Oh Cousin, My Cousin
this in my head countless times over the past fifteen years. I've always put it off. Too revealing, maybe, or too self-pitying
were my own reasons for not writing it.
Too "angry", would be the conclusion of some others. I decided to commit it to Microsoft Word now
for reasons that will become apparent.
In the very
late 90s I was watching a news magazine show on TV; I forget which one. Among the features that night was an expose
on disability fraud. Among the cases
they highlighted was a woman diagnosed with major depression; she had gotten
"full disability" — whatever that entails — and retired. This ruling annoyed the loyyers for the
disability insurance carrier of the woman's employer. So they spent an ungodly amount of money hiring
investigators to follow this woman around with cameras documenting everything
One night the woman and her husband went to a comedy club near them, paid the
two drink minimum to get in, sat down, watched a few comedians, laughed when
appropriate, and didn't notice the hidden camera at the table in front of them,
pointed backwards, and recording every smile, every chuckle, and every belly
laugh this woman dispensed. That was
all the ammunition the loyyers needed to prove fraud.
It stands to reason. Right? If she had depression, what business does she
have laughing? If you can laugh you can't be depressed. Depression means crying. Ergo: fraud.
They even showed the woman laughing.
The woman's disability was taken away, she was charged with criminal fraud,
convicted, sentenced to prison and forced to reimburse all her disability
income for the years she'd received it.
This was hailed by the hosts of the TV news magazine on how the system
works to prevent fraud like hers.
I was livid.
I'd been diagnosed with depression myself just a year or so before. Yet I laugh.
I've always laughed and, looking back, I'd pretty much always had
depression. What does laughing have to
do with having depression?
Nothing. It's irrelevant.
I was diagnosed with depression after one of several conferences with my
divorce loyyer in 1998 and 1999. One day
out of the blue, she said, "Y'know, I'm not an expert, but I grew up with
a psychiatrist in the family. Have you
ever spoken to a doctor to see if you're depressive?" I cracked a joke that I thought was quite
funny; she didn't laugh. I made an
appointment with a doctor and while sitting there talking with him — between
making jokes and having my voice crack in near tears — he informed me that yes,
indeed, I displayed the characteristics of a depressive during an episode.
And why not? I had endured five-plus
years of quasi-marriage by that time to a woman — of sorts — who didn't want a
husband so much as she needed a wholly-owned subsidiary which could improve the
bottom-line for the parent company without requiring too much in the way of capital
infusion … time, attention, affection, or anything else that would qualify as
marital capital. That wife was [and
still is] a corporate climber; a bossy, imperious, self-important manipulator
of others for self-gratification and self-congratulation. My duty was to do what I was told without
being told, to make her ten-hour days possible by cooking, cleaning, doing the
yardwork, and taking care of the kids — two of ours at that point, plus one of
my own from a prior marriage. …plus
having my own full time job with which to pay for our home and family.
When I injured my back the summer after our first daughter was born and
couldn't stand, let alone sit, lay or do anything else the Parent Company required
I do to remain a viable merger not needing to be spun off, she dropped all
pretense to being an actual wife. The Corporate CEO took me to the various
doctors I needed to see, and while we were actually in the presence of the
neurosurgeon, or neurologist, or MRI tech, she was outwardly supportive and
asked most of the right questions. But
when we were in the car on the way to the doctor, or on the way home afterward,
she let it be known in no uncertain terms that I was simply being selfish for
demanding her time and attention from really important matters. The Parent Company had better things to do
than find out why her personal acquisition had no feeling at all in his right
leg unless it was screaming, tearing pain from mid-butt cheek down the back of
the leg to the pinky toe. What a
self-centered brat I was being!
I could not
pick up my own children: I couldn't bend, I couldn't lift, if I tried either I'd
pass out from pain. Granted the 11 year
old was beyond routine picking-up age, but the two year old and the infant were
not; I liked holding my children. Walking
up or down stairs was torture. Driving
to and from work took forty minutes each way.
After twenty, I couldn't feel my foot on the gas pedal. I'd have driven left-footed except I had a
stick shift and needed to clutch; my driving became erratic. By the time I got to work I'd have to stagger
four blocks into the building and find an empty conference room with a table I
could lay on, flat, for a half hour. No
position was comfortable, and I couldn't sit at my desk without getting up and
walking for twenty minutes every hour. And
I couldn't continue to walk without passing out. So then I'd lay flat some more.
When the doctors finally convinced the insurance company that conservative
treatment was making me an invalid and I got my surgery scheduled, could the
Home Office manage to take me to the hospital?
Sure, she could do that. Could
she stick around and wait for me to come out of surgery? No … she had to get to work.
Her own mother bawled her out for treating me like this; my mother-in-law had
come over early one Saturday to watch the kids so my wife could spend the day
with me. This was unacceptable to my wife. She preferred to spend time with her kids,
and I could hear them from the next room having their argument. "Your husband needs you!"
"Mom, I do. Not. Care."
My oldest son was 11 at the time. He'd
moved in with us earlier that summer.
When he visited for a few weeks at a time — when he was younger — my
wife thought he was fine. But when he
was a permanent fixture, and getting to the age where teen-aged defiance and
pouting began to show up, the wife started to let me know how horrible a person
my son was. I can't count the number of
times I would get screamed at in the kitchen for some trivial thing my son had
done. He was "irresponsible",
I would be told at the top of the Home Office's lungs. He was a "brat" would be shouted so
loud the plates in the cupboard would ring.
How can any child be so "stupid", would echo down the
hall. "I don't trust that boy!! It's that
son was upstairs in his room, listening to this — hell, the neighbors were
listening to this and they were a quarter mile away — and trying to keep the
2-year old occupied and do his homework while his step-mother lived up to the
image that step-mothers have gotten from barbaric nursery rhymes. My oldest child quickly began to hate his
step-mother. And I hated myself for
bringing him into a place where he was berated for doing nothing worse than
being eleven years old.
A few days
after my surgery I developed a major infection with a dangerously high fever. I hit 104.
I was fading in and out of awareness, having odd hallucinations, and
only briefly knew that I needed to do something. I told my son to go have his step-mother call
the doctor; she did. The nurse at the other
end of the answering service said to get to the emergency room immediately;
post-op infections can be fatal.
The CEO didn't have time to take me; she'd called the doctor and thought that
was enough effort on her part. I could
call an ambulance or drive myself, she told my son to tell me. She was busy with her "babies".
period of lucidity I told my son to fill the bath tub with cold water and to
help me into it. I broke the fever the
18th century way.
Nothing improved after I got my mobility back.
Oh, sure, I could stand long enough to cook dinner for Her Highness to
eat when she deigned to come home. I
could clear the decks for her to devote all her time not spent at the office to
her "babies". But I was still
a wholly-owned subsidiary, whose input into corporate activities was unnecessary.
That winter we got snowed in. Or out,
depending on where you were as the snow arrived. I was snowed in, the Home Office was snowed
out. She drove her company car into a
snow bank at the end of the driveway — the far
end. Three hundred feet from the
garage. I was required to shovel her
out. And the "stupid,
irresponsible, untrustworthy brat" could help. For two days I shoveled snow — my back was
healed, right? My son helped …
some. He was 12. He got bored and whiny. That's what 12-year olds do. I sent him inside. One of us might as well be warm.
When I came in about midnight after having cleared her car and shoveling about
half the 300-foot long driveway, I mentioned that I was sore and I held my
lower back. I was informed that, "…if
you hurt your back again I'm fucking divorcing you." At least it wasn't screamed at me. She hissed it.
wrong with me?
wife had left me for another man that she'd been dating for, apparently,
several months. I got home from work one
day to see bags packed and my son excitedly waiting to go "on a trip". All that was missing was the car; the car I used
to drive to and from work. Now that I
was home from work she could leave. See
The current wife considered me no different than a merger and acquisition
target. As long as I could benefit her
bottom line then I was a good investment; if I had needs of my own, be they
medical, emotional or otherwise, then I was a hindrance and expendable. I could be spun-off like that, mister, or
simply liquidated for the tax deduction.
What a pathetic person I must be to so consistently pick women who do such
things to me. On more than one occasion
I would be finishing dinner on the stove when the Parent Company would arrive
home from work. She'd walk right past me
without acknowledging my presence despite me greeting her, and she'd run to her
"babies". On these occasions,
when being irrelevant to my own wife got to be too much, I would start crying
into the stew. On many of these
occasions she would then demand, "…and what's the matter with you!" After briefly relating how I felt rather
excluded, as if I were nothing but a servant, she would often conclude,
"You're a weak, weak man."
For a period
of about a year and a half after my surgery, when I was home from work and the
young kids were either napping, with their older brother, or still at day care, I would take the
sharpest knife we had up to the bathroom and get into the bathtub with it. I'd do this every few weeks in spells, sometimes
a few days in a row. I'd contemplate
whether it would be better to slice my wrist or my throat. I always sat in the bathtub for this, since
the Home Office would blame my 12-year old son for it like she did everything
else, and make him clean up the mess; I wanted to leave less of a mess for him,
not that he'd understand my thoughtfulness in the matter.
Obviously, I never finished the job, and I've sometimes regretted I didn't. It was around here that my divorce loyyer
suggested I see a doctor, who diagnosed the depression that was obvious to all …
who knew what they were looking for. And
looking back, I'd undergone serious bouts of depression in high school — my
other major suicidal period — and while enduring the mindless, brainless Air
Farce, and briefly [interestingly, only
briefly] while getting my first divorce.
I've just been a weak, weak man all my adult life. Prior to that I must have been a weak, weak
Yet, I've always had a sense of humor.
I've always been able to see the odd things that are laughable in the
world and relate them to others in ways that were, if not outright funny, at
least ironic enough to elicit a chuckle.
There's probably parts of this morose exposition that have caused a few
Dorothy Parker: majorly funny, and majorly depressive.
Robin Williams: lieutenant colonelly funny, and majorly depressive.
Humor, laughing, making others laugh, seeing funny in sad or grotesque or
horrible … nothing to do with depression.
There's evidence, in fact, that they're related; "positively
correlated", as if there's anything positive about depression.
I've told people for decades that Andy Williams was my uncle. Venus and Serena are my nieces. My current wife — I finally married a Cubs
fan — went with me several years ago to the Cubs convention and we stood in
line to get our picture taken with 70s Cubs star and Hall of Famer Billy
Williams. Standing there waiting for the
photographer to get everyone placed, I introduced myself by name and mentioned
"I tell everyone that you're my uncle." He looked up at me, his brown face quizzed my
pasty white one, then he chuckled and said, "I just might be." We're both minus most of our hair on top, so
it seems likely to me. Then the picture
was snapped and we left.
years I've told everyone that Robin Williams is my cousin. He's less than a decade older than me … hey!
it's plausible! Genetics don't matter as
much as some people think. He and I are
quite similar. Family runs deep. So deep as to be stuck in a depression.
I can easily
imagine why he wanted to kill himself; I've wanted the same thing many times
for myself. I can also easily imagine
what he would be thinking as he reflexively struggled to breathe with his belt
around his neck and before he lost consciousness for the last time; I've
imagined hundreds of times what I would think for those last few seconds of
consciousness as the bathtub filled with blood that my son would have to clean
up because it was all his fault, that irresponsible brat.
I do not envy Robin longing for death or the thoughts that came as it happened. I don't envy it because I've had enough of
both, and I don't need any more. Yet I have
plenty more, coming in floods when I deal with the self-righteous Home Office
who is, naturally, blameless for her treatment of those around her.
I don't know if depression is a justifiable cause for being considered
disabled; I'm not the right person to ask.
I know that most of the time I can function to a semblance of
"normal" and "effective", so that my work gets done, I eat regularly
and I can keep up my personal hygiene.
But I also know that sometimes I can't do my work, can't get out of bed,
eat only four meals in a week, and don't see the point in showering or brushing
my teeth. Is it a disability?
now the loyyers for the disability insurance company highlighted in the late
90's TV news magazine show for their excessive efforts to prove that fraud is
anything which costs them a payout, will rethink [if they even thought about it
in the first place] their position that you can't laugh if you're depressive.
Sure you can. Ask my cousin Robin. Laughing — genuine laughing — is easy. You just still want to kill yourself
afterwards, is all.
sometimes we do.