically gyrated during the breakfast shift at Centerfolds, an all-nude dive joint on the Berlin turnpike. Unable to hold a steady job, she’d been picking up sub-par stage time at this sleazy hole since she was eighteen. Our father, in one of his many demonstrations of excellent parenting, actually used to drive her to her job at the spank shack, supporting his perverse theory that any job was better than no job. Now she “danced” whenever someone would give her a ride. In a desperate attempt to support the notion that she was employed, she’d pay a “friend” twenty dollars to bring her to work, then leave six hours later with a whopping ten, bumming a ride home from a reluctant customer.
I say she “danced,” but you really couldn’t call it that. My poor sister had no rhythm, flexibility or skill whatsoever, so all she really did was twerk naked until she tripped on her shoes and fell off the stage. The cost of occupational injuries she sustained from this career choice had far outweighed her actual income.
Years earlier Tom, her loving but codependent boyfriend, cradle-carried her into the diner where I was working because her high heels had given her “water on the knee,” and she was unable (or unwilling) to walk. Six foot tall Tom held five foot six Sibby like a baby in his arms as he ascended the steps into my restaurant. He set her down on her good foot and she hopped to a booth, garnering the attention of diners and causing me to turn red with embarrassment. Sibby’s brain didn’t know when to get embarrassed, and she proceeded to bound across the linoleum floor as if everyone wasn’t staring at her. After their meal I neurotically stopped Tom from hoisting her up again and let my sister use me as a crutch as she bounced out to the car. She actually went into her boobie bungalow job that night, ready to collect tips by hanging onto the pole for dear life but, to her dismay, the club owner would not permit her to “perform” in that condition.
“Gross, Sibby, you’re supposed to clean that pole between dancers,” I informed my unsanitary sibling.
“I know, they’re supposed to clean it,” she immediately blamed the proprietors, “but they didn’t and now I have Syphilis and I might die.”
It was always the end of the world with Sibby.
“You’re not gonna die, Sibby. You must’ve gone to the doctor to get diagnosed. Didn’t they give you any medicine?” I was becoming impatient.
“Yes, they gave me medicine for it, but I accidentally left it at the club and so now I hafta wait for Jon’s friend to give me a ride back there to get it, because if I don’t take it I could die!” my anxiety-riddled sister continued.
Christ. Her problems always became someone else’s problems.
“OK,” I calmly rationalized, “so you’ll get your medicine and everything will be fine.”
“Yeah, but that’s if he shows up. He said he’d give me a ride but that was four hours ago and now he’s not answering his phone!”
Sibby had a bad habit of picking unreliable friends. Then again, she also had a bad habit of relying on her friends to fix her mistakes.
“Well, when is the next time you’re scheduled to work?” I continued to try to calm the storm.
“In two days,” she answered.
“So worse comes to worse, you don’t take your medicine for two days. I’m sure you can take it late. You’re not gonna die in two days.”
“No Kate, you don’t understand! When the rapist stabbed me in the back with a needle and it broke off in my spinal cord the doctors said that I was susceptible to spinal cord infection. Syphilis can also cause spinal cord infections and might require a spinal tap, which I can’t have because of the needle!”
There it was. The crazy. The paranoid delusions ironically caused by her anti-psychotic medication, Abilify.
“That’s not true, Sibby. You’re having a delusion.”
She hated that word: delusion. She took it personally. As an attack on her character.
“I’M NOT DELUSIONAL! I DON’T HAVE SCHIZOAFFECTIVE DISORDER! I’M BIPOLAR LIKE MOM!”
Oh, she was like our mother, alright. Only worse.
I used to think there was no hope for Sibby. I thought her particular case of schizoaffective disorder was simply untreatable. But a recent six month stint in the nut house had proven me wrong.
My sister, a ward of the state, had been committed (again) after being arrested twice in the span of a month. First, she’d stabbed one of her “friends.” Apparently, they’d had a fight and he refused to leave her apartment, so she punctured his back with a rusty steak knife. Three weeks later, she tried to run over another “friend” with her car, veering at the last second into a yard sale, barely missing a group of innocent shoppers.
During her mandatory lock up at the state mental institution, her new doctors took her off Abilify and put her on Haldol, because it was cheaper. At first, the Haldol caused my sister to become lethargic, as is common with a change in anti-psychotic medications. But after a few weeks her body and mind adjusted… and she became the best version of herself I’d ever known.
She was sane! Cool, actually. Smart! I … liked her.
We began talking on the phone every day.
“How are you doing in there?” I asked, genuinely concerned for her well-being.
“It’s OK. I’m lucky I have my own room because some of the patients scream all night.”
“You’ll be out soon. And… I hope you’ll continue with the Haldol.”
“No. I’m going back on Abilify.”
My heart sunk. I tried to rationalize with her. To show her how the Haldol was better than the Abilify.
“Honey, Abilify makes you delusional. You haven’t said a single thing that isn’t true since you’ve been on the Haldol. And look at how much our relationship has improved! We talk on the phone for forty-five minutes at a time now. We couldn’t talk for forty-five seconds when you were on Abilify.”
“I don’t care. Haldol makes me tired. I can’t wait to go back on Abilify.”
“Siobhan, the Abilify speeds you up and makes you manic.”
“I need to be sped up!”
And that was how she was like our mother. Addicted to speed and chaos.
“You are just like mom,” I shot back, “Choosing a drug over your family!”
Six months later Siobhan was released back to her Section-8 apartment and granted her Abilify. It only took a few short weeks for her delusions to return full force. I re-established boundaries I had let relax while she was in the hospital, and our relationship devolved into the distant, forced communication we’d known prior.
I had a glimpse of a healthy sister, but she’d sadly chosen to revert back into her sickness, just like our mother, who died of alcoholism at forty-nine, after refusing to commit to sobriety.
“You don’t even care that I might die of Syphilis and this might be the last time you ever talk to me!”
There was no winning this argument. She was deep in a schizoaffective episode: unreasonable and looking for a fight.
I had to get off this ride.
“You’re right Sibby. I don’t.”
I hung up.