Crying wolf

My brother’s phone calls have continued during the past few days, including a call yesterday afternoon  from a passerby outside a Dunkin Donuts in Tallahassee, Florida who called on Joe’s behalf to say that he is desperate–broke, cold, and in need of immediate help–and a call around 3:30 a.m. this morning from Joe himself. In one his messages, it sounded like Joe had booked a bus ticket to Birmingham and looked forward to seeing us soon.

“I’m on my way, Sis!” he announced on my answering machine, detailing the places where the bus route would make connections. Some of those stops would take him to Louisiana en route to Birmingham, which didn’t seem a likely itinerary.

This morning, another left message reported different plans for the day. Something about heading to the batting cages of a baseball field and him not feeling a bit sorry for anything he’s supposedly done.

As I grappled with Joe’s onslaught of messages, I realized that I found myself caught up in two perspectives on my brother.

On the one hand, I think of Joe’s past as a master manipulator, someone who skillfully changes a story until the listener begins to question his or her understanding of the situation. This Joe, who’s been a presence in my life since I was about 5 years old, left me fed up and distrustful.

But the Joe who calls now, and who has reached out off and on since 2012 when he showed up on my doorstep the night before Thanksgiving exhibiting signs of a stroke, is genuinely, unmistakably mentally ill.

Celia was able to put into words what I couldn’t seem to explain to my husband.

“It’s kind of like the boy who cried wolf, Mom,” she said. “For a long time, Uncle Joe said he needed help but he really just needed to get his life together. Now, he really needs help, but nobody believes him anymore.”

She’s absolutely right.

I wish the answer to dealing with the situation could be summed up so succinctly.


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