Monday, March 14, 2011
Problems With Powell
As it seems is always the case, there have been issues lately with my brother Powell. Many of you will remember that the sibling who is closest to me in age has also had the most troubled personal history.
This twenty-one-year-old's checkered relationship with my parents entered a new chapter last month when he reached the end of a probation that was imposed upon him for an underage drinking incident that happened on Christmas Day, 2009.
Powell, who graduated high school nearly three years ago and hasn't done much of anything since, had been promising my parents for months that as soon as his probationary period concluded he would join either the Navy or the Coast Guard.
When he first completed high school without gaining admission to a four-year university, I was opposed to his signing up for the military. At the time I told him that he should make that commitment only out of sincere zeal to serve and not because he felt he had nowhere else to go.
Powell has since shown little inclination to utilize other options, however, and with his life stuck in an aimless limbo I advised him recently to enlist.
He reiterated that he would once his probation had ended.
In the meantime, he used his impending induction as an excuse to do absolutely nothing.
"I just don't see the point in getting a job," he repeated all winter. "When I'm going to sign up for the Navy in February anyway."
February came, though, and with it a series of reasons why Powell could not, at that moment, take action that would advance his life in any meaningful way.
"Here's the thing," he told me recently. "I have to get all of the paper work together saying I completed my probation and paid a few tickets I had. Plus, I still have THC in my system."
For those who don't know, THC is shorthand for tetrahydrocannobinol, the main chemical component of marijuana and the one most frequently searched for in drug tests. That, of course, brings me to another important fact: Powell is no longer living with us.
My mother, in large part to prevent Thomas from following the same path Powell went down, recently instituted regular drug tests for my fifteen-year-old sibling and has generally tried to maintain a home environment that is rigorously free of substance abuse.
One element of this program has been a requirement that Powell remain clean.
When he told our mother that he was "not smoking" but probably still had cannabis residue in his system, she kicked him out.
I don't blame her.
Powell, of course, as breathtakingly arrogant as he is averse to accepting responsibility, absolutely blames her, and on this issue as on others I find I cannot agree with him.
Take, for instance, his reasoning as regards marijuana.
Powell has smoked since he was about Thomas's age, and that habit has not abated even in the face of academic failure, court sentences, unemployment, repeated ejections from the house, and, now, the need to pass a drug test for the purposes of entering the armed forces.
"You don't get it, BB," he told me. "If you fail a drug test one time, you are kicked out of the military and you can't ever re-enlist. I can't take that risk. I just have to wait until the THC is gone."
"But Powell," I asked. "If you knew that you had this deadline coming up, why wouldn't you have quit doing weed far enough ahead of time to be able to pass a drug test now?"
As always, he had no satisfactory answer.
In the years since childhood's protective shield was withdrawn from him, Powell has increasingly come to resemble a member of my birth-mother's family: lazy, unemployed, entitled, full of flimsy excuses, and perennially low on cash.
His monetary deficit comes from a mind-blowing ability to plough through whatever funds he's given, another trait that I believe he inherited from Weird Family, a group of people whose financial misadventures are today confined to shady drug deals and unpaid bills but who once had both the resources and the ineptness to make a major dent in the world's largest economy.
Powell hasn't managed to squander monies on quite as epic a scale as some of his forebears (our great-grandfather was particularly infamous for an incident in which he lost in excess of $100 million), but proportionally speaking he's done a pretty good job of mucking things up for himself.
Last week, for example, after a long stretch without any real infusion of cash, Powell received $400.00 from the sale of a car he'd purchased with my father. Seven days later Beautiful Cousin and I were taking him bags of food because he'd spent every last penny he had and was left with no way to feed himself.
The friends with whom he's living apparently did not feel compelled to help him.
"Powell," I questioned him in exasperation. "What could you have possibly spent $400.00 on in less than two weeks?"
"Some of it was groceries," he said, then perhaps realized how implausible an explanation that was given the purpose of our visit. "I'll be honest, some of it was for beer. We went out to dinner a couple of times, too. Plus, I bought concert tickets."
"Powell, why would you buy concert tickets when you have no job?"
My brother, even when he goes months without a paycheck, always manages to find money for partying.
On top of that, he has an uncanny ability to take already awful situations and make them demonstrably worse, often on the basis of hideously flawed logic.
"Mom and Dad have made it so that I can't join the military," he informed me recently. "They've put me in the financial situation where I literally can't."
"Powell, that makes no sense," I said. "You get a bonus when you sign up."
"Yeah, but you don't get it right away," he objected. "Mom and Dad have made it so that my only option is to sell drugs or get a job."
"Powell, why the hell wouldn't you get a job?" I asked in frustration. "Why in the world would you think you needed to sell drugs?"
"BB, I have no money," he answered.
"Couldn't you enlist and then work in the meantime?" I questioned.
"Oh, I don't know," was his mumbled reply.
His outlook also embraces wild conspiracy theories (his favorite topics of discussion in that area are the Illuminati and the unconstitutionality of the federal government levying taxes) and a sense of superiority that his circumstances render unspeakably pitiful.
I can't help but thinking he might be mentally ill.
With each day I see him becoming more and more like Anne, throwing away every opportunity put in front of him and always having a perfect reason for why he must do so.
I don't know what will happen to Powell, but if he fails (and I earnestly hope he doesn't), it won't be because he lacks talent or intelligence. That, too, sadly, is a hallmark of Anne's family: wasted potential.
In any case, the experience of Powell has completely recalibrated the attitude of the adults in our family toward the youth.
My grandmother perfectly illustrates how this has played out.
When Powell was eighteen and I twenty, my father's mother gave us access to multiple bank accounts, saved for us since our births, that in total provided us with about $14,000.00 each.
Within a year, the entirety of his money was gone, whereas three years later I've managed to save a large portion of mine. For the rest of the grandchildren, saving or splurging will not be an option; when Rowdy Cousin and Tall Cousin, both seventeen, graduate high school this June, they will receive not account numbers but checks made out to their respective universities.
"I just don't even know who Powell is anymore," I told my father today. He'd walked into the kitchen when I was halfway through writing this post to tell me how worried he was about my brother.
As a teenager, Powell was funny, strong, charismatic, and confident. He was the good-looking athlete who got all the girls, who had big plans for his life and was going to follow them with a gladiator's stride. The sad, pathetic man I see today is a decrepit shadow of that vibrant adolescent.
I just don't know how it happened.
I wonder, quite often, what Powell's fourteen-year-old self would think if he could see what he would become by age twenty-one, and invariably I imagine him filled with revulsion.
I wonder equally often if anything could have been done to prevent all of this, and if so, what it might have been.
Still more do I wonder if Powell might yet set things right.
I hope so. I really do.