The Next Episode

My mom stopped taking her medication again sometime around the end of my eighth grade year. My father was no longer living in the house, as my mother’s paranoia consumed her, and strained their marriage to a breaking point.

That summer, she had my brother and me paged at the mall because she believed a man was taking photographs of her. But it was the fall of ninth grade when she really started coming apart. One night I was quietly dancing my way to the fridge, as I often did, just fooling around and being a kid. She was in the living room watching the 700 Club and told me to “cut the bull”. Another time she told me to go to hell. One day we were on the way to jazz class, arguing about my brother when she suddenly screamed at me, calling me a f—ing a—hole. I was so upset after she dropped me off, I had to be excused from class to an empty studio downstairs to compose myself. This was not her. More than hurt, I was scared. It was happening again.

The next thing was she was in my room early Sunday morning, accusing me of stealing her clothes: “If I ever catch you wearing my clothes again, you are out of here!”

Frightened, I called my grandmother. I stayed with her briefly while my mother’s side of the family got her into the hospital. Visiting her was painful. Where before she had exacted all of her rage and paranoia on my father, now I was a target. And, of course, she blamed me for her hospitalization.

My father came back to the house while Mom was in the hospital, but it wasn’t long before she discharged herself. I came home from school one day to Steve Winwood (and my mother’s singing) blaring through the open windows and was immediately filled with dread. I knew enough by now to know she might come back better, but not cured. And she’d be angry with me.

When I got inside, she greeted me like usual, like nothing had ever happened. We made small talk, everything was civil. I thought, maybe I’d misjudged, maybe she really was better this time. Then I found the six pack in the fridge.

Afraid drinking would make her mad, I cautiously asked her whether it was safe to mix alcohol with the medication? She told me it was none of my damn business.

I felt alone and scared, and I still didn’t feel like I could tell anyone, even my close friend, Kelly. As the months progressed, though, Kelly knew something was wrong, and she became increasingly frustrated with me for failing to confide in her.

Kelly did well in high school. She was able to branch out and make a lot of friends. I was not. So I began to see a bit less of her, as she was busy with other people and events, and I found myself in a situation not entirely unlike two years before, when I was depressed and lonely. In her defense, Kelly tried to include me with her new friends, but I usually felt I was tagging along, and kept to myself.

I can’t help feeling like my inability to connect with other kids at school was related to my problems at home. Both seventh and ninth grade were bad years for me, and they were bad years for my mother, as well. I was afraid that people would find out about her instability, so I think I may have isolated myself, without even necessarily knowing I was doing it. Because I seemed to do better when she was stable.

I also think I was too preoccupied with my mother’s condition those years to build a social life. I am an introvert by nature; making friends did not come easily for me, I had to work at it. It’s a lot easier now, because adults are so much more accepting of different types of people, and you make friends through work. But as an already quiet kid with family troubles on top of being quiet, I had no more energy left to expend. My grades reflected this as well. I often came home too exhausted to study, and I actually failed one quarter of physical science.

If I could change one thing about that time in my life, other than to make my mom well, I would have been more candid with Kelly about what was happening. She would have understood. She might have been able to help me. Looking back, I’m afraid my stubborn insistence on keeping a big secret from her ruined our friendship. But it’s also entirely possible she outgrew me. It happens sometimes. In any case, I transferred to private school my sophomore year and we lost touch.

If I could find her, I would tell her now that I’m sorry.

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