My Sister Kate
A friend pointed out to me that I always preface my sister this way; My Sister Kate. I could also say, My Crazy Sister Kate, and she would probably not mind.
She called herself Crazy Kate when she was a giggling preteen. Laughing so hard that she would bring tears to her eyes, finding the social world of middle school a hard place, making macaroni and cheese and brownies for dessert for my little brother and me.
Practicing piano with real talent, wearing her hair in a headband when she did math homework because she felt it made her concentrate more, making card board houses for the troll dolls with me. She was beautiful and dreamy, not brash and confident; a delicate gentle girl who loved her indulgences and laughter.
She sometimes signed her name Crazy Kate, long before she had actually been diagnosed and institutionalized at around 18 years old.
I don’t believe she would have inevitably gone crazy, we just don’t know that. After years of contemplating the subject I can say she had some factors that statistically began to add up in favor of a life outside of the norm, in and out of institutions, in half way houses, on the street, and always medicated one way or another.
She was born in February and my Mom already had two small children. It could be that a lack of Vitamin B and D in my Mom’s body did not help.
When we were living in the States and she was about 6 or 7 she was shot in the top of the head by a bullet from a 22 gun shot that made its way through the woods before finding her scalp. This trauma could have set up some imbalance within. My Mom remembers that she would cry every morning when she woke up at about this time.
She was and is a very magical person with a vivid imagination and a lack of mental discipline. This does not mean that she was inevitable going to become a street person with massive drug addictions, but I do believe that her addictive personality is more trouble to her than the voices that used to crowd her brain.
She took a lot of chemical drugs in the year preceding her first institutionalization giving her the label at one point in her career of a ‘drug induced schizophrenic’.
Add to this whole mix the fact that our parents were separating the year she went off the deep end and you can see why I wonder whether her descent into madness was inevitable.
She could have lived a fairly sound life with a home, a job, a husband and children. I can picture her calling me to complain about her husband or job at some inconvenient time of the day. I can also picture us laughing to the point of tears over some silly thing.
But now that she has lived this way so long, my siblings and I have begun to love and respect her as she is right now. She will never be the sister that we may have imagined. But she is living her life.
I joked with my aging Mom that she is really less trouble than some kids. She is completely independent, asks for nothing and has a whole system of hospitals, refuges, and social workers at her fingertips. Other children might call every day complaining about their foot pain, but Kate, with her broken feet from her unsuccessful suicidal leap from the Granville Bridge when she was about 21 years old, never complains.
She wears extra socks, and says that she likes the croc sandals with padding. The last time I saw her I promised that if I saw any I would buy her a few pairs. There is no point giving her any gift that cannot be carried in her purse on her body.
I was happy that she had been institutionalized for 10 days last time I was visiting Toronto, it gave me chance to see her. On my second visit out to see her at Saint Joseph’s hospital, a grand old hospital overlooking Lake Ontario in the far west of the city, I brought her presents that she had requested.
On my list were red lipstick, eyeliner, black leggings, fingernail polish, new underwear, baby powder, and cheap perfume. She was very pleased with the gifts and put them on right away. With the door to her room open a crack allowing the pacing young medicated male patients a view, and a roommate buried in blankets in the corner, she stripped down and pulled on the new underwear, giving herself a liberal bath of baby powder. Then she sprayed a copious amount of perfume on herself leaving me choking.
Of course I also brought some food from a restaurant which she ate with her hands, telling me, when I could not locate a fork, not to worry at all about it.
She is very thin, and she picks her outfits with great care. Her huge green eyes are often surrounded by theatrical eye makeup. When she talks to me it is a rambling fast talking monologue that moves from one subject to another in a poetic manner, with words suddenly becoming portals to a separate part of her brain.
Sometime she is sensible, ”Meg, you’ve got to take care of Mom”, sometimes she is cruel, “That guy is bad, he is evil, he is a lapsed social worker”, and sometimes she is bizarre, “ You know that Dad’s Egyptian blood made him eat out his own brains, but then he married Marilyn Monroe”.
While sitting listening to her, murmuring assent, and sometimes adding my two cents, “You know, Uncle Jim is not dead actually”, “Are you angry because …”, “Well, I don’t know what you are talking about…”, “No, I am not setting you up at a new bank”, I try to imagine writing the monologue down. It is so free floating and associative that I would need to be drug induced in order to replicate it.
I was so happy to see her, and because she was medicated and fairly calm, the meeting was very pleasant. I hugged her many times, which is something she would not always be capable of handling.
I told her how much I loved her; I brought my 18 year old daughter to meet her, and I brought her the essentials of life for a woman with no home; cheap perfume, lipstick, eyeliner, leggings and nice new underwear.