August 18, 2006
Just because we successfully busted Grandma out of the nursing home didn’t mean that the fight with my uncles was over. Uncle Chuck was taking us all to family court to wrest back control and return Grandma to Shady Pines. His lawyers started coming to the house to interview us and Grandma and serve with her papers. Yes, Grandma got served. What kind of shit is this? One of them – Mr. Randall – even told us to go in the house so he could talk to Grandma alone on the porch. Cousin Bill was eavesdropping, and when he heard the guy telling Grandma that she had to go back to court he went outside and pulled up a chair and said he was just going to listen to the rest of the conversation.
Tina made a big stink about that when Dad came home: “Your cousin couldn’t resist putting his two cents in when the lawyer came over, and he made the guy so mad he got up and left.” Oh, boo-hoo. And before he left Mr. Randall told us that going to court wasn’t so bad because it was like an “outing” for Grandma. Yeah, right. We’d already taken Grandma to court twice and sat in the hallway with her all damn day while the lawyers bashed things out, but to no avail. Dad told me that his lawyer asked how old I was, because maybe I could take over Grandma’s finances since the judge felt that none of the brothers could do it.
Fuck that shit. I wanted nothing to do with it. I’d already stuck my nose in too far when I made up that health care proxy form. And now it was coming back to bite me in the ass. Turns out that when uncle Chuck had my grandparents sign the DNR and the original health care proxy, the witnesses actually signed it after the fact and not at the time like he claimed. So the judge threw it out once it was revealed that uncle Chuck perjured himself. That meant that the only health care proxy left standing was the one that I had made up. This thing that I banged out in five minutes on Microsoft Word and filled with a bunch of official-sounding jargon was now being treated by the county as a valid, legal document. And now I had to testify in court because Dad’s lawyer said I was the key to the whole thing.
“What is this, Alice in Wonderland?” I asked.
Alas, this was real. Things got off to a bad start when I got there late, and I further compounded things when I went into the wrong building and wasted another half-hour going through security and wandering around upstairs before realizing my mistake. Ugh. Now I had to go into the other building and go through security all over again. In the first building I had to take off my shoes because they set off the alarm somehow. This time I left my shoes on and the alarm went off again, so I ducked back through to take them off. The cop there was getting annoyed with me and told me to slow down. Gee, if I wasn’t an hour late I wouldn’t be rushing. Then I didn’t put my keys and belts and phone into the right bin so he practically threw them back at me. And when I put my shoes into the machine they took forever to come out. I think he deliberately kept me waiting.
And some cops wonder why people don’t like them…
By the time I got through all that shit I ended up just sitting in the courtroom for hours next to Dad. Bill came in after I did, but Dad didn’t even acknowledge him. He just looked straight ahead with a sour puss on his face. The lawyers had gone into huddle somewhere and they hadn’t reappeared. We sat there until they finally adjourned without resolving a single thing. Another day gone to waste.
We tried again the next day. I got to the court at 9:30 like I was supposed and I ran into my favorite police officer again. This time I was ready with my belt and keys in my hand and my shoes off. I put everything where they belonged and walked through without setting off any alarms. Yay. However the cop turned his back on me when I walked through and started having a conversation with some guy walking past the desk. I stood there waiting but he was ignoring me. I dithered about, wondering whether I should just take my shit and go, but he finally turned around and told me I had to go through again because he wasn’t paying attention. Oh, this is a game…
After all that I found I was actually the first one to arrive. Dad’s lawyer showed up a few minutes after I did, followed by Dad. Bill was nowhere to be seen and Dad was pretty agitated. He called Tina at 10:15 to find out where the hell he was and she said that he had left a few minutes before. Noon rolled around and Dad’s blood pressure was rising. He was walking in circles flinging his hands in the air and ranting how he couldn’t believe that his cousin was going to screw everything up when it was the last day of this nonsense with the court.
“You actually want Bill here?” I started. Dad answered in the affirmative. I felt like saying, “It’s pretty ironic that you never want him around and you treat him like shit when he is, and now all of sudden you need him here.” But I was robbed of my reply when Dad told me his lawyer said Bill needed to be there. Bill finally arrived in rumpled clothing and carrying a manila folder with a bunch of random papers jammed inside so he looked “important.” Yeah, kinda hard to do that when you look like you just climbed out of a hamper.
I made up some excuse about having to do something work-related so I could leave at noon, but in reality I was just going home for lunch. I needed a break. I was starting to lose my sanity sitting there for all that time. While I was eating I called Dad to check on things, and he told me to take my time since they were giving their testimonies and it wasn’t going to be my turn for a while. Fine by me. I didn’t return until 2. It was just me and Bill and Uncle Tim out in the hallway since the hearing was closed to everybody but the principals. Uncle Chuck was the one who orchestrated the whole thing but his lawyers were representing him since he was in North Carolina. I wasn’t comfortable talking around Uncle Tim so Bill and I moved down to the end of the hallway. They called him fifteen minutes later and I was left by myself.
After Bill finished giving his testimony everybody filed out of the courtroom after him. Dad said that was it for today because the judge had somewhere to be, so we all had to come back the next day. Unbelievable. Another day down the shitter. I was radiating fury, and when Dad saw the look on my face he said, “Well, just remember it’s for your grandmother.” Yeah, well… if it wasn’t for her and you and your brothers I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this crap.
I finally took the stand at 10:15 the next day. Just like in the movies, I had to hold up my right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me God. I spent an hour and a half getting the anal probe from all three of my uncle’s lawyers. The first guy was Mr. Belmont and he was like a nervous Jimmy Stewart. I was only 21 but I ate that guy for lunch. He kept trying to trip me up but I saw right through his shtick. For example he asked me when we signed the proxy, and I gave him the date.
“No, I meant what time of day was it?” he clarified.
I knew full well what he meant. “Oh. It was at nighttime,” I replied.
He asked me a few more questions to sidetrack me, and then suddenly he went, “And you said you signed it in the morning?” He was trying to catch me in a lie.
“No, I said before that it was nighttime,” I responded coolly.
He asked me more questions about where we were sitting, who was sitting where, did Grandma have her glasses on, and what was she wearing?
“What was she wearing?” I repeated. Mr. Belmont nodded. “Uh… I imagine she had on clothing of some sort. Is that even relevant?” I looked past him and saw Dad and his lawyer smirking at each other. Mr. Belmont shifted uneasily from one foot to the other and wrung his hands together. He ignored my question and asked me another one.
“And you said it was raining that day?”
“Um, I said nothing of the sort. Haven’t you been paying attention?” I glanced at the judge as I said this, wondering whether I was about to get an admonishment from the bench for my cheek. Nothing. She sat there taking in the proceedings with an impassive face. Thank god we had a woman for a judge; I felt she’d be more sympathetic and understanding.
Mr. Belmont continued this line of questioning for a half-hour, asking me the same things over and over again. He couldn’t shake me from my answers, and the best part was when he asked me if Grandma was aware that Grandpa was deceased when she signed the proxy. Mr. Belmont was forced to withdraw the question after I reminded him that Grandpa was still very much alive at the time. Then it was Mr. Jagger’s turn and I went through the same song and dance with him.
We were interrupted by the judge so uncle Tim could take the stand. Apparently he had somewhere to be at noon. Yeah, like the rest of us didn’t have shit we needed to do as well. Screw you. But he was out of there in 20 minutes and then I was back in the spotlight. Now it was Mr. Randall’s turn to grill me, the guy Bill “chased” off the porch.
I wasn’t expecting much but he was definitely tougher than I thought he’d be. He wanted to know if I used any references in preparing the form, and more specifically why had I included lines about resuscitation and respiration.
“Can we show him Exhibit B?” Mr. Randall asked Mr. Belmont. The latter stood up and brought over the original living will and health care proxy from my uncle Chuck. I was questioned on those as well, but I had never seen them before and I said I was only aware of their existence and not their contents. I was still looking at the forms during this so Mr. Belmont interrupted and said, “The defendant has papers in front of him and I’d like to ask that they be removed.”
“Oh, you mean Exhibit B which you just gave me?” I asked mockingly as I handed them back. Did he think I was somehow using my uncle’s forms as a cheat sheet? What a toolbox. Then Mr. Belmont questioned me again.
“Mr. Mersey, could you tell us about your education?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said happily, and started from kindergarten. For the next few minutes I detailed my time in elementary, middle and high school for him. He was getting really hot under the collar now. I chanced another glance at the judge but she still said nothing. I had no idea how she was letting me getting away with it, unless she too thought the whole affair was horseshit. When I arrived at college Mr. Belmont inquired about my major and what I studied and what classes I took. I realized he was questioning the veracity of my claims that I made up this form by myself. But I didn’t give him an inch to work with.
I thought the questions would never end and it was with great relief that I finally stepped down. Dad had a very satisfied look on his face and his lawyer told me that was I great. Great. Now could we please wrap this shit up and get the hell out?
The battle was won and Grandma was staying with us, but the fighting was far from over, especially on the home front. After we had dinner Dad went out and Bill went up on the roof. He claimed he was going to look through the windows of Dad’s office on the second floor – for some reason – but I decided to have some fun and started spraying him with the hose. He ducked around the corner of the house laughing his ass off every time I turned it on him. We caught hell from Tina, though. She came outside demanding to know what Bill was doing on the roof because he was making a racket and scaring Grandma. Oops.
After Bill changed his shirt we went water ballooning in my car. And we didn’t use water balloons. No no no no no… I filled actual 14-inch balloons with water until they were nearly the size of footballs. Then we lobbed those out the window as we drove past people, but they were so heavy that they rarely hit their targets. Plus Bill was such a lousy shot that most of the balloons would hit the door frame on the way out and explode inside the car. By the end of the night we were wetter than anybody else. Good times, though.
But as always, all good things must come to an end. The next morning Tina was having a fit because none of the burners on the stove were working. I had a hunch and looked underneath and saw that the gas had been shut off, so I turned it back on. Problem solved. I asked Dad about it when he came home from work, and he told me that he turned the stove off because Bill was making too much coffee. Seriously? And he was very disappointed when he asked if Bill saw me turning the gas back on and I said yes.
Then the dryer stopped working. Stupid me, I thought it had simply crapped out, but once again the culprit was Dad. “Nothing is wrong with it,” Dad answered when I asked him about it. “The dryer doesn’t need to be on because it’s summertime and Mr. Sun is outside,” he continued in a little sing-song voice. Groan. And then he went into yet another rant about how “my friend, your second cousin – Bill – still won’t listen. And he’s still washing out the milk cartons and wasting water when I’ve told him repeatedly not to. So everybody has to suffer because Bill won’t listen.”
The next morning I was jarred awake by Bill and Tina having a tiff in the kitchen. Tina was bitching at Bill for making too much noise on the stairs, thundering up and down with his laundry in the “middle of the night.”
“8:30 is not exactly the middle of the night,” he barked at her. And Bill had more laundry than usual because Dad had turned his room upside down and all his clean and dirty stuff was thrown together. “So talk to your boss – that’s what happens when someone trashes your room.” But poor Tina. She really needs her beauty rest. Parking Grandma in front of the TV all day while she went into the other room to yap on the phone in Russian for hours must be really exhausting.
Maybe it was time to move out.