I’d sent my lawyer an e-mail to tell him about my mother’s care meeting, and he’d asked me if I wanted him to attend. I told him not to come. I figured that if he were there, it would just inflame Robbie even more, since he was undoubtedly pissed off at me for suing him in the first place. Ironically enough, my big decision this morning was what to wear. I didn’t want to look all formal, like I was going to a hearing, but I didn’t want to look so casual that it looked like I was just a kid. I finally decided on a long sleeved oxford shirt with no tie, and a pair of slacks. I’d gotten a pair of shoes that was a nice blend of dressy and casual, and they seemed to work.
I went down to the nursery to see my sister. Evidently my mother was too depressed to even deal with her, so she was back here at Escorial, with Tiffany and the nurses taking care of her. She opened her eyes and looked at me, and I smiled down at her. She really was cute. She gurgled and moved around a bit, so I picked her up and held her. Riley liked to be held so his head was on my shoulder, but Maddy liked to be cradled in my arms. I rocked her gently, and leaned in to kiss her forehead. This fight for my mother’s sanity suddenly got a lot bigger. It wasn’t about me, or JJ, or Darius. It was really most important to Maddy.
What if Mom never got better? What if she didn’t recover? I knew how guilt worked, and I could only guess what Maddy would do to herself. She’d decide that it was her birth that sent Mom over the edge. Her entry into the world was the event that caused Mom to check out. She’d blame herself, and that would really fuck her up. She cried a little bit and tried to reach for my nipple, which cracked me up. “Not much there,” I joked.
A nurse appeared; she must have been standing outside, watching and/or listening. “She’s probably hungry.”
“Probably,” I said with a smile, and handed Maddy to her. “She’s not the only one.”
I went up to grab lunch and wait for Darius. I called my father and got voicemail, but that just probably meant they were in the air. There was no one in the kitchen, which suited me just fine. I wasn’t really in the mood to interact with anyone. The staff in the kitchen made me food and left me alone.
“Sorry I’m late,” Darius said as he strutted into the room with his cocky walk. It was 12:30.
“No big,” I told him. “I’m still waiting to hear from Dad about where we’re meeting them.”
“Probably at the hospital,” Darius said, which was logical. “It’s not exactly close.” He gave me the name of the facility and we went down to my room to look it up. I did a MapQuest, since I knew I’d have to give him directions. While we were getting organized, my phone rang, and the caller-ID told me it was my father.
“Hey Dad,” I said as I answered.
“Hey,” he said. “We’re meeting at the hospital. We’re on our way there now.”
“Darius and I will meet you there,” I told him. We went out and hopped into Darius’ Jeep, and I gave him step-by-step directions. He really was hopeless when it came to navigation.
“This will probably suck,” he said.
“Probably,” I agreed. “But I think it’s important.”
“I’m kind of surprised you give a shit,” he said.
“So am I,” I agreed. He probably wanted me to talk more, but I didn’t want to, and besides, he wasn’t exactly into sharing his internal thoughts. “You and Ella cool again?”
“Pretty much,” he said. He certainly made my point about him not sharing his internal thoughts. We got to the hospital, and I had to call Dad to come find us and take us to the conference room.
“Hey there!” he said, and gave Darius and me big hugs. He was pretending to be happy, but he wasn’t. “Did you have a good weekend?” he asked me.
“Yeah,” I said simply. I was focused on the task at hand, and not really in the mood to chat. We walked into a conference room and found Robbie and JJ already there, seated on one side of the table. Darius and I sat across from them, making this a pretty confrontational setting. Dad sat at one head of the table, while the doctor sat at the opposite head.
“You requested to be involved in care meetings for your mother,” Robbie said to me coldly.
“We both did,” Darius said. That surprised Robbie a bit, since he’d obviously played this out in his mind as a he vs. me conflict. It was much broader than that. “It’s the right way to do it.”
“The right way to do it is to have people who care about her making the decisions,” JJ said.
“You saying I don’t care about her?” Darius challenged in a threatening way.
“I didn’t say that,” JJ said, and looked at me. I ignored him.
“We don’t usually hold these meetings on Sunday,” Doctor Madison said. This guy was clearly unused to adjusting his schedule for anyone.
“Thank you for accommodating us,” Robbie said politely.
“I’ll want to establish some basic rules about communication and meetings if we’re going to go forward,” the doctor said, and gave me a dirty look.
“If we go forward,” I said, using his words.
“That’s my decision,” Robbie said loudly.
“I think it’s actually our decision,” I said, gesturing to include all of us. “Otherwise, this is a waste of time.”
“Doctor,” Dad said, intervening, “Can you give us an update?”
“Ms Graves appears to have bi-polar disorder. That is the diagnosis we’re currently working with.”
“What does that mean?” Darius asked.
“People with bi-polar disorder generally have periods of mania, where they have heightened activity and awareness, and periods of depression. I believe that is the case with Ms Graves,” he said.
“I don’t remember her having that before,” Dad said. “Wouldn’t we have seen signs of that?”
“Not necessarily,” the doctor said. “There are three basic contributors to bi-polar disorder. The first is a genetic pre-disposition. We’ve done a family history, and found some instances of what we think may be bi-polar disorder in her ancestors, but there isn’t a strong history of such ailments.”
“Good news for you,” Darius said to me, grinning slightly.
“And Maddy,” I agreed.
The doctor looked at us, as if irritated that we’d interrupted him. “The second factor is physiological. Stressful events can sometimes spark a brain imbalance, which can result in bi-polar disorder.”
“So her pregnancy could have done that?” I asked.
“That’s a possibility,” he said. “We don’t know exactly what could have triggered it.”
“Or who,” JJ said, glaring at me.
“The other factor is environmental. This tends to be most common in cases where there have been child-abuse issues, or PTSD.”
“PTSD?” Darius asked.
“Post-traumatic Stress Disorder,” the doctor said.
“So you’re saying that this could have been lurking in her brain like a genetic time bomb, and when she got super-stressed, it released this disease?” I asked.
“It doesn’t quite work that way,” the doctor said with a patronizing air, “but that’s a good way to try and understand it.” With that, he finally irritated me enough to show it.
“If there’s another way to explain it, then, go for it,” I said. “I’ll try to wrap my simple mind around it.”
“I’ll give you some literature,” he said in an unpleasant way.
“So what do we do to treat her?” Darius asked.
“We tried to treat her using drugs, but they weren’t successful. The last time we treated her, we had the same problem, so we tried some low-dose shock therapy. It’s known as ECT. That was effective, but the effects were short-lived.”
“That’s because of what you did to her in Norway,” JJ said to me in his nastiest tone. “Just when she gets out and starts doing better, you mess her up again. You did it in Norway, and you did it over Thanksgiving.”
“I didn’t even see her over Thanksgiving,” I said to him. “You did.”
“In any event, we are back to square one,” the doctor said.
“So what’s your plan?” I demanded.
“We’ve tried to stabilize her using drug therapy this week, but it hasn’t been effective. We want to do another low-level ECT treatment, and then work with the medications she’s taking to get her moods to an even level, or as even as we can.”
“That’s it?” I asked. “That’s the whole plan?”
“If you’re just going to be critical, that’s unproductive, and we don’t need you here,” Robbie said to me.
“I’m going to be critical. You should be critical,” I said to him. “You’re her guardian, as of this point, and that’s your job.”
“I don’t need you telling me what I’m supposed to do,” he said loudly.
“I think you do. I think you’ve botched this up completely. That’s going to change. We can work to do it together, or we can do it through the courts. It’s your call.”
“It seems there are significant environmental effects that impact Ms Graves’ life,” the doctor said, being catty.
“Yet you didn’t factor that in at all,” I said, turning on him. “You just want to zap her brain, stuff her full of drugs, and send her on her way.”
“I’m a psychiatrist, not a psychologist,” he said, with fire in his eyes.
“Who’s her psychologist?” I asked.
“We’re working to replace the person she was working with,” Robbie said.
“What happened? Who was this other person, and why isn’t he or she working with her anymore?” I demanded.
“Dr. Kraft did not feel that Ms Graves could effectively function in her current environment,” the doctor said.
“You fired him because he didn’t agree with you?” I asked.
“I didn’t fire him,” the doctor said.
“You did?” I asked Robbie. “You fired him?”
“We have to address her problems as a team. He wasn’t on board with the plan,” Robbie said. I could tell he was unsure of himself.
“What a crock of shit,” Darius said. “We’re only a ‘team’ now, because Will sued you demanding that you include all of us. What you mean is that this guy thought you guys were full of shit, so you fired him.” We sat there, all of us pissed off, saying nothing until we cooled down a bit.
“When did you fire Dr. Kraft?” I asked.
Robbie was going to argue with me about whether he was ‘fired’ or not, I could just tell, but he opted not to. “On Monday.”
“What prompted you to do that?” I asked.
“I just told you. We didn’t agree on the path for your mother’s recovery.”
“What did he recommend?” I demanded. I was like an inquisitor, determined to drill down and get the truth.
“I’m not sure what difference it makes, since we didn’t take that course of action,” the doctor said.
“It makes a lot of difference. I want to know what he said.”
“So do I,” Darius insisted.
Robbie sighed. “Do you have her file, with his recommendations?” he asked the doctor. The doctor flipped open a file, went through some papers in a maddeningly slow way, and pulled out a multi-page document. He handed it to Robbie.
“Can I see it?” I asked. He seemed reluctant to give it to me.
“I’ll read it,” Dad said, and Robbie handed him the document. Dad scanned it, paused to give Robbie a dirty look, and then addressed the rest of us. “After she melted down on Thanksgiving, he made the following recommendations. First that she only visit with one family member at a time.”
“That is to help her maintain her focus, and to avoid over stimulating her,” the doctor said.
“Second, that family members pledge that in their conversations with her they will only discuss issues relevant to them, and will not mention, by name or implication, other family members.”
“No wonder you didn’t like that,” I said to JJ.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That’s the clause that says you can’t be a tattle-tale anymore,” I said, really pissing him off.
“Three,” Dad continued, to keep us from fighting, “we should encourage visits from all of her children, but only if those visits seem to be of benefit to her.”
“And that’s because you didn’t come see her,” JJ spat.
“Four, that when she gets out, she should be restricted from participating in activities pertaining to the athletic endeavors of her children, until such time that she can do so in a healthy way.”
“That means figure skating,” I said to JJ.
“And finally, that when she is discharged, she should find a living environment where her stress levels are reduced. If possible, a supervised environment away from her current home would be preferable.” Holy shit. The psychologist thought we were all so fucked up, her only hope was to escape from us.
We sat there, saying nothing for a minute, just digesting his recommendations. “What’s wrong with that?” Darius asked. “That sounds pretty smart, if you ask me.”
“No one asked you,” JJ said.
“And now you know why no one asked you,” I said to Darius. I turned to Robbie. “Answer his question. What’s wrong with that proposal?”
“It’s not what she would want,” he said. “She’ll want to see us when she can, and she’ll want to hear how things are going in our lives, and when she gets out, she’ll want to be around her family.”
“It may not be what she wants, but it’s what she needs,” I said. “What do you think?” I asked the doctor.
“I think it is very radical, and unnecessary,” he said.
“And what about you?” I asked Dad, putting him on the spot.
“I agree with the doctor,” JJ said, nodding to the doctor in the room.
“He didn’t ask you, he asked Dad,” Darius said. “No one cares what you think.”
“That’s not true. She cares,” JJ insisted, referring to Mom. He was almost desperate at this point, and if he weren’t being such a little bitch, I would have felt sorry for him. Dr. Kraft’s recommendations would essentially take Mom away from him, at least temporarily. But their twisted relationship was part of her problem, so that actually made sense.
“What do you think?” I asked Dad again.
“I think that Dr. Kraft’s plan was a good blueprint on how to proceed,” he said.
“Why didn’t you say so?” Robbie demanded.
“Why didn’t you give me a copy of this letter?” Dad asked him.
“I told you what it said,” he noted.
“No, you didn’t. You said that he wanted her to move away and live by herself. That’s a lot different from this,” Dad said, shaking the letter at him.
“Isn’t that what he’s saying?” Robbie asked.
“That’s only the last point,” I said, jumping in before those two really got into a fight. “There were five points. That’s point five.”
“It’s a pretty important point,” Robbie said. “I agree with Doctor Madison. I thought it was radical and unnecessary.”
There was a water cooler in the room, so I got up and grabbed a plastic cup and filled it with cold water, watching the air bubbles in the big jug as I did. I went back, sat down, and took a drink. “So what do we do now? The purpose of this meeting is to talk about her care. We talked about it. Now what?”
“The plan is to go ahead with another round of ECT to stabilize her,” Robbie said.
“That’s not what I meant,” I said firmly. “Dr. Kraft’s plan gave us an outline to work with after she’s stabilized. Zapping her brain is a waste of time if we don’t have a plan.”
“That’s not how this works,” Doctor Madison objected. “When we get her stabilized, we can then get input from her as to how she wants to proceed.”
I shook my head. “It won’t work. She won’t be there yet. She won’t have the ability to see the pitfalls. You’re damning her to keep repeating this cycle, over and over again.”
“That’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think?” the doctor asked.
“No, I don’t. So what’s our plan?” I asked again, looking around the table.
“I told you,” Robbie said, “that we’re going ahead with the ECT treatment, and then we’ll work through these issues as soon as we find a new psychologist.”
“I think we should agree to Dr. Kraft’s proposal, ask him to resume his care of Mom, and then go ahead with the ECT treatment,” I said.
“I agree,” Darius said.
“This isn’t a democracy. It’s my decision,” Robbie insisted.
“Then this meeting is nothing more than a memo telling us what you’re going to do,” I said.
“Being involved doesn’t mean you get to make all the decisions,” Robbie said. “It means you get input.”
“There are five people in this room that have the right to state an opinion. If it was just me, and I was the only one objecting, you may have a point. But I’m not. Three of us have said Dr. Kraft’s plan made sense. That’s a majority.”
“And as I said,” Robbie noted stubbornly. “This isn’t a democracy. I want her stabilized so we can get her input on this.”
I looked at him, waiting for him to get it, but it didn’t seem to be happening. Robbie could be like that. He could be slow to pick up on things at times, especially in emotional situations like this. But with JJ there propping him up, he must feel pretty validated. “I see,” I finally said.
“This is bullshit,” Darius said. “I have lost so much respect for you today, it’s unbelievable,” he said to Robbie.
“Darius…” Robbie began, but Darius folded his arms in a gesture that totally shut him down.
“This is so easy for you,” JJ said to me. “You want us to agree to this, because it basically pulls her completely out of my life. You don’t give a shit, because she’s not part of your life anyway. But she’s important to me. If we do what Dr. Kraft wants, I lose Mom. Or was that your plan? Is that what you were trying to do?”
I could actually see his point, and why he was so upset about this. “JJ, it’s not about you losing Mom. It’s about all of us losing Mom. If we don’t do this, if we don’t back off and give her room to get better, we’re all going to lose her.”
“How are we going to lose her?” JJ demanded.
“Doctor Madison, what’s the suicide rate for people with chronic bi-polar disorder?” I asked.
“Approximately one out of three people with bipolar disorder report past suicide attempts. The average suicide rate for people with bi-polar disorder is 10 to 20 times that of the general population,” he said factually.
“That’s how,” I said to JJ.
“She’s not going to kill herself,” he insisted. No one argued with him, because his assertion was baseless. No one said anything for two minutes, but it seemed like two hours.
“We had planned to start ECT in the morning,” Doctor Madison prompted. “Is that still the plan?”
“I’ll think about it,” Robbie said.
“No,” I argued. “We’re here, dealing with this as a group. We’re going to resolve this, and how we handle this, right now while we’re all here.”
“You don’t dictate orders to me!” Robbie shouted.
“Doctor Madison, when I leave here, I’m going to call my attorney. He has already served Mr. Hayes with papers questioning his suitability to serve as guardian. I recommend that you wait to start that treatment until this issue is resolved in court.” He stared at me contemptuously, this kid who spouted out legal language like he was 25. Maybe Wade was right. Maybe I did act that way.
“You can hire lawyers all you want,” Robbie said. “Just because you sue someone, doesn’t mean you win.”
“All of you knock it off!” Darius yelled. I recognized that tone. It was the same one he’d used when JJ and I pissed him off, and he was done putting up with our shit. It was the tone he used when he was taking charge. “Here’s what I think should happen. I think that from now on, any decisions about Mom should be made by the five of us. Majority rules.” He stared hard at Robbie. “All in favor?”
“Aye,” I said.
“That’s bullshit,” JJ said.
“Aye,” Dad said.
“You agree with that?” Robbie challenged him.
“I do. We can’t deal with this as a team, or a family, unless we do it fairly. And that means we do it democratically.”
“So that’s three yes votes, one no vote, and one…?” Darius asked Robbie.
“Fine,” Robbie agreed reluctantly. I grabbed a pad of paper and a pen and frantically started taking notes, acting as a secretary.
“Next issue,” Darius said. “I move that we hire this Dr. Kraft to come back and work with us, even if you don’t like him,” he said to Dr. Madison, “and we follow the rules that he laid out here.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like him,” Doctor Madison objected. “I said I thought his recommendation was radical and unnecessary.”
“Whatever,” Darius said dismissively, which pissed the doctor off worse than anything I’d said to him. “All in favor?” Dad, Darius, and I raised our hands. “Opposed?” JJ raised his hand. “Three in favor, one opposed, and one abstention,” he said.
“Guess you like your business law class,” I joked.
“The only one I’m doing well in,” he said, making me chuckle. “Next motion. Anyone who breaks the guidelines Dr. Kraft set out is banned from seeing Mom for a month, or longer if this committee thinks it’s important.” That passed by the same margin, with JJ voting no and Robbie abstaining.
“Next, I move that since we resolved those issues, we let Dr. Madison start the ECT treatment tomorrow.” We all agreed to that one. “Then I think we’re done here,” Darius pronounced.
“I want to see Mom while we’re here,” JJ insisted.
“You can each have ten minutes,” Dr. Madison said as he got up to leave. The rest of us stayed in the conference room, while JJ went off to see Mom first.
“You got what you wanted, as usual,” Robbie said to me petulantly.
“It was the right thing to do,” I said. He ignored me.
“I’ll be back,” Robbie said, and left the room. JJ came back fifteen minutes later and Darius went back to see Mom.
“How was she?” I asked him. He ignored me. Another fifteen minutes passed, and Darius came back, only he was fuming.
“What did you tell her?” he demanded of JJ. He ignored Darius, until Darius walked up to him, grabbed his collar, and slammed him up against the wall. Dad and I jumped up and pulled him off of JJ. Robbie chose that minute to re-enter the room.
“What are you doing?” he demanded, yelling at Darius.
“What did you tell her?” Darius asked JJ again. “She said that you told her that Will set it up so you couldn’t see her, and that you couldn’t live with her when she got out.”
“She deserves to know what’s happening to her,” JJ said.
“You broke the rules,” Darius said. “You broke the guidelines.”
“I didn’t agree to them in the first place,” he said smugly.
“It doesn’t work that way,” I argued. “When we come to a conclusion, even if you don’t agree, then you have to follow the rule.”
“No I don’t,” he said.
“Fine,” Darius said. “Now do you see why we have to have this agreement in place?” he asked Robbie. “Now do you get it?” Robbie said nothing.
“So now you’re banned from seeing her for thirty days,” I said to JJ.
“No,” Robbie said.
“What do you mean?” Darius demanded. “That’s the rule.”
“I think that’s a little harsh,” Robbie said.
Dad had been sitting on the sidelines, more or less, but he had finally had enough. “No, it’s not harsh. It’s fair. It’s what we all agreed to.”
“Give him another chance. He’ll do better next time,” Robbie said.
“He can have another chance. In thirty days,” I said firmly. “And if he agrees to follow the rules.”
“Let’s see how she does,” Robbie said, stalling for time.
“With you in charge, this is hopeless,” I said, shaking my head. “I’ll see you in court.” I turned and walked out, with Darius and Dad following along. We walked out to Darius’ Jeep. “You should let Dad drive,” I said to Darius quietly. He was about to argue, but changed his mind. He knew as well as I did that Dad was a control freak, and he’d need to drive, especially now.
“Here,” he said, handing the keys to Dad. “I get lost easy.”
Dad smiled at him and got behind the wheel. I sat in back, while Darius sat in front. “Nice car,” Dad said as he drove off. “I don’t think I’ve ever driven it before.”
“I like it,” Darius said.
“I guess I’m involved in this now,” Dad said to me. “I’d like to talk to your lawyer, if you’re OK with that.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “We all seem to be on the same page. We had a good framework set up and everything.”
“He can be so fucking stubborn sometimes,” Dad said, referring to Robbie.
“Maybe you can make him see reason,” Darius said.
“I don’t think so. Not this time. He and JJ have been frenzy feeding on this thing.”
“He’d listen to JJ before he’d listen to you?” I asked, surprised.
“It’s not about listening,” he said. “They both think they have your mother’s best interests at heart and the rest of us don’t. They think they’re fighting for what she wants.”
“I went to see Maddy this morning. Funny how they don’t seem to think of her at all,” I said sarcastically. We all ignored the fact that Darius and Dad hadn’t really thought about her either.
“They think that what is best for your mother is what is best for Maddy,” Dad said. In reality, Maddy wasn’t even on anyone’s radar screen. I felt sorry for her, being in this situation, with no one to watch out for her.
“What about Tiffany?” I asked. “Hasn’t anyone asked her opinion?”
“They’re not together anymore,” Dad said. “In Robbie’s mind, and in JJ’s mind, Tiffany dumped her when she was down, and that’s a betrayal.”
“That’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve heard,” Darius said. We drove on in silence for a bit, digesting what had happened.
“So what’s your plan?” Dad asked us.
“I’m going to stop in and see Ella, and then head back to campus,” Darius said.
“So you two worked things out?” Dad asked, in his typical prying way. Darius gave him a dirty look.
“I’ve got to fly back to LA in time to get situated,” I said quickly, so Darius didn’t have to answer him.
“You’re staying at the Hotel Bel Air?” Dad asked, more to confirm that was my plan.
“Yeah.” I remembered that we were supposed to have dinner tonight. “What’s your plan?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I may stay up here for a few days, especially if we need to go to court over this.”
“Will you and Pop be OK?” Darius asked. I thought it was pretty funny that he asked Dad that, when he was so intent on keeping his own personal life out of the conversation.