My brother was in high school now while I was back at the middle school. We now had different school schedules, which meant I saw less of him. The high school started earlier, plus he had to be out extra early for the bus. However, there was one time every week that I could count on seeing him for an hour, and that was at family therapy.
My brother had done a little stint in the juvenile detention center the previous summer. He and some friends took some things that they should not have, and in classic style, asked my brother to “hold the stuff” when they heard the sirens coming for them. Five miles down the road, “Juvi” was not exactly a positive character shaper. His sentence of three days had been completed with our agreement to see, as a family, a therapist connected to the juvenile detention center.
“Bob” was a heavy set man, graying at the temples, an African American who had clearly seen a lot in his days. We would all assemble in his office, once a week or once every two weeks depending on the scheduling of my parents. He would sit with a small steno pad and take notes. My sister and I would sit together on one side. My mother would sit nearest an ash tray; she smoked five or six cigarettes during each hour long session. My brother and father were usually on the other side.
Bob would ask us questions. He would ask my parents and my brother mostly questions and they would mumble out some answer. Bob would write it down. My sister and I mostly were silent unless asked something directly. If therapy was supposed to mean talking, there wasn’t much going in these sessions. The biggest points were that my father blamed my mother for my brother’s behaviors because she wasn’t around enough. My mother blamed my father because she had to work to earn more money because he’d cut his level of financial support to us kids. My brother blamed them both for not teaching him to better control his impulses. Nobody was taking a lot of responsibility for the mess we were finding ourselves deeper and deeper these days.
It was finally suggested that as a temporary help to control my brother’s impulse control and remove temptation for him, we install combination locks on all of our bedroom doors. My brother had been stealing cash from my mother’s purse and from us girls as well, so it was agreed that we would lock ourselves up until my brother’s therapy helped him learn the lessons that he blamed my parents for not teaching him. I was relieved that I would be able to have a little more sense of security in my room, but realized that it was kind of nuts that we had to install locks to keep family members from stealing from us.
Family therapy was so divisive that we stopped visiting my father for overnight visits once we started therapy. He started counting the hour long complaint filled sessions as his visitation, and we started to see less and less of him. It was a classic case of negative reinforcement; every time he saw my sister, brother and I something negative happened, so he started seeing us less and less. Ironically, it was at this critical time when we needed his presence more, not less.
We were standing right at the top of the slippery slope, and I could sense that the conditions were right for a quick trip down.