Monday, August 25, 2008

memories of a degree.

When I saw them coming--in their vans, their SUVs, their pick-up trucks--I had a flashback.

Suitcases. Halogen floor lamps. Full-length mirrors. All manner of Rubbermaid containers.


Lines and lines of vehicles, each jammed full of all the bits and pieces of a life of eighteen years. A simultaneously worried and excited face peering out from the back passenger window. Eyes gazing up, and down, and to the left, and to the right.


Tents, carts on wheels, name tags hanging from the well-versed habitants of this place. Signs pointing to various locations/help points/parking spaces.


"Excuse me," she says, her daughter by her side, timid, but trying to be brave. "Can you tell me where the Union is?"

I smile. I look into her eyes and see A Mother Letting Go.

"Sure. How 'bout I take you there?"

A look of surprise. And relief.

"Oh, thank you," she says.

Mother and daughter, and father, too, walk with me towards the destination. They're from twenty minutes away. She's their first. And only. They've heard such wonderful things about the university. She wanted to come here. Because it's wonderful. Communications. Non-profits. Those are the possible paths she'll take.


I stand on the tenth floor of the parking garage, and I look out of the big window by the elevators. I see the campus. The people, small and many. The vehicles still making their ways to the unloading zones.

And I remember when it was My Turn. As if it were yesterday. But it was eleven years ago. My current place of study, my current place of employment...I cannot leave this place. My first year as a freshman here was not my first year as a freshman. I'd dropped out of the first university I went to--homesickness, feeling out of place, and good old-fashioned fear led to my departure. I came here for Freshman Year Number Two. And it changed my life.

I remember the way my father packed the trunk and backseat of the car so methodically that I was convinced he was, in fact, an engineer and not a steel worker. The way he planned the journey--all thirty minutes of it--so that stress was not an option, but organization and a well-thought-out experience were. I remember the way my mother put non-perishable foods in a grocery bag and tied it tight, to keep it safe, before it arrived in my dorm room after the journey on the interstate.


The love I felt from my parents--even my mother, despite her illness--made it possible. Made me want to stay and learn and grow and be brave and meet people and change my life into the life it was supposed to be. My parents. My.Beautiful.Parents. They cheered for me in my Freshman Year Number Two.

I did it. I went to college. I had their love and my brain and our courage. I survived.



And today, as the freshman went to class for the very first time, I whispered a prayer for each and every single one of them. To be brave. To grow. To reach out. And in. Of themselves and towards themselves. To have peace and a place.

To let this place be for them the saving grace it was and is for me.

Yesterday's Gratitude:
1. rest
2. a clean apartment
3. faith
4. a healthy breakfast of soft-boiled egg and toast
5. getting to bed early

with love from Pittsburgh,

Friday, August 22, 2008

she's lost her mind.

I have wanted to write about this topic for quite some time, but I've always come up with excuses as to why I can't/shouldn't/won't. And then, like the Blogger Gods always end up causing me to do, I was smack dab on the front door step of Petunia Face's heart, being reminded that writing about the difficult stuff is often the most important, most theraputic, and most full-of-grace thing a Blogger can do. Or a human can do. And I knew, right then and there, that my story needed to come out. It needed to move from my heart, down my arms, into my hands, and out of my fingertips. Because it is My Story. And it is my belief that it might be someone else's, too. And what more beautiful reason is there than that: to share a story, with and between others. Friends. Fellow travelers on this trip of life.

And so, I share this story--My Story--for Petuina Face, for you, dear reader, and for me. (Petunia Face: If only you could be here with me now, holding my hand, helping me through this, telling me I'm not alone...Why, oh, why must you be in California?)

(The tears have already begun...they sting my eyes...they blur my vision...)

When I was 10, my mother came to me one day and announced that she was going to Medjugorje, in the former Yugoslavia. We were a middle-class, Midwestern family. Members of it didn't go to Yugoslavia. Yugo-what-ee-ah? I thought she was crazy. She said that she wanted to be a part of the phenomenom of the Virgin Mary appearing to a group of young people there. Again, I thought she was crazy.

She went to Medjugorje, and when she returned, she returned a different person. She locked herself in her room all day, she wrote in notebooks--so many that they lined the perimeter of my parents' bedroom, in stacks and stacks. In those notebooks she wrote to Jesus. Or she wrote the words Jesus spoke to her. She claimed she was a prophet. My mother. The Prophet. She went to Mass every single day--sometimes twice a day. She prayed the rosary from sun-up to sun-down. She became obsessed. She stopped keeping house. My parents' bedroom became a mess. Something was wrong. I was young, but I wasn't dumb.

A couple of years later, we moved. Same city, different house. Mom got worse. She didn't get out of bed. Except to go to Mass. Or pray. Or write in her notebooks. Again, housekeeping took a backseat.

A year and a half after that, Dad got a job in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. So, we moved again. I was thirteen. And Mom? Yes. She got worse. My brother and I used to make bets on the busride home from school.

"I think she'll still be in bed," I'd say.

"I think she's asleep, too," he'd say.

We weren't really making bets with each other. We were just coming to terms with what we knew was the truth. Our mom was weird. And we hated it.

By the time I was sixteen, I was the woman of the house. Mom spent all of her time at church, or in her room praying, or writing, or sobbing to Jesus. And the house was disgusting. I was so embarrassed. I hated when people stopped by unannounced. I only invited friends over if 1) I had time to clean, and 2) Mom was at church or in her room.

Then the hallucinations started. Demons in her bedroom. Voices in her head. The random screaming. Even if I had friends over. The time I had a boy over for the first time--a boy I really liked. We sat in the living room one Christmas, enjoying the tree. And then the screaming started. Upstairs. From my mother's bedroom. My heart. Breaking.

And there was the weird behavior: Locking herself in her bedroom. Pushing furniture in front of the door. Dousing the car with holy water before she went to get groceries. Inviting friends from church over to lay prostrate in front of the nearly life-size Virgin Mary statue we had in our living room. Making my brother and me pray the rosary with her and my dad every night after dinner. (Disclosure: My dad didn't like it, either. But he did it to keep her calm.)

I hated her.




And, finally: at Christmas of my junior year in high school, she went into a mental hospital. But it wasn't a normal mental hospital. It was a Christian mental hospital. Could we possibly add any more fuel to this fire that continued to rage and rage out of control? I remember visiting her with my dad--my brother wouldn't come--and on the carride home, I put my seat back, turned my face to the passenger's side window, and cried silently, so my dad wouldn't know how much it hurt. How much I wanted a mom. How much I hated this woman I didn't know.

In college, it was much of the same. My twenty-first birthday was one of the worst memories I'd had up to that point. She and my father drove to my campus, a mere 30 minutes away from home, to take me out for late-night dessert after my theatre rehearsal. Mom was acting funny. We arrived at the restaurant too late: Kitchen Closed. I was disappointed. We were going to try another place, but I said, "Nah. Take me back to campus, please." I sat in the front seat--the Birthday Girl Seat. My mom rode in the back. And then started to yell incoherently. As if in tongues. I was terrified. My dad continued to drive as if everything was as normal as could be. When they dropped me off in front of my dorm, I bolted from the car, crying. It was a Friday night. Students were outside everywhere. My mom opened the door of the car, and cried out, "Laura, please. Take my gift!" I didn't want it. I wanted to get away from her. My dad said, "Connie, get back in the car. Connie, please. Just get back in the car." Everyone was staring. "Laura, please!" she yelled. I grabbed the gift bag as fast as I could, hugged and kissed my dad, and ran towards my dorm's front door, sobbing the entire way.

The present? Padded hangers.

Happy 21st birthday.

And then the hospital visits became more frequent. Sometimes she'd be there for a couple of days. Other times it would be for a week or so. The nights I'd get calls from my dad while I was at college: "Your mom went to St. Francis again this afternoon. Just thought you should know." Or, "I took your mom to the hospital and didn't even have time to pack her bag. Would you mind running home, packing some stuff, and meeting me at the hospital?"

Do you know how painful that is? To go home to your parents' empty house, rummage through your mother's dresser, select underwear, socks, some pants and tops--and make sure you get her slippers--all so that she'll be comfortable while she's in a psych ward?

(The tears...the tears...they blur my vision...)

And then The Big One came. I was living in the Midwest. As if the pain wasn't enough. She was admitted to the Torrence State Mental Hospital. A state institution. Two hours from my parents' home.

For a year.

And my dad, God Bless Him Always, drove to see her several times a week. Four hours roundtrip. Because he made a committment in the eyes of God. In sickness and in health.

And then I came home for 48 hours that Christmas. Because that's all my retail job would allow. (Because nothing--NOTHING--is more important than retail at Christmas.) And my dad and I drove to see my mom. In the psych hospital. On Christmas Day. Without my brother. Because he refused to come. And there were bars on the window of the room we got to meet her in. And the staff had to inspect our presents. To make sure nothing was sharp. Or had glass. Or could be used to hurt herself.

Merry Christmas. But not merry at all.

And I sobbed the whole way home.

And two months ago she attempted suicide. A story I cannot share with you quite yet. But she was on life support for three days. And do you know what I did?

I prayed that God would take her.

I prayed so hard. As her blood pressure dropped. As the ambulance raced to get her. As my dad's shaky voice on the phone got shakier.

I prayed. God, please take her. Take her from this pain--mine, hers, my family's. Take her.


But He didn't.

(the tears...the tears...they blur my vision...)

And when she woke, she went back into the hospital. For a month.

He didn't take her.

And now she's home. Again. And I don't know what will happen next. The meds have stabled her a bit. She has learned how to use email. She even text messages me sometimes. There are moments in which She Has Her Mind. But I wonder when she will lose it again.

And my father...the sadness I feel for him cannot be put into words. Not here. Not anywhere. God Bless Him. God Bless Him.


This is schizophrenia.

This is what it looks like. What it sounds like. What it does.

And I wish--oh, how I wish--that she'd had cancer instead.

There's an end with cancer. Either the sweet release of death for the body, or the death of the cells and then a cancer-free body. From chemo. Radiation. Pills. The suffering eventually ends. Yes, it is terrible--I have watched ones I love suffer from it. I have watched bladder cancer, brain cancer, and skin cancer claim the lives of three of the greatest loves of my life. But that suffering, for me, for my family, was never anything close to what we've felt as we watch my mother suffer. Twenty years it's been.

TWENTY YEARS. No release. Just suffering.

With schizophrenia, there is no sweet release. There is no cure. There is no way to make her mind healthy. It is continual pain.

Pain, pain, pain.

Oh, how I wish she'd had cancer.

And I miss my mother. The one I never had.

I will never know what it's like to have a mother-daughter bond. Her mind doesn't allow it. She bore me. That is all.

(the tears...the tears...they blur my vision...they cleanse my soul)

with love from Pittsburgh,