Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It Could Have been Me

A few days before my tenth birthday my parents moved us to Arkansas. I was excited about the trip. I had very few friends in Indiana, was frequently bullied, and was already dysthymic (a fancy word for chronic, low level depression). Moving to Ar did not improve things, unfortunately. I continued to have no friends, be bullied, and feel depressed. My mother's mental health worsened and my dad was always at work, at school, preaching and staying with his congregation all Sunday, or studying and writing sermons.

Growing up in Ar was hard. I never stopped being perceived as "other". My accent, my clothes, my very being screamed "other" in a place where everyone's great-great grandparents grew up together. My mother's mental illness isolated us. Daddy preached 30 miles away, and stayed the day to save gas. My mother only attended with him a few times. Mostly she stayed in bed. Indeed, she spent the first year of living in Ar in bed  and only climbed out when working became a financial imperative. My dad majored in bible studies and minored in psychology. For the first time, I have realized why. He was struggling to understand what was wrong with his own wife.

Growing up with an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic mother is tough. Attachment becomes disorganized as the person who is supposed to provide soothing skills cannot even read their own child correctly. My mother was especially rejecting as the voices in her head played out a script that rejected me, the proof of her sinful condition. The valedictorian of Bloomington high school got pregnant before she got married. My grandmother's angry accusing voice plays out in my mother's head every day. Sometimes it comes out of her mouth, then to me, now to my dad.

I grew up knowing I was inconvenient and unwanted by my mother. My dad obviously loved me, he married my mother when I was five and adopted me six months later. But his continual absence sent a different message. I didn't know until this weekend the strain my dad was under in the year before we moved. I didn't know that as a member of a police department someone had put a hit out on him. I was too young to have known he mowed the yard every Saturday with a service revolver tucked in his belt and his habit of constant surveillance was more than a normal cop response. My mother certainly didn't know what was happening, either. And she was in and out of hospitals those years with a "nervous stomach". I suspect she was experiencing paranoia and delusions, and hospitalized during the worst of it.

I got married at 18 to get out. I lived in a crazy house ruled by a mentally ill mother who wanted me safely married and out. A year later I left my husband, having asked for a divorce, to go to Atlanta to meet my biological father. I came back to Ar pregnant. Married again to give the baby a father and moved to another small town in Ar with my new husband. My depression worsened. I didn't know anyone. Everyone knew my husband was not the father of my baby. I tried to go to church. I tried to get help. I tried to make friends. I was just too different. Attending the women's bible studies on Tuesday morning, after dropping the baby at the church for babysitting, took me into other women's homes. They weren't living hand-to-mouth. They weren't struggling to know what to say or how to fit in. I felt like I was faking everything.

I had another son. A year later, depressed, terrified, knowing I was becoming my mother, I left the children with their father. We divorced. A few years later I started college, married another unstable man, became widowed. Finally, at 29, I went to graduate school and got out. Before graduate school I had my children from 5 on Friday till 5 on Sunday. I missed two visitations, ever. One, because I was living in Atlanta and was too ill to travel. The other time a blizzard hit while I was in Iowa visiting friends.

Education and leaving Ar were the two best decisions I ever made. A few years ago I tracked down my first husband. He never saw me. But I saw his tiny travel trailer parked in front of his parents' somewhat larger trailer. I saw the children's toys scattered in the hot Ar dirt at the front door. Enough toys for a boy and girl, growing up exactly like him. Divorced, maybe, living in front of his parent's home. Obviously still suffering from depression.

The boys' father lives in the same house his parents' first purchased when they got married. He's lived in that house since he turned 18, having assumed the house payments. It's the smallest house on the block. Three bedroom, 1 bathroom, dryer inconveniently  located in a tiny closet off the living room, washer in the kitchen. He still works at the same factory, as a design draftsman and now as a supervisor, that he did at 18. He's been at the job and living in that house for 32 years. The house has somewhat improved with new carpet, new paint, new car in the drive. He's still depressed, too.

I look around, I know that could have been me. Making babies, depressed, trapped in Ar. Trapped in a world of dry counties (you cannot buy alcohol), strict church doctrine, and ignorant. As you can see, it's been a tough path, but it's turned out well at this point of my life. These last eight years have been amazing. Hard, challenging, but filled with love and transformation.

My youngest son did data entry two summers for that factory, before going to college. My oldest son went into the Marines after 9-11. Maybe their ability to break the mold, to shape their lives differently came from me. Maybe if I had been the mother who never went to college, who stayed depressed, who was trapped, I might have trapped them to. Hmm...that bears thinking about.

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