“Every weakness contains within itself a strength.” Shusaku Endo

My entire life I have has to be strong when I felt weak. I’m an identical twin. My sister faces the same struggle. We do everything together including trying to save her daughter, Stephaney from herself. It’s been a very difficult and painful path. Trying to save someone who refuses to save themselves always is.

Yesterday morning while getting clothing from Cindy in my driveway, Cindy called the oral surgeon to confirm the time for the twins to get their wisdom teeth pulled. With Maryssa and Makenna in the backseat, the receptionist told Cindy that the appointment was next Tuesday. This shouldn’t have been a traumatic event. A mistake was made. Cindy had brought the twins to the city for an appointment on the wrong day. A simple fix. Or so we thought. Maryssa and Makenna both started crying. Could they be that anxious to get their wisdom teeth pulled? It was 9AM. I was due to take clothing to the group home for Stephaney at 10:30AM while Cindy took the twins to the oral surgeon. We had times everything perfectly while trying to mask our anxiety about Stephaney and whether or not she would relapse again. We’ve had 16 years of setbacks with Steph. We are old, tired, battle-worn and weary. We are devastated about the many “setbacks of Stephaney.”

I told the twins and Cindy to come upstairs with Cindy’s husband, Steve who is on vacation this week. The twins continued crying. Cindy and I were confused as to why they were so upset. I asked Makenna if they wanted to stay out of school? I just couldn’t understand what was going on. That’s when Maryssa “clued us in.”

“We hate the high school. We hate wearing masks. We hate in person classes. We wanted to have our wisdom teeth taken out to stay out of school all week. Now we can’t because it’s the wrong day for the surgery. Now we have to go back to school.” Both twins started crying again. I left Steve with the twins in my den and took Cindy to my office. We needed to try and find a way to get the twins out of in person learning and move them to at home learning. A month ago they were determined to go back to school. Three days in and they are anxiety riddled and hysterical? What the?

I had Cindy call the school first checking my watch knowing o had to be in Arlington at the group home with $1700 for the first months rent for Stephaney. Anyone thinking or believing that trying to “save Stephaney” hasn’t left Cindy and I bleeding money while raising her twins without benefit of child support 16 years doesn’t have a clue about the expense involved. We do. We live it. We’ve been living it for 16 years chasing after Stephaney WHILE raising the twins. Try acting normal in our abnormal world. It’s not easy.

I decided to have Cindy call the school and ask to move the twins back to home schooling. The principal adamantly said “they cannot make any changes within the first 6 weeks per TEA.” This was distressing news. I spoke for Cindy and said “then we will call their psychologist and have him write a letter because they are having panic attacks regarding returning to school.” This tidbit changed the conversation. “If they have a psychologist who will write a letter then we will reevaluate their curriculums.”

It was now 9:37. I am 31 minutes from the group home and dropping off clothing, shoes, medication and more to Stephaney for the 17th time. I didn’t want to even think about what awaited me in Arlington at this group home.

Cindy called the psychologist and made arrangements for the letter. Steve drove the twins home as Cindy hopped into my suv to head to Arlington. Our conversation was as usual “if she doesn’t get it together this time we cannot help help her again we must walk away. We have to. Our other kids are angry about our consistently dropping everything to try and save Stephaney. Our husbands are angry about it. Her own children are angry about it. We must stop. We must step away and pay one month rent, force her to get a job and pay her own way. This is it for us. It.”

We finally roll up to the group home when a barrage of texts from Stephaney. “I can’t stay here. I can’t afford this rent next month. There’s no bus line. There is nothing here. It’s in the middle of nowhere.”

We drive up and Steph walks outside. “I can’t stay here. Take me to MHMR I want a list of other group homes.”

I become angry and agitated. “We don’t have all day to be running around I have the money to pay for you to stay here and no desire for you to run off again like you did the last time you got kicked out of the group home while Cindy and I spent two years trying to find you again. I’m serious. If you run off we aren’t looking for you again. We are fed up.”

I wind up driving to MHMR on Circle Drive anyway after an argument. Cindy and I park in the same place we did the last time Steph walked in to get a list and never walked out leaving her phone in the restroom for a homeless guy to sell back to us after he finally answered it for $100. For two years we filed police reports. We drove the streets. We were called when Steph was picked up and committed over and over and over again at JPS. She would go in then get out and run off again.

I turned and looked at my niece and said “we are raising your kids, we are juggling client’s, we are dealing with other family members angry at us for trying to help you. If you run off from here again today, we aren’t going to come look for you. We are done. I mean it. There will be no hotels while you drag your feet finding a group home. There will be no more con games of playing us for idiots. We have to be home and on location tonight at 6PM. Thank God Steves at home to take care of the twins while we are yet again trying to help you. We have other things to do. Don’t you even think about running off again.”

Steph got out of my Sahara and walked into MHMR. Ten minutes later she walked back with a list and her phone. She called 3 group homes before calling the same one she had been kicked out of the last time. I was concerned about this. That house was in a seedy area. I was highly uncomfortable about this choice. HIGHLY.

Apparently the woman remembered Steph and said she would take her in. I now had to drive back to the other group home and get Steph’s belongings and tell the other woman she wouldn’t be staying there.

We now drive back to the same house I had hoped would get Steph stable. I remember it well. I had such high hopes back then. The first group home my niece had ever been to. No more psych ward visits. No more late night phone calls. No more looking for Steph whenever I wasn’t working. But two weeks later, Steph was kicked out.

I was apprehensive as was Cindy. We unloaded Steph’s stuff and waited on the lady who remembered the “twin moms.” We remembered sitting on the sofa as she told us that she was evicting Stephaney with nowhere to go. With a months rent paid to her. Group homes are expensive. Steph was supposed to look for work back then to pay the next months rent. She went to look for meth instead. Once again when we had hope it was gone. It’s been 2.5 years since then.

Her white Mercedes pulled into the driveway. We give her the money. We exchange pleasantries. It’s odd. Uncomfortable. She suggests moving Steph to one of her other houses. I ask “where to drive to? Can you give me the address?” She offers to drive Steph herself. Cindy and I are relieved. It’s 4PM. We are anxious. We are worried. Will Steph mess this up again? We have no idea.

This morning the twins started home schooling. This morning I loaded up my suv to drive to Rockwall to marry a couple on the courthouse steps. This morning I was also driving by the new group home for the first time. I didn’t have the address. I did have the street name. I finally found it. Steph walked out. She looked adjusted and happy. Am I being too hopeful? I have no idea. I’m afraid to think positive thoughts about my niece. Why? They are always destroyed that’s why. Crushed. I’m left trying to keep my sister from having a nervous breakdown while masking my own shattered heart setback after setback.

Steph got into my suv and I asked if she was hungry? She talks about the other girls. Why they are there. How long they have been there. What they are like. We start out towards Rockwall. We talk about a job. I have a few ideas for her. We go over the bus routes. We go over how much I need her to make this work and get it together.

Arriving at the courthouse, I ask my niece to take pictures. Cindy’s home learning how to do online school with the twins. I usually set up and take care of school related things for Cindy. I answer school emails. I schedule the twins orthodontist and dr Appts as well as counseling. I’m the scheduler. Cindy keeps calling for password set up. My clients are running late. I FaceTime her to work through the set up on each course. By the time we work it out my clients arrive.

The wedding goes well. They are a really nice couple. They have two children. They’ve been together 18 years and heard about me. I brought an suv of fun stuff. They love the bouteniers. The children wear coordinating wrist corsages. One of he boys wears a cowboy hat I have in the trunk. My ruffled umbrella comes in handy as it starts to drizzle. We have fun. Steph enjoys taking photos but they are shadowed. I will need to forward them to Leigh Ann to edit in California. We have a nice time and head back to Fort Worth. I have clients to meet at Tarrant County at 2:30.

Afterwards, I take Steph shopping for snack items and then pick up four applications. We grab lunch at a drive through and I drive her from the group home to all 4 bus stops near the group home. Cindy and I bought a week long bus ticket for Stephaney. We only buy one week at a time as she often loses them.

I take Steph back to the group home. She had me buy cereal and milk for one woman who doesn’t like the group home food. There’s hot dogs because the home has buns and no hot dogs. Chips, crackers and colas. There are meals served at all of the homes as meals are included in the rent but most residents prefer junk food. Most can’t afford it. They never leave. They don’t have anyone coming to pick them up. They don’t have a mom or Aunt to take them shopping. They are on SS disability and their checks pay their rent and lodging. They are lost. They have no one and nowhere to go. People in these group homes may have families but they are families that have given up on them. Cindy and I worry if Steph can’t make this work and get stable, she will become one of those people.

Leigh Ann (Steph’s sister) is flying into DFW with Maddy Friday. Tomorrow I’m filing marriage licenses and going back to the group home to take Steph to drop off applications and buy more clothing. Day 1 at the group home has gone okay. I pray and hope that this time Steph makes the right choices…