Its funny the way things come out. I said above that its another story, another story about my mother. And it is. It is a story that I am not even ready to come to grips with now, as I sit here in blissful stability with tears in my eyes even trying to express what I need to express about what I said. Disturbed. I am often so careless with words; and words have sharp edges sometimes, sometimes points or teeth that bite. My mom was unstable"¦my mom was sick. No. My mother was"¦my mother is beautiful; and fragile. My early life was filled with so much magic and imagination. We lived sometimes at campgrounds, and the sounds of frogs and crickets, and the smell of that Tennessee summertime was all around, and she'd make all the stories real. I believed until I was 10 that I was the Prince of Norway in exile; I wonder if she believed too. When I was seven my mom bought me a piano. And we were poor. I'm talking, "who gets to eat that last can of fruit cocktail out the food box" poor. And I still play. And its as important to my sanity as anything else in my life. My mother sewed us clothes; taught us to make puppets from old newspapers, scrap fabric, coat hangers, flour and food dye. And she taught us to play"¦when the school couldn't teach me to read, my mom helped me along with some books she knew I'd like. My mother kept the TV off, and the stereo loud"¦as every mother should. And she kept reading to us as long as she was around"¦
I can honestly say I can't remember a time when I wasn't aware of what manic-depressive meant. It meant that mom was unpredictable"¦it meant that we might drive down to Florida tomorrow and camp on the beach, or she might disappear for a few months, and we would visit her in that scary scary place with all the funny people called MTMHI. It meant the way mom sits at the table rocking back and forth laughing to herself and shaking"¦.it meant that scary word TAR-DIV-DIS-CON-ISHA. It meant that funny orange tray on top of the refrigerator with the impossible number of pill bottles. It meant awkward pictures and crafts from art therapy filled with more love than a thousand million billion hallmark cards could ever muster.
Once when I was seven she explained that she was going to kill herself and not for me to worry cause it was better for everyone; and she acquiesced that day to her sons tears, in spite of the snarling monsters that fill the minds of the so afflicted.
She taught me to never entirely trust places with names like The Department Of Human Services. That homemade gifts are so much cooler than that crap at the store. That there might be a god, or gods, or none at all, but if there are, it doesn't matter what you call your religion or spirituality, the prayers are taken just the same.
You see, the whole bipolar thing, the NAMI thing, it was her way of protecting us from the stigma. The Goddamned Stigma. She told me she had a brain disorder. That she wasn't crazy. That was what it was in the eighties. Before the ADA, or Prozac.
And after awhile it was too much for her. Her husband was an abusive asshole, and sent her over the edge"¦into long term lockdown. The amnesia of the American Conscious, institutionalization.
And I went to live with a new family. I was thirteen.
She would send letters from the hospital.
And so it went. I went through a couple homes, a couple "rehabs" of my own. And I landed in a foster home with loving folks at 15. I was one of the lucky ones. And these letters started arriving, often several in a week. My mom's childlike print, so like my own, so sweetly determined. Yellowing envelopes, from places like Park Center, or the Mental Health Co-op in Nashville. My new mom would hand me the letters, and I would carry them in my room and close the door. And sometimes I would cry, that sputtering cry of boys who haven't learned yet how to cry. Rarely would I read those letters. I had a box where I would shove them, crumpled, damp; unopened. And there they would stay for years to call at me even now from under my couch as I write this. I'm sorry I didn't read your letters back then mom. It was never that I didn't love you, or that I thought you ever did anything less than the best you could for me. It was too much for me to bear in those difficult years; your misery and hardship.
You see, that was when they suddenly decided to close the institution. So many souls were cast out, damaged from the abuse, yet unready for the cruel streets of the Music City. And my mother was one of them. My mother. Wondering homeless, sleeping in shelters, survivor of restraints and rapes, her own mind in mutiny; and writing sweet little letters to her son filled with nothing but love. Love and "¦"if you're not too busy, could you send me a postcard or somethin'. I'd really like that."
I have the gift from my mother. And for all the bad days, the lack of understanding in the eyes of others, I must treat my soul like a gift. My blood.
For years, through all manner of bipolaration, my greatest fear was "˜I am gonna turn out like my mother."
Well. I'm beginning to realize how great that would be if I became as tough and as loving as her.