CHAPTER FIVE – sibling love

CHAPTER FIVE – sibling love

My stepsister, and Nick’s other half-sister, went to visit him for his birthday in November 2011.

She phoned me immediately afterward to question the state of my mother, and the whole story of her alcohol and drug abuse came out. Carina was horrified and we decided to meet to discuss the next step. She was adamant that Nicholas needed to be removed from that home environment, and I was in full agreement. We met with a counsellor at SACS Junior School, Lindy Ackermann, who had been seeing Nicholas for a few years. We explained the full story, a lot of which she knew or had gathered from her sessions with Nick, and she was able to offer much needed guidance.

Nicholas was given a priority place in the Junior school boarding house for Grade 7 and the plan was to put my mother into long-term rehab this time.  She had never looked worse, and literally looked like a grey skeleton with some skin. She had now spent all her money, her only remaining assets were her house in Claremont and a Jeep. But she needed my help as she couldn’t afford to live. I went to see a social worker to discuss ways to get a court order to force her into rehab. We were successful and the order was that she would attend long term rehab, after which should she relapse she would automatically reactivate the court order.

I managed to persuade her to sign Power of Attorney documents, giving me power to sell her house while she was attending Harmony Clinic.  I was the only person who knew how to manage her most of the time, probably only because of being her daughter. But there was always a certain kind of way to talk to her depending on her mood/state, and I had already become an expert at reading people.  Sometimes I would have to pretend to be sweet, caring and loving when all I wanted to do was shake her or on occasion even wanted to slap her in the face in frustration! But there were many more times when I had to be strong and firm when all I wanted to do was break down, put my arms around her and tell her how much I loved her and needed her and that I would always love her. Love and support didn’t work though and now it was time for tough love.  But every time I manipulated her or lied to get her to do something it tore a piece of my soul. I felt like I was betraying her, but I had to do what was best for Nicholas. He was my number one priority now.

Nicholas blossomed in boarding school under the guidance of Mr Nathan Rockhill – who will always be one of my heroes. The change in Nicholas was remarkable. He had been so depressed before. Aggressive, quiet, temperamental and suffering from nightmares. Now he would walk out of school beaming, with stories of the mischief and activities they’d gotten up to during the week in boarding school.

My mom’s house was sold in April 2012, and the income immediately went into two Trusts Carina and I had set up.  There was one Trust which would cover Nick’s schooling, living and medical expenses until he was 21, and there was the Janet Trust which would provide my mother with a monthly income of R8 000 for approximately four years. The rest of her finances had been snorted up her nose.  She had been placed in long term treatment with Harmony Clinic in Hout Bay, followed by Secondary and Tertiary treatment.

Richard and I were given a miracle holiday in August – read more in the travel category.

Diary insert from 24 Sep 2012 – “This morning I woke up from a nightmare, and found myself wishing I was back in that nightmare when I remembered what I faced ahead of me. In fact I wished I hadn’t woken up at all. It breaks my heart that I am back in that place of waking up to a feeling of despair, with unwanted tears just rolling down my face as I try fall back asleep. The words of my mother’s sms’ just repeating over and over in my head. “disgusted with andi”.  She had told one of her friends that I refused her medical care, which had been so far from the truth!  After 6 months of being clean and then relapsing & being kicked out of tertiary treatment in June.. she is just going from bad to worse as time progresses. You would think a 50 something woman would have the ability to find herself a flat and be able to move her furniture and sort out her life. Not my mother. No. Everything is someone else’s problem.  So…. next step is sorting out all her furniture and household items which have been in storage for the last 6 months. I happened to stumble upon a letter I wrote to her in 2009 when she was in her last rehab.  It makes me so sad to think of how much hope I still had back then. How much I needed her to kick this addiction. How much I needed my mother back. But as usual my pleas fell on deaf ears and she continued down her spiral of hell. I suppose I should be grateful that I feel different now… I no longer feel that desperation of needing her and the panic of suddenly having to raise a child. In fact I am immensely grateful for Nicholas and everything he has brought to my life. He is such a amazing young man and hearing him laugh with his friends fills me with happiness.

But I really shouldn’t have read the letter last week as it just drove the point home that I lost my mother a long time ago. She is still alive but addiction has taken her over and I really don’t believe she will ever come back. The problem with this is that I find myself grieving for the mother I lost – over and over and over again. Again and again there is hope, and then gut-wrenching disappointment when you realise once more that the fight isn’t over.  I miss the mother I knew and loved, and the mother I always thought she was while I was growing up. She was so beautiful and funny and I admired her so much, I remember watching her for hours every morning as she got ready for the day and hoping that one day I would be just like her.  Now I can’t think of anything worse than being just like her. In fact the thought chills me to the bone.  The hurt & grief I feel over losing Ossi, my brother, and then my mom just threatens to overwhelm me on my darkest days. Looking back really is a terrible thing to do; to think of what you have lost and how quickly everything in your life can go wrong can be truly terrifying.  The family I grew up with is no more. “

The abuse that is hurled my way on a daily basis is intolerable. Every day there is a new reason as to why my mother needs an advance on her next transfer. No matter how many times you explain to her that she needs to live on a budget – she just doesn’t get it. There is truly NO way to explain how bad she is unless you have tried to deal with her yourself. My boyfriend at the time will agree that we tried everything humanly possible to show her spreadsheets, projections of how long her money would last. We spent hours with countless explanations but no matter how we tried to talk to her, there was no success in getting her to understand and see that we were trying to help her. Instead, she saw my boyfriend and I as the number one enemy, and would go between begging me for help, and screaming at how she wishes I had died instead of my brother.  By this time my relationship had taken a huge knock. Too much stress on our relationship too soon. Too many responsibilities. We were fighting, not communicating properly, not doing enough fun things together. I begged Richard to walk away while I was a mess. Pleading that if he was going to leave one day, I would rather it was sooner than later. I was up and down. Angry at my mother yet worried about her too. Anxious to know I was doing the right thing for her and Nick. Worried about Nicholas. How we were raising him. Were we doing a good job? I didn’t know the first thing about raising a child. Most of the time I forget to feed the poor kid.  When will I start feeling like an adult? I just feel like I’m winging life and just making mistake after mistake.

We needed to give up our role as trustees of my mother’s trust to regain some sense of sanity for both of us! Unfortunately, even though the new trustees were also family members, it was decided to dissolve her trust and give her back her money so she could do with it as she wishes.

The relief of no longer managing the trust meant I could focus on myself and work for a bit. I started working full time with Cart Horse Protection Association in August. The olive oil thing wasn’t working out. I was no sales woman! Fundraising for CHPA is a huge role though and I was wary at taking it on, but I knew that working with cart horses is what I was born to do.

After a few months of full time fundraising, the workload, pressure of the job, emotional working environment, coupled with a few heartbreaking horse losses, started getting too much for me.

Diary insert 15 October 2013 – I really hope my future self can one day look back at all my ramblings and laugh!! It’s been just 3 months now at Cart Horse and I feel completely burnt out. There is a very high chance I am PMSing, but I cannot get away from this feeling in my body. I had it last week too. The panic starts at about 3am. I can’t sleep because everything I need to do starts turning in my head. I hate feeling this amount of stress. I really feel like my body is trying to tell me something and I need to start listening. My whole body is tense and trembling, I feel nauseous, like I am not sure if I am going to throw up or have an anxiety attack. I want to be strong. I want to be the best at my job and do amazing things for cart horses. Instead, I feel like I can’t take the pressure. My body is SCREAMING at me. The dream I had with Rich keeps repeating in my mind… I am talking to him on the couch, for some reason my finger is broken. Then Rich starts playing with my hand and bending my broken finger. He doesn’t realise what he is doing but it HURTS. I am trying to tell him that he is hurting me but my words are too soft and he can’t hear me. I am screaming but he is not listening. Is my body the one that is screaming and I am not listening? I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to give up and disappoint Megan and Richard. With all my heart I want to be at Cart Horse, but this pressure…. I can’t cope. I am trying to hide how bad I am feeling when I get home, I hate feeling like he thinks I am weak. 

Diary insert from 16 October 2013 – Well I don’t really know where to start.  I basically feel like my body and mind has had enough. It’s not listening to me at all today. I have been crying quite often since Monday and have been unable to control it. Most of the time there are just tears running down my face when I actually just feel like sobbing my heart out. Small things seem to be sending me over the edge. I got a call at work from a woman ordering Christmas cards and nearly burst into tears while on the phone to her – because it was one more thing to do. I am completely overwhelmed.  I keep telling myself to breathe deeply, everything will be fine. I can only work a certain amount of hours in a day and everything that has to be done will get done. I know I can do it. I also know that the worst thing that can happen is not that bad. But as much as I tell myself that – it doesn’t work. It’s like my body is in full blown panic mode. Now the worst thing that can happen is I lose the plot completely and just the thought of THAT is sending me into a different kind of panic.  I don’t want this kind of life for myself. “

I started seeing a psychologist in November after an intense year of fighting with SACS High School.  When my brother had moved up from Grade 7 to Grade 8 we had applied for him to be accepted into the boarding house but his place was denied. We tried in vain to meet with the SACS headmaster Mr Ball who brushed us off at every opportunity. My anger levels were explosive at the way SACS had treated us (but more importantly, Nicholas) and I felt like I was living in a permanent anxiety attack.  Many appeal letters were written, one of which being this one:

Motivation for Nicholas Rubin to attend SACS High boarding school

Dear Sir

I am begging you to reconsider Nicholas for a place at SACS boarding house next year. He has had to deal with so many traumatic circumstances in his life, including but not limited to:

  • Our older brother was a heroin addict and created a home atmosphere of violence, aggression, overdoses, hospitals, rehabs, lies and severe mood swings which started when Nicholas was just two years old and I was 15. Our brother committed suicide in 2006.
  • My stepfather and Nick’s father was diagnosed with a brain tumour when Nick was 4 years old. 
  • Physical and verbal abuse toward my mother from her boyfriend whom she met in 2005
  • Paranoid delusions from our mother about anything ranging from bank & credit card fraud, burglars being in the house, people plotting their death, to there being a curse on our family.
  • Worrying about our mother’s life and finances
  • Not knowing what is happening with his life or if anybody wants/loves him
  • Having to deal with isolation from his peers when their mothers would not allow friends from school to visit him at home. 

The change in Nicholas over the last 6 months has been phenomenal.  I wish I could provide you with video comparisons between then and now but I unfortunately cannot… Before: Nicholas was depressed, with no hope for the future, no routine or structure, no security, and left to his own devices most of the time.  Now: Nicholas is self-assured, pleasant and polite. I have seen a remarkable change in the little boy who came to live with us in November 2011, to the boy who now stays with me on weekends. He has a confidence and a peace that is so difficult to explain or pinpoint but so easy to spot if you grew up with him. He takes charge of his life and makes plans with friends. He is interested in exploring new things, and going on adventures. He goes fishing when we go away, and skates on his longboard with friends, he joined Scouts and goes on hikes for fossils on the farm, he helps out around the house and sometimes cooks with us, to name a few! 

The boarding house has given him an insight into how boys are SUPPOSED to live and how it is so easy to find so much fun and joy in life when you are looking in the right places. I was amazed to discover that he is often on the AstroTurf playing with the other boarders, even playing water polo on occasions and has recently joined the rugby team now that his leg has been operated on.  He is excited to try new things at SACS and with the right support and encouragement, I believe he will. He has forged close bonds with his friends, resulting in deeper friendships and a feeling of greater security & confidence for Nicholas.

Please understand it can be so incredibly difficult to find people/friends to connect with when you have gone through so many traumas that others just can’t possibly being to understand. You feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the world who seem to just live happy, simple lives with their happy, loving families.  This little boy has so many obstacles thrown at him; losing his father, losing his brother, losing his mother, having a rare bone disease giving him extra bones and even more reasons for other children to tease him. He is so incredibly strong and special to have grown into such an amazing young man, and I credit this to the fact that he has had the opportunity to be a weekly boarder at SACS where his life has safety, routine and structure.

From the bottom of my heart I beg you to reconsider a space for this special little boy who needs something right & constant in his life. A boarding house environment, I believe, is exactly what he needs to continue to grow and mature at such a positive rate, and live life with the companionship of good friends who know his history.

I, as his sister would continue to provide support for him at SACS, host his friends at the weekends, support the school in whatever way I can, attend sporting events and act in loco parentis when support of parents is called for.  Please reconsider your decision to provide Nick a place in the boarding hostel. His life could depend on it.

I don’t think we even got the courtesy of a response. We approached the Western Cape Department of Education for help but they maintained they could not get involved in hostel related issues. (and also privately confirmed that Mr Ball was a prick) So we tried the last resort of appealing to the school governing body with this letter.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

My 14 year old brother, has been at SACS school since the beginning of Grade 1. He moved to SACS along with his school friends from Valley Pre-Primary in Hout Bay.  His father passed away from a brain tumour when he was 6 years old, followed by the death of our older brother two weeks after. Our mother subsequently had a breakdown and is unwell. Nicholas was removed from her care in November 2011 after it was acknowledged that his health and well-being was at risk.

The SACS Junior School councillor Ms. Lindy Ackerman with the support of Mr. Nell the Principal, secured Nicholas a priority place in the  Junior school boarding house under the wonderful care of Mr. Nathan Rockhill. The boarding house facility with its’ routine, structure and friends, resulted in Nick flourishing into a confident, sporty individual. He passed Grade 7 with excellent results, despite his tumultuous past.

In early 2012 we applied for Nicholas to attend SACS High School and boarding house. We were very taken aback when we received a letter stating his acceptance into the high school as a day scholar, but denied a position in the Boarding House. I was unable to speak directly to Mr Ball. I was told by Meg, the secretary to the Headmaster, to wait until all the out of town boarding applications have been reviewed before Nicholas’ application would be considered. I appealed to Meg to allow me to discuss the matter with Mr Ball and explain that if Nicholas wasn’t given a position, we would need to move him to another school, but was told several times that speaking to the headmaster was not permitted, and I should be patient with the process and trust he will get in. Irene, the Admissions Secretary, confirmed that Nicholas was one of two boys on the waiting list. To move him to another school at this stage, after all the traumatic events he has experienced, would be highly detrimental.

It was at this stage that Lindy Ackerman got involved to explain Nicholas’ unique situation and how imperative it was for his well-being that he be accepted into the SACS High School Boarding house. Mr Nell and Mr. Rockhill also communicated the urgent need for Nick to secure a place at the boarding house. We also sent Mr. Ball correspondence from the Nicholas Trust, giving assurances that funding was in place to cover all his costs, associated with schooling fees for the duration of his schooling. All our attempts to intervene before the selection was confirmed proved unsuccessful.

I eventually managed to ascertain the contact details for the High School Boarding House Master, Mr Wayne Parsons, through a friend’s colleague. Lindy and I went to meet with him to discuss the situation and how important it was for Nicholas to stay at SACS where he has stability and the support of his peers. Mr Parsons suggested that the most important thing to do was get him into SACS, saying that boys sometimes don’t pitch on the first day of term, or leave during the term, which would open up a position for Nicholas. It is now a few weeks into the term, we have still not secured Nicholas a position in the boarding house, even though 2 boarders have left, freeing up space for Nicholas.

I don’t have the capabilities to support and care for Nicholas. I am 27 and have just been through 12 years of intense stress trying to hold my family together. We would appreciate the same courtesy given to out of town kids, as ostensibly Nicholas does not have a permanent home in Cape Town, or anywhere else. Furthermore, Nick has already invested 5 years of his schooling at SACS, one of which included boarding.  Finally, I understand and respect that Nicholas is not the only child looking for a place at the boarding house and that you have the unenviable task of trying to make it all work out. I can only try and represent as best as possible the reality behind Nicholas and our situation.”

As far as I’m concerned, we were never explained properly as to why Nick was not granted a spot, and while Mr Ball is the headmaster I will continue to tell everyone I know how disappointed I am with that school. There are many MANY other stories and reasons behind my belief that the school really is not concerned with the well being of their students.

I was not in a position to look after Nicholas as I was too emotional and unstable, and eventually had to concede to the idea of Nicholas living in a children’s home, which I had been completely, utterly, FURIOUSLY against for the whole year.  The idea of Nick living with strangers because I couldn’t step up was more than I could bear and I was falling apart at this stage. Carina took over, appealing to everyone she could think of to get Nicholas into Oranjia (what I like to call a 5 star children’s home).

I started seeing a therapist around this time, and was put on Cipralex, Urbanol and Activan by my GP. It was discussed that what I experienced with my moods was symptomatic of something diagnosed as PMDD – Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder which basically means u get PMS on steroids. Apparently I am a classic case, with history of sexual abuse, disassociated trauma, and post traumatic stress.

Diary insert 2 December 2013 – Dr Helen reminded me today to talk about things, as there is a build up of emotion that needs to come out. We discussed my brothers abuse and my mother not validating my feelings which she says has resulted in a difficulty for me to trust my own feelings or judgements. I am so miserable. The final rejection by SACS has left me feeling completely defeated. All my battles over the last 12 years have basically amounted to….. nothing. I couldn’t help Ryan. I couldn’t help my mother. I can’t look after Nick…and I can’t even get him into a boarding house. I’ve given everything I had… I gave my heart and soul into trying to save my mom. Building her confidence, giving advice, looking after Nick and securing trusts… Now my mom is on the streets and Nick is probably going to Oranjia Children’s Home. Everything was for nothing? Being miserable and worrying. I don’t have any control over others… I only have control over ME. I often wonder what life would be like without my past. If I woke up with amnesia tomorrow… how would I live? I remember being a happy child…

My mom moved in with my father in December, she had been living on the street and none of her friends would take her in. He was the only one who had agreed to let her stay with him. She overdosed on his sleeping pills after a few days of living with him.  He called me the next day while I was at work and I remember my legs actually caved from under me when he said she’d taken an overdose. She’d been taken by ambulance to Somerset Hospital in Green Point and he didn’t know if she would be ok as she was in a coma.

Diary insert 8 December 2013 – I could only visit Mom when visiting hours start. I am going insane with worry over Ian’s message last night letting me know she was awake but had suffered brain damage. What I imagined could not have prepared me for what I saw. She looked… terrible. Dried saliva stuck to her lips, her hair matted and dirty, her eyes… were crazy. She did not recognise my father. She was talking to me but she wasn’t making any sense and kept saying the same thing again and again, over and over. I begged the nurse to let me clean her up but she had bars around her bed and wasn’t permitted to walk around. 

Diary insert 16th December 2013 – I saw Mom again today to drop off more clean clothes. She looks a bit better everytime I see her but there is definitely something not right in her head. She knows she is in a hospital but is acting like it is a hotel? She refuses to wear the hospital gown and will only wear her raciest clothes. She wants to create an art and crafts class in the ward next door. wtf.

It’s just absolutely impossible to begin to describe the trauma of having to deal with my mother over the last few years with her drug addiction. The lies, the up and down, backwards and forwards. All the stories that are made up, the paranoid delusions, when you don’t know whats right, or wrong, whats true and what is a lie or is it believed in her head. The anger with the guilt. The resentment with the love. It rips you apart inside over and over again.  I went to see her and the emotions I experienced in this month might have just surmounted everything before… seeing my mother like that – completely brain damaged, not knowing who she was, where she was, utterly deranged and in the psychiatric ward with bars around her bed so she couldn’t walk around the ward as they kept having to lockdown the ward because of her, and when it happened during visiting hours there were huge problems for the hospital. There are no words and never will be for what I felt during this time.

In January 2014, Nicholas became a child of the state, and was accepted into Oranjia. I was both relieved there was a conclusion, and horrified at the final result I had allowed happen. Sweet Nick. My brother.  In a children’s home? What have I done? What kind of person am I? Dropping him off there on that first night was the hardest and most horrific thing I have ever had to do in my life.