High maintenance

It was a pretty standard Saturday morning for me. Caught up for a mate for coffee and Danish, walked up the road to do my weekly grocery shopping, returned home to unpack it while I had some playlist going loud in the background. That done I wander into my study and tap on the keyboard to check out what’s news. No emails of note, no messages, but hello, on Facebook I find an ominous post.

It’s by my cousin, of course. He starts in by saying what a toxic life he’s had. Then he says had he not been denied the inheritance from his grandparents that went to his cousins instead he might have had a chance (was he talking about us, I wondered, or the other side of the family? We got nothing.) He concludes by stating that he’ll be ending his life later in the day.

As I read this my heart falls. There’s every chance this is a cry for help. And, though I don’t know him that well, it seems consistent with his attention seeking self-pity. But I can’t presume that and I know I can’t just sit there and do nothing.

I contact a friend to get an opinion. At the same time I report his post to Facebook. We agree I have to do something, but I’m not sure how you go about it. If I say the wrong thing it could aggravate the situation so after I get off the phone I call Lifeline. I explain the situation to them and they guide me through the process.

While I’m talking to them I tap out a message to him. I tell him I’ve seen his post. I ask him (redundantly, but you have to say something) if he’s alright. His response is immediate “Fuck off”, he writes.

I half expect that and ignore it. I continue. I understand you’re in a bad way, I write, but I’m here to listen if you need it.

Once more his response is immediate, and the tone has changed. He asks where I live.

I know I don’t want him coming to my place. I don’t want him to know where I live for fear that he’ll never leave. But these are desperate times.

I tell him my suburb, but also tell him that I can come to him. And, as I’ve been advised, I give him the number for Lifeline.

There’s no response to that and in fact it’s hours until he reads it. I admit, I feel some relief. I barely know him, and what I know of him I don’t like. But I can’t ignore him. I wonder if I’m being unfair. I may dislike him, but isn’t that unreasonable – like being annoyed by a one legged man because he limps?

In the meantime I call my father – the man I haven’t seen or heard from for over two years. My call goes to voicemail. Half an hour later he responds with a message. He greets me, then says he’s well aware of my cousin’s (his nephew’s) behaviour as he is always threatening to kill himself.

Somehow I am relieved by this, but unsurprised. Then I get angry. It’s the worst kind of emotional blackmail. I want nothing to do with him. When the dust settles, I resolve, I’ll block him.

In the meantime others have posted responses on his Facebook page exhorting him to think again. One person has even ‘liked’ the post.

There’s nothing more from him on Saturday, but on Sunday come a flurry of posts. Everything is different. Now he appears bright and positive. He announces plans. Then he starts uploading family photos going right back to his great-grandparents. His posts are eloquent – he’s clearly educated and intelligent – but they come in such a rush that I snooze him on my timeline.

I’m glad things are better. His behaviour seems to confirm theories on his mental state. I’m sour on him still. Good for you, I think, but leave me alone.

Today he contacted me again. He was friendly. I responded in kind. I suspect he was looking for information on a friend of mine that he remembers from when he was a boy, the guy with the red Trans Am. He’s not hard to track down – he’s a Facebook friend of mine, after all. And I anticipate that my friend now will be inundated with communications as the latest addition to his retinue. I’m sure this has been the pattern throughout. He consumes people until they’re exhausted with him before moving onto the next on the list. He uses them for the attention they can give him.

Maybe I’m being cynical. I can’t turn my back on him, not yet – but what I am is no more than the sympathetic bystander. I feel no stronger bond with him than with the people I work with, and less so than with many of my colleagues.

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