She’s killing herself and we are powerless to stop her. We try, of course, but she won’t let us.

         Her death comes about by a series of small cuts: slices of Dewars scotch is her preferred blade. Other weapons, when she is feeling less lethal, are tequila wrapped in a margarita sheath and vodka in a Collins holster.

         They say families are like a mobile - those airy ornaments that suspend from the ceiling, rotated by unseen breezes. Sometimes we made them in school out of coat hangers. The individual pieces of the mobile circle around others at various times, but sometimes there is a heavy piece around which all others are forced to rotate; driven by the pull of gravity of that larger, heavier shape; the whole mobile forced into a delicate dance of discontent. This is our family’s dance when she is wielding her weapons.

         We ask her to come join us at the lake. We want her to be with us as we know she lives alone now; her daughters are on the other side of the continent, trying to keep their own mobiles in balance. We enjoy the friendly banter while we sit on the deck gazing at the endless water; the neighborhood gossip while we boil the salt potatoes and grill the local fare. We’re going organic this year and enjoying the thoughts of healthier farm animals and benefitting local family businesses. We enjoy a Canadian beer that we don’t drink any other place. We willingly pitch in with whatever needs to be done, just glad to be together and to be at our favorite spot in the world.

         But she comes armed to the teeth. Her Samurai of sarcasm strapped to her waist, her pills of possessiveness in her pocket, her guns of paranoia at the ready, and her favorite serving of liquid hemlock wrapped in an evil brown bag of ammo and stashed in her room: the lethal amber fluid ready to replenish her bullets of resentfulness and unhappiness. This is her contribution to our mobile.

         We all attempt to dance and balance around her. To build her up and cajole; steer her away from the negative. Sometimes it works a little. She might laugh some and tell a story or two. Give us a glimpse of the fun and smart sister, daughter, mother and friend we all know are there. But it never lasts for long. There are too many landmines; too many triggers. A chuckle at our dog romping in the yard and her paranoia takes over. How she can’t bring her dog because we want her to put it down. We try to argue with her, but she is completely irrational. She recalls things in an extremely harsh light, focuses on the negative and refuses to see the humor in reflection. Every childhood drama is dredged up as a wicked plot against her that still continues in her hemlock-addled mind.

         She saves the lightest triggers and the biggest rounds for her mother. The slightest comment warrants an outburst justified only in her illogical mind. That’s what’s missing now. Logic. No one can reason with her. We talk for hours afterward trying to understand her perspective, her point, and we can’t. We finally have gotten to where we just remind ourselves that we can’t reason with her, and we need to stop trying to make sense out of a senseless mind. We ourselves alternate between delusion and acceptance. “She was good today,” we tell ourselves. “Maybe she’s getting a handle on things.” But most of the time we know that is a dream. We are only vaguely aware of how we cringe when she enters the room, how we creep quietly into the cottage hoping she won’t hear us and turn her sights our way. We feel guilty that we play witness to the endless barrage of fire she lobs on her mother. We slink away in shame that we weren’t more willing to step in and deflect the bullets, to take one for grandma; but we each hunker down in our bunkers, hoping to avoid the deadly yellow gas that emanates from this member of our mobile.

         We search Alcoholics Anonymous websites and Betty Ford Clinic articles on interventions, and we sigh. No one feels like an intervention will have even a remote chance of working. No more so than the Predator would turn over his weapons once surrounded. No, she would rather activate the suicidal nuclear weapon programmed into her DNA. We grasp at articles on alcoholism and its link to insomnia. She, too, has trouble sleeping. Maybe she just needs some sleep meds and it will take away the desire for her poisons. We keep thinking, “She’ll change once she hits rock bottom.” But where is that bottom? We are to the point that family members are refusing to show up if she is going to be present. Neighbors purposely avoid walking by the cottage if they see her car in order to avoid a potential barrage of hateful words and comments. Her old high school friends who come up for a weekend vow they’ll never come back.

         What does she do all day? Her Facebook page is active only with her on-line game progress. There are no comments of contentment or musings about her day. If we see a phone call coming from her on our caller ID, we rarely answer it, and then only if it is early in the day. We steel ourselves for the long hateful pauses, the recriminations, the repeated spewing of the latest injustice against her. You never feel good when you hang up after talking with her – just a heavy relief. A pallor of regret hangs over your day after the interaction. Regret for what could be: a comfortable retirement at a relatively young age, a beautiful house paid for, two healthy daughters, money in the bank, a wonderful artistic talent – all these things are reality, but her mind only lingers on the lack. The lack of respect, the lack of inclusion – and this is her reality that she chooses to manifest while she sips her toxic potion and smokes her chaser of Marlboros. All day long.

         So we pray. And we hope. But we know we can’t continue like this. To continue to include her toxicity in our lives. Life is too short we say. So we alternate between hope and resignation. Between inclusion and avoidance. We know that only SHE can choose to free herself from her poisonous path and we pray that she is still capable of doing so. And we slowly swing in our suspended family mobile; grasping, praying, and hoping for freedom from its misalignment.

Nancy Deming-May is a systems engineer working for a defense contractor in southeastern Virginia. In her spare time she fosters animals, rides a Harley, lifts weights and writes. She is happily married and enjoys her blended family.

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