Lately, I have seriously considered permanently changing my name.
Because I am an artist and writer, I have always just kept my own name to avoid confusion, even maintaining it through an eleven-year marriage, now defunct.
There is the matter of my “blood sister,” Amanda Bailey. She is the youngest of eight siblings. She has Down syndrome and I had a good part in raising her, and I have remained a Bailey for her sake as much as my own.
But I also maintained a lot of pride due to my heritage, handed down through my father, who loved being a Bailey, which boasts of some historical significance back home. His grandfather was the second white man to settle on Drummond Island, the remote, craggy rock on the tip of the Upper Peninsula. George Warren Bailey was the island’s first in a barrage of Baileys, a prolific, rowdy, hard-drinking bunch, many red-headed, good natured, and big-hearted. They were a tight group. An aunt was like a mother, a cousin was a brother. The stories of relatives intermingled as naturally as one borne of an immediate family.
My brother Jon lived these qualities, carrying them along with him to the Pacific Northwest, buoyantly happy, loving and gentle despite his burly size.
Mom, Judy, Dad and Jon
Unfortunately, my remaining siblings, save Amanda, have kept none of the traits forged by the Baileys, except for the “rowdy” and “hard-drinking” parts.
They have grown selfish, unbearably cruel, self-righteous and entitled. They are bloated, self-indulgent, loud, and petulant. I look at them from across an abyss, gazing over an ever-widening distance at a pack of vicious, smug and belligerent strangers I no longer recognize.
Gone from Dad’s branch is the care for the earth, respect for the space and time of others, common decency.
What is left is only greed, and a jaundiced adherence to a religion that bears no resemblance to the gospel they love to herald; at least as it was, according to Christ.
Their performance at Jon’s memorial service made me physically ill. I had to leave the building. It was after Robin, the oldest sister, arrived sweaty and gasping for air at Jon’s deathbed after lumbering up the hilly streets of Seattle.
As in other situations where someone is rendered frail, and having no choice in the matter, she had showed up, “To help.”
Jon’s wife, Judy, was mortified. Jon did not get along with Robin and, had he been conscious, would not have wanted her there.
“Don’t leave her alone in the room with him!” I screeched, when Judy called me that day.
Not to be denied, because she was on God’s mission, Robin then insinuated herself into meetings with the funeral director. She demanded an open casket. She informed everyone within earshot that she had engaged in, “a fist fight” with one of her sisters, and there was sure to be trouble at the memorial.
Luckily, the funeral director, no stranger to toxic families, immediately escorted the exhausted widow from the room for a private consultation.
Judy wanted a cremation. No open casket for her husband of 27 years. Thanks to the insightful director, Judy was able to fulfill her wishes. Otherwise, she would have folded to the Bailey Bulldozer.
However, Judy, being a normal and generous human being, made the mistake of offering free time to anyone who wanted to talk at the service.
The siblings, one by one, stood up and extolled Jon, and themselves, on and on and on, for literally hours.
Declining to impose myself into the onslaught over the poor guests, who did not know my siblings, I stayed outside. I greeted stragglers, escorting them to the door, showing them the guest book. It seemed like over the next hour, every time I entered the building, Raechel was still talking.
Besides her, there were five other siblings lined up waiting to speak.
Elderly guests eventually began to excuse themselves, finding their way to the door with their walkers and canes, tired of sitting on the hard chairs. Others who had been a part of Jon’s life and career gave up the desire to speak in the process of listening to the Michigan Baileys drone on.
And then, there was the scene in the parking lot, where Amanda’s guardian, the second oldest brother Ted, informed me that she could NOT go to the movies with Judy and me. “I don’t trust you,” he said.
Jon had not cared much for Ted. Until recently, I never really understood why.
I had my arm around Amanda. She was snugged up against me, leaning on me, and when he said those words I felt her shoulders sink, just a little. Her disappointment and grief was ebbing into me, and I was just beginning to feel the swirling of my own true rage.
Suddenly, Raechel, the second oldest sister, injected herself, mincing around behind me, and found it necessary to start grabbing me by the arm and trying to pull me away from Amanda.
Was this the start of the “fist fight” Robin was talking about? It was obvious that Amanda and I had been set up. They dangled her like the proverbial carrot — Or maybe, they were dangling me, and it was Amanda who was the target to be punished. Perhaps she had committed another sin along the way, like leaving clothes on the bathroom floor. Whatever the psychotic rationale was for their cruelty, they knew I wouldn’t tolerate it. They all were eagerly looking forward to the inevitable confrontation.
Yanking away at my wrist, Raechel may have deserved a punch in the face, but my hands were full. Brawling is not my style, but I am no longer of a mind to put up with assault of any type.
Whatever Amanda wanted, or asked for, was of no consequence to any of them. She had just lost her brother. She had not seen me, her favorite sibling, in over two years. Who cares? Her desires, her needs, were not part of the agenda.
Amanda at the memorial
Their behavior during Jon’s illness and aftermath provides a perfect example of my siblings’ lack of insight into their effect on others, and their horrible behavior in times of crisis. This day was supposed to be about Jon, to honor him. To celebrate his life. Ted and Raechel transformed it into an opportunity to bully and torture Amanda. Their warped version will lay the blame on Amanda, who by default is completely innocent. Or, they will blame me, and make up outrageous lies to do it. These people, these siblings, are the worst. I have endured death threats, sexual advances, theft, slander, physical assaults and verbal abuse, jealous tirades and attempted sabotage in my profession, for years, from the lot of them.
I am so sick of these self-righteous boors, who are far too stupid to comprehend when they are trampling over the most delicate and fragile of creations – and if you point it out to them, they are too self-absorbed to care.
They are the worst that our country has to offer; almost a cliché of the Ugly American. Materialistic. Selfish. Obsessed with Stuff and using every coy trick and lie to cover their bad behavior.
So I wanted to change my name. This is not my family. I want no part of them.
I contemplated the legalities of disowning them. After all, I didn’t want any of them — except Amanda — showing up at MY funeral.
(Gee, if I were dead, maybe Amanda and I would finally get a chance to spend some time together.)
In the days and weeks following Jon’s service, I stayed near Judy, hoping to ease the transition where she was forced to wake up to an empty house. I made her breakfast. I invented ways to get her out and into the community. We went to the movies, in Amanda’s honor. We went shopping for groceries. We went for little drives up in the mountains. In the evening, we watched her favorite stupid reality show, “Bachelor In Paradise,” and laughing at their orchestrated romantic agony. Together we shouted and yelled at the moron who is currently president. We wept over Aretha and John McCain.
And we wept over Jon. A lot.
During these weeks I was fortunate enough to meet and spend time with people who had known my brother, Jon. Some, I had known from years prior. But I met a lot more of them. Many of them stopped by to check on Judy and just visit, and share memories. We attended the wedding of the intern who had replaced Jon in the field. I met Judy’s cousin, who told me he had known Jon since he was 15. “He was like an uncle to me. He straightened me out.”
The message, again and again, was clear. Jon Bailey, a good man. Jon Bailey, yes, I knew him. You are a Bailey? Jon’s sister. Oh, I knew him. Wonderful person. Just loved him. No one else like him. Jeez, I would not have made it, if it were not for Jon Bailey.
It was Jon who took on our Dad’s legacy. It lived through him. Family that goes beyond blood. Family as community. Hard work. Caring for the earth, and each other. Telling the truth. Acts of kindness. Humor. Generosity. Admitting your mistakes. Apologizing when warranted. The quality that Dad had instilled in me, repeated again and again, “Do the right thing.”
Jon lived it.
In his absence, Jon was giving me back my name.
So today when the delivery came and the driver approached with a clipboard. “Needcha to sign.”
“What’s my sign?” I said. “I’m a Scorpio. Say, this is quite a gig you have here.”
He laughed, and held out the pen.
I took it and wrote, in big, confident script.
We’d make Dad proud.
Jon and me in Idaho, November 13, 2000
P.S. Re: Amanda. This is not rocket science. They can get her new glasses, take her to church, take her to the doctor, make her lose weight, whatever. But they are preventing her from expressing herself, they are smothering and censoring her past, and they are denying her contact with her closest sister. And now, they are preventing her from grieving her brother in the way that she chooses and needs to. She is already having a terrible time with the loss of her mom and dad, and now she has to deal with this, and they are attempting to take me away from her as well. This is a human rights violation and it is emotional abuse, and this is every bit as serious as if they were beating her or starving her or forcing her to take drugs. And instead of getting all offended over my yelling about it, and worrying about their own egos, they should damn well start listening to what I am telling them. Emotional abuse is very damaging, it can cause her major physical and psychological harm, and it is unacceptable. Just because the law is allowing it, does not make this okay. Just because they are managing to hide it from others besides me, or because I am the only one talking about this, DOES NOT MAKE IT OKAY!!!