A River of Denial // We were thwarted from all sides trying to get help for my sister-in-law

When my brother’s wife, Tziri, called me and said that my brother had left her I was blindsided and totally shocked. I’d always thought that Yossi’s marriage was on solid ground. I had no idea that it was actually located on a fault line, teetering on the brink of catastrophe.

It was strange that she should call me. We weren’t close at all. I wasn’t particularly close to my brother Yossi either. But we were only two siblings, so there weren’t really many other options.

“Please, you have to help me!” she said between sobs. I could hardly understand what she was trying to say. “Yossi left and took the kids with him.”

“What?” I asked, hoping I’d misheard. “What happened?”

“I was away for two days, just a short getaway, and Yossi was supposed to watch the kids. I just got back home and the house is empty. Yossi left me a note saying that he’s taken the children and isn’t coming back. I tried calling him. He finally picked up and said that he brought them to your mother’s house.”

“My mother’s house?” I repeated. My mother was an elderly widow, and not in the best of health. “Why?”

“He’s asking for a divorce,” she wept.

“Are you sure?” Something didn’t add up. My brother Yossi was one of the least confrontational people I’d ever met. I would have never pegged him as the type to do something so drastic and unexpected. “Why?”

“I’m not really sure. We were arguing a lot lately. I wasn’t feeling so well and wasn’t doing so much around the house, but nothing out of the ordinary. We finally decided that I would go away for two days to rest and get back to myself. I am totally devastated. I just want them to come back. Please talk to him. Tell him to come home and we’ll go to therapy to deal with our issues. He can’t stay in your mother’s house with the kids. They’re only babies. They need their mommy.”

This sounded really bizarre. “I’ll call him right away,” I promised, even though it was already past midnight.

I dialed Yossi’s number, a giant knot in the pit of my stomach. What was really going on? And was I the right person to get involved?

Yossi picked up on the third ring. He sounded awful.

“Meir?” he asked. “Why are you calling so late?”

“I just got a phone call from your wife, who was literally hysterical. What’s going on?”
Yossi hesitated. “I didn’t want to drag you into this mess. But now that she called you, I guess I have no choice. It’s a long, complicated story and not very pretty. Are you sure you want to hear it?”

“Yossi, I’m your brother. If you’re in trouble I want to help you.”

“Meir, I need you to keep this top secret. It’s not something I want anyone to know. Can I trust you a thousand percent?”

I was offended. “Of course. Have I ever let you down?”

“No, not yet. But this is very painful. It’s going on for almost a year. Tziri started having terrible backaches after Duvi was born, but they just kept getting worse. She was diagnosed with a slipped disc. She tried everything—therapy, acupuncture, and a chiropractor—but nothing helped. The doctor recommended surgery, but Tziri didn’t want to go under the knife, at least not yet. In the meantime, things were so bad that she was given pain killers.”

“What kind of pain killers?” I asked.

“Tylenol with codeine, at first, but when that didn’t help the doctor gave her Oxycontin. I had no idea how addictive it was, and how it messes up your mind. Tziri started taking the pills and her pain just disappeared. She also became very calm and mellow, as if she were taking a tranquilizer. I didn’t think it was suspicious because I wanted things to be normal, and I was happy that she’d finally stopped suffering. She also needed something to help her sleep.”

I was horrified as my brother went on to describe his wife’s descent into addiction in greater detail, and how her drug dependency affected everything in their lives.

“It took me a while to realize what was happening. I guess a part of me didn’t want to acknowledge the truth. The doctor should have warned us about the danger of these drugs and how hard it is to be weaned off them. I really had no clue. Pretty soon Tziri was out cold for most of the day, and whenever she was awake she complained that she felt nauseated. I’d come home from work and find her wandering around the house in a daze. The boys weren’t being fed or taken care of. It got to the point where I had to stay home from work to take care of them.”

“Why didn’t you go for help?”

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