Posted by: bourbonmama | 27/03/2009

WBW #12: My Family, Part 3: Tony’s Story

Well, it’s a little late, I know. But I can still get partial credit, right? Here you go, part three in the saga that is my family. I’ve actually been avoiding telling this story, I’m really not sure how. I originally started it in third person, like the other two, but it just didn’t come out right. So, I’m telling it from my point of view, because I can not even fathom what is going on inside Tony’s head.


You see, Tony, the oldest, the whole reason that there are six more of us, he’s, well, he’s a little crazy. Not fun crazy like me, crazy crazy, like a homeless person. When he was 17, he was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia*. I don’t really remember him before. My older sister and brother tell me how sweet he was. My mother talks about how incredibly smart he was. I don’t remember any of that. I remember him dyeing his hair jet black and wearing a leather motorcycle jacket and gloves without fingers. Think Judd Nelson in the Breakfast Club, only with black hair. Most of my memories involve fights between him and my parents.

There was the time the sound of he and my Dad fighting woke me up. I came downstairs to see Tony punch my my Dad, right in the face. It didn’t faze him, “Tony, you need to leave,” he said calmly.

He didn’t know that I was watching. He still doesn’t know. Tony refused. My father had to push him out the door, as he was berated with punches and insults. Not once did Dad lay a hand on him, aside from pushing him out the door. Once he was on the front porch, Tony didn’t stop. We had a big panel of glass in our front door, with a sheer curtain over it. He could still see in and we could still see him. He punched that glass, then kicked it a couple of times with his steel-toed boots. I can still hear the sound of glass cracking under pressure. I remember the look on my father’s face, pure anguish. He picked up the phone book, flipped through the pages, then picked up the phone and dialed. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. My dad is an expert mumbler.

A little while later, there were flashing lights outside our house. The walls inside our living room went from blue to red and back again. It reminded me of a Christmas tree. Dad went out onto the porch, I could hear his muffled voice, along with some other men. After a few minutes, he came back inside and the flashing lights faded. He sat on the couch and rested his elbows on his knees. He buried his face in his hands and shuddered. This is one of two times I have seen my father cry. I was around six. He still does not know that I was there, watching him from around the corner, and I doubt I’ll ever tell him.

Shortly after, Tony was sent to a psychiatric hospital. Which, I think, screwed him up way more than anything else. Imagine, for a second, you are 17, and slowly approaching crazy (hearing voices, seeing things), and then your parents go and stick you in a mental hospital (and not a good one either, cause they’ve got no money and an ass ton of kids) with a bunch of people who crossed the line into crazy a long time ago. I don’t blame my parents, they had no idea how to deal with it. And practically no resources. Some crazy quack of a “doctor” told them that Tony’s pot smoking had something to do with it. So, anyway, that’s how he ended up in rehab.

This is when my memories of him become more clear. And most of what I remember was scary, the rest was just awkward. He was either fighting with my parents, or everyone was on edge, waiting for him to go off. He’d have good days and bad, the older we got, the more bad days he had. He moved out, went into the army, serving in Desert Storm, then we moved shortly after. I would see him 3 or 4 times a year, and he always just weirded me out. He never felt like a brother, he was more like a strange uncle.

I was 15 when my mother let the big secret slip. My sister and I told our brother Jason, who was the only familial support Tony had at the time (that wasn’t 5 hrs away). We were able to keep it from him for a couple of years. Mom told us that she and my father had always planned on telling Tony about his biological father when he was old enough to understand, but then his schizophrenia began to show up, and they didn’t want to push him over the edge. No one else wanted to either.

One night, Jason and Tony were hanging out. Jason says that Tony said some random thing about Marcia and Dennis (he had long since stopped calling them mom and dad) that led Jason to believe that our parents had told him about Clayton, so he said, “Oh, they finally told you?”

To which Tony answered, “Huh?” And then Jason had to tell him. Tony was 27, twenty-seven, when he found out his father was actually not his father, some guy that mom dated in high school was. And, he found out from his younger brother, his younger brother and sisters knew more about it than he did. That would have to shake you to your core, crazy or not.

He contacted his father, forged a relationship (if you can call it that), and changed his last name. Apparently, mom had never told Clayton about the pregnancy. He would have been there for Tony had he known about him. And after Tony contacted him, my mother called ant told Clayton about his illness (yeah, that really helped the situation).

Aside: This is information from Tony, so it is hard to know how much of it Clayton actually said and how much Tony made up, if any.

He has never since called our father Dad. Anytime I would see him, he’d go on about what a piece of shit Dennis was. The conversations always ended with me telling him I wasn’t going listen to him bash the man that raised us, the man that gave up every thing for him. The last time I saw him was about four years ago. I had to ask the manager at the restaurant I was working at to make him to leave (but don’t let him know I asked for him to do it), because he had decided to set up camp at my bar until I left. I was afraid he was going to follow me home. Afraid of my own brother. He just had that look in his eye. I’d seen that look before. The same look he had when he showed up at my house one day after I’d first moved back to KY. Jason and I had gotten an apartment together and Tony was jealous. Jason had just left for work when he showed up. I pretended like I had to leave and go to work, but he wouldn’t leave until I did. I had to walk all the way to the bus station and get on a bus before he stopped following me.

I called him a few times when I was pregnant, he never called me back. Then, last month, he showed up at my grandparents house, had dinner with my mother, and put out an open invitation for us to call him. And, no I don’t know if I will call him or not.


A lot of people don’t understand what it is like to have a loved one with this disease. I have had other people tell me that we are heartless. How could we turn away our own family? Philip for years could not understand why he couldn’t tell Tony where we lived. I am not going to tell you what it took for him to finally understand. So, if you leave a comment, be kind. Something about walking a mile in another man’s shoes…

*A little background on Tony’s disease: it comes on slow. Not like other mental disorders that can be diagnosed as early as preschool, Schizophrenia doesn’t show up until late puberty. As if there isn’t already enough going on, what with all the raging hormones and all, sufferers start to hear voices, and see thing that aren’t there. Coming to extreme conclusions about the people around that person being out to get them. What make the disease so debilitating, is that the paranoid part of it keeps them from actually taking the meds that would help to balance out the chemicals in their brain. If you’d like to learn more, go here.



  1. I don’t think you need to feel ashamed for not telling him where you lived. I applaud you for protecting yourself and your family. My roommate in college had a father with the same disease. The man actually killed her mother while they were in the house. I still shudder from some of the stories she told me!

  2. Just because he can’t control his disease doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) protect your family. I applaud you as well. Choosing to distance yourself from him does not mean you don’t love him.

  3. Thank you for sharing this story.

    I would agree with the other commenters that the desire to protect your family doesn’t make you mean.

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