Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Other Niece

At first glance, it was the true American Dream.

My sister and brother in law had two kids, both girls. They were financially stable and my sister was a stay-at-home mom. They took family vacations every year, spent time with the extended family, and by all accounts...things should have been perfect.

But they weren't.

The firstborn was a plucky, gregarious tow-head with a gaggle of friends and not much common sense.

Things started really going south in high school. It began with some of the typical pranks like coming home late and not calling, refusing to sit with the family at dinner time, and telling her mom that she "hated her."

Denise and Bob did everything they could to reel her in. They encouraged her to try sports, invite friends over to the house and go on vacations with the family. For the most part, she refused. She spent hours out of the home and complained about her "terrible life." Truly, this kid have every opportunity handed to her and she didn't have the ability to accept it or take advantage of it.

This Girl was born to compete in track and field...and for two years she did that and won Accolades. Her coach was serious when he offered to help her get to the Olympics. But in her junior year she quit cold turkey...with no explanation.

It was about this time that This Girl really started acting out. She'd sneak out of the house at night and ditch school. Her teachers kicked her out of class for being disrespectful and disruptive. She began to fail her classes.

Denise took This Girl to a therapist, and she was prescribed anti-depressants. Both she and the entire family underwent counseling...which invariably involved tears and screaming and fighting and harsh accusations. The therapy didn't help. Things continued to get worse.

Drugs. Alcohol. Police stations. Lies were dealt out to anyone and everyone who cared enough to try to help. We all began to wonder, "Who the hell is this kid?" Everything was spinning out of control.

Denise and Bob then tried Tough Love. They emptied her room of everything except two sets of clothes, the bed, a nightstand and a mirror.

This Girl didn't care. Losing her pictures, posters, clothing, music, movies and jewelry had Zero Impact. The horrible behaviour not only continued...it escalated. To this day, my sister hasn't told me the worst of what happened. Somehow, she feels that all of this is her fault.

Ultimately, things crescendoed and This Girl was kicked out of high school without graduating. On the day that it happened, she was 18 and Denise and Bob finally said, "Enough." Denise packed up This Girl's belongings and placed them on the front porch. The locks to the doors were changed and This Girl was told that she was being Cut Loose. As an adult, she could fend for herself.

This kid was wallowing in failure, so her ability to fend for herself was Nill. She moved in with empathetic friends until they either got tired of her or she put the entire family at risk. She slept in the park and was arrested. She moved to LA and worked in a strip bar. She tried to get other jobs, but she kept getting into fights with her bosses. Clearly, This Girl has a problem with authority figures. Once, she punched her boss in the face. Other bad choices? Wow. Where does one start?

(Somehow) obtained credit and charged $20,000+. Which she couldn't repay.

Crashed two cars and one motorcycle. (None of them belonged to her.)

Driver's license is suspended. Insurance won't cover her.

Addicted to Meth, frequently drunk. Her skin is grey, she's covered in acne and her eyes are vacant.

Pregnancy followed...and she and didn't tell anyone until her younger sister ran into her on the street. Younger Sister was traumatized by having to break the news to her parents, and Denise was so distraught, she spent two weeks in bed. She knew, deep down in her soul what the outcome of this would be.

This Girl didn't spend two weeks with the baby. She refused to breast feed him...and started partying just a few days after giving birth.

She left him with Denise to raise...and she never once looked back.

This Girl is 26 years old and still living a terrible, unstable party life. We're not sure how she's supporting herself...it's probably best that we don't know. She knocks on Denise's front door from time to time asking for food or money. She'll typically fill up a few bags of groceries from the pantry, but she'll walk away empty-handed when it comes to the cash.

To this day, my sister doesn't know what they could have done differently. I truly wish there was a One Size Fits All solution for all parents going through this trauma. My personal fall-back position would be to send the kid to a military or boarding school. Though, I'm pretty sure that this is easier said then done.

Denise and Bob followed all of the experts' advice, and they still ended up with a self-destructive, belligerent daughter who blames all of her woes on the family, her little sister...everyone but herself. This Girl has zero self-awareness and cannot understand the consequences of her choices. It's as though her brain just stopped growing somewhere around 9th grade.

And to add even more strangeness to this situation...Denise's youngest daughter is a loving, intelligent, warm and funny kid. Graduated with Honors from UC Santa Barbara. Currently studying pre-law in San Diego. Calls her parents several times a day...sometimes just to say, "I love you." This kid is truly beyond amazing. She even hand-writes thank you notes without being reminded.

So...I've come to the conclusion that that there is No Answer....which doesn't help others who are in this situation. Ultimately, kids have to either pull themselves out or ask for help. My niece isn't able to do either. And we are all so very sad to have lost her to such a dark, scary existence that she faces every day...by herself.