Monday, April 6, 2009

update from the family:

Just after we returned from Santa Cruz I got to work sending everyone pictures. This isn't as easy as it seems, since some people prefer emailed pics, but you have to send 55 pictures five at a time, and others ask that you suffer at Walgreens, making actual prints, you know, like from the olden days. I felt the picture of the five siblings was particularly poignant so I got an enlargement and put it in a nice frame for my mom. When I gave it to her, we locked eyes, and I said, "Oh of course we'll slip a picture of Danny right here on the edge." Mom smiled. The next morning she called to tell me that Danny died suddenly a few hours earlier. And the world went quiet.

All five siblings were hit incredibly hard by Daniel's death. I have never seen my mom so sad in all my life. You see, my uncle Daniel wasn't merely absent from the reunion, he was absent from everything for a very long time. A former Marine in Vietnam, whose mind was irreparably damaged, he was also a schizophrenic. While he most certainly possessed the telltale Wilhelm genius IQ, he also sometimes lived under trucks, and didn't speak for years. Maria, Cat, and Sky remember him as the best uncle ever, but by the time I was three he was mid-descent into the abyss that became his mind. He would move back and forth from Santa Cruz, where his family is, to Toledo, Ohio, where the clan was raised. He'd live in motels, sometimes for years. He had been at this most recent one for five-to-seven years. The spectrum of his moods was vast, like any untreated schizophrenic, but every Wilhelm will tell you, his heart was made of gold. I don't talk very openly with my family about my experience with mental illness, so I always felt a silent, distant, unspoken kinship with my uncle Daniel, because we we're the only two out of legions of Wilhelms, born with faulty wiring. As you can imagine, his life was fraught with pain, fear, anger, sadness, shame, and oblivion, whereas I have an air-tight support system, the best doctor imaginable, the meds I need, the best friends a crazy loudmouth could ever ask for, and two reasons to wake up and give thanks for each new day: Quinn and Reilly. But somehow it brought a little solace to know that, while I was blessed with an exceptional, supremely dominant gene pool, in which (Danny and me aside) the worst health condition is myopia, I also struggle everyday with a mind that is often ferociously determined to drag me into the darkness. I knew Daniel could relate to being otherwise healthy and quite intelligent (ahem, I mean, it's true), and having to duke it out with so many demons in various forms. Anyway, he's gone. He was 58, and he is deeply mourned by his five siblings and the nieces and nephew who remember him before his mind was taken.

Be at peace Uncle Daniel.

This one's a contender. I can scarcely keep from crying as I type. You may recall from my arduous four-part Santa Cruz post that my cousin Matthew, for reasons unknown, joined the National Guard a couple of months ago, to the absolute horror of our entire family. His father, my uncle David, whom I suspect even has some Republican molecules, is vehemently opposed to sacrificing any of our boys, and we were all relieved to hear that Matt heard the voice of reason and did not sign his commitment papers. But there's always a but...

During an extremely surreal experience yesterday, in which I took my mom to brunch at a place I recently trashed on my blog, speaking in low voices for fear of being kicked out, my mom told me that my Joseph has suddenly joined the US Army, and was set to leave for Fort Benning, GA this morning. I almost choked, I'm not kidding. He knows better. This kid has a brain that knows no bounds. We talked about the collective relief our family felt when Matthew opted out. I just don't know what he could be thinking. Apparently he is joining the Parachute Infantry Battalion, or enrolling in Fort Benning's renowned Airborne School. I don't give a shit. Our troops are a really sensitive subject for me, and as you now know, my family is a sensitive subject for me too. What I see is my toe-headed one year old baby, who introduces himself as "Jo-fus," toddling off to risk his life, and the hearts of everyone in our family, for George Bush's war. It is utterly incomprehensible. I love you my sweet Joe, call me if you decide to defect.


Hennifer said...

I'm sorry for your loss. My mother lost both of her brothers within a couple years of one another, recently. I often get so freaked thinking about how I couldn't possibly deal with the same set of circumstances that I'm sure my mother is a timebomb waiting to go off.

And as for the military... baby brother, 3 times gone and back. I know how complicated all that becomes for the family.

I'm here if you ever want to talk.

gail said...

hope your mom, and her sibs, are starting to feel a bit better. hope joseph stays safe and comes home soon. hope they all come home safe and soon.