Tag Archives: mental illness

The Mother Who Never Was

Deb-SlavenThe needful background for this story is that a little over a month ago my mother died.  I avoid the use of any euphemism or distracting turn of phrase here because more than any other person I’ve ever known, she simply slowly and irrevocably shriveled up and just passed from existence.  In point of fact I’m not sure that she was ever truly alive in any meaningful way at any point when I knew her.  

To understand this one has to go back many years to her childhood.  She was the eldest of three children and the only daughter; her mother was a very kind and simple woman while her father was an emotionally abusive alcoholic.  I got very little information from mother about her childhood but she recalled with great vividness many episodes in which her father careened down the road, drunk off his ass, taking great pleasure at the screams of his terrified children in the back seat.  By the time I knew my grandfather he had mellowed considerably but one could still see the vestiges of a domineering father figure.

When it came time for my mother to head to college, she aspired above all to work with animals.  She ended up at Purdue so she was in the right place at the right time but unfortunately, her father would have none of that.  He insisted, as mom tells it anyway, that being a veterinarian was not a proper profession for a woman and that he would only support her if she trained to become a teacher instead.  My shy and retiring mother didn’t agree but she went along with the plan.  Sadly, uninspired by the curriculum, she didn’t make it past her first year of classes.  Within 12 months she was back in Frankfort working in a factory.

C.T.S 1985 (I Think)After a few years back in town she met my father; in a way they were a good match.  My father was a rebel and my mother needed that influence.  Grandpa, of course, wasn’t terribly happy about it.  Family history has it that there were a few instances in which my grandfather made his displeasure with my father clear using a firearm.  I suspect on some deeper level that my mother married my father at least in part just because he disapproved so strongly.  They married in 1972 and less than two months later I was on the way.  I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about my mother’s view on motherhood so I won’t rehash it but suffice to say that a human child was the last thing she needed at this juncture in her life.

My parents remained married for about 15 years and putting both halves of the story together they really seemed to be working at right angles to each other.  To hear my father’s side of the story, his basic issue was that he seemed to just lose interest in her.  She didn’t grow as a person, he said, at all during the years of their marriage.  As a result he ended up seeking fulfillment in his artwork, carpentry and (it is rumored) “outside the marriage.”  On her side, she said she was doing everything she could to make him happy.  I understand completely why she would have done so; given her relationship with her father, this was just how relationships with men are supposed to go.  She tried to emulate her obedient and subservient mother but that was the last thing my father wanted out of a marriage.  He hung on as long as he did only out of some sense of duty to me, I suspect.  

When their marriage ended, things went downhill quickly, but I recall exactly one lucid and connected conversation with my mother from that time.  After my father had left the house for good she sat on the bed next to me and said simply, “well, it’s just you and me now.”  I recall feeling elated; not because I wanted my father to leave but because I wanted desperately for things to change.  Even if they changed for the worse there was a chance that I’d not be stuck in that room.  Sadly, that moment of lucidity passed in a flash.  A few months later she attempted suicide (pills) and I was put in the care of my grandparents permanently.  

My contact with her after that was sporadic at best and when we did speak our conversations were awash in her intense mental illness.  She insisted that my father was still harassing her by driving past the house multiple times a day.  People at work, she claimed, talked about her behind her back and were trying to get her fired.  Eventually she told me in rather impolite terms to stop calling her at all; she honestly believed I was only calling to check up on her so I’d know when she died and could get her money.  At the time of her death I hadn’t spoken to her for years except to tell her when my father passed away.

A month ago when I walked into my mother’s house for the first time in over a decade I didn’t know what to expect.  I had hopes, of course, that somehow I’d find some answers to the puzzle that was my mother.  This woman gave birth to me but to be honest I didn’t really know her.  She was an archetype of mental illness and abused child but at no point did I ever really KNOW her as a person.  I had hoped on some level to finally unravel part of the mystery to find out who my mother really was as a person beyond the high-level view I had.

After spending several hours digging through the contents of her house, it became clear that there were no answers.  There was one photo album; it contained pictures only of herself and every animal she’d ever owned.  All photos of me or other family members were absent.  She had very neatly trimmed everyone else in the universe out of her life because her brain had tricked her into thinking that everyone she knew, past and present, was a deceiver and out to get her somehow.

The only glimmers of her came in the form of a few oddments.  She had become fairly obsessed with Sam Elliott as evidenced by a box of magazines and several movies.  Her cedar chest contained a few remembrancers from past pets: a parakeet perch, her last dog’s collar.  She kept legal documents, tax returns, one letter from my ex wife with photos of the kids.  My mom turned to the Bible at some point for hope and inspiration but it was short lived; she had a notebook devoted to the topic but only the first page was ever used.  All in all the physical footprint she left on this world over almost 70 years was remarkably scant.

Either my mother was very good at hiding herself or (as my father would say if he were here) maybe there just wasn’t anything there in the first place.  He was very intent on the idea that in many ways my mother was a non-person because she never put herself first enough to develop into someone real.  Life was always about making her father happy or making him happy but it was never about making herself happy.  So maybe I went into that house looking for a mom that never existed in the first place.  

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The Bird Eater – A wonderful bit of horror. Free on Kindle Firsts this Month! (5/5)

As usual I received this book for free. This time it was from Kindle Firsts. I’m glad I did because it was a breathless four hours on the sofa.

To describe this book in a nutshell, it’s one of those wonderfully ambiguous horror novels that mystify you with their gruesomeness as you’re reading and leave you with a big question mark at the end. The novel is fairly gory in bits but not outrageously so and those with a passionate fixation for kindness towards birds would be well advised to steer clear because they are among the primary victims of unpleasantness.

To the positive side, this book strikes a good balance between inspiring horror and providing background. The first chapter is vivid, cruel and horrifying in the extreme but after it gets you hooked things do settle down into a more standard pace. The author is clearly very practiced and proficient at descriptions of things that most of us just don’t want to think about. I came away with some very clear mental pictures of this evil that are likely to haunt my dreams for a while.

The only negative I could really come up with is that while the over-arching story is fairly unique, some of the specific mechanisms that the author uses to get there are pretty standard. I can’t really mention… any of them… because I don’t want to spoil anything but I think you’ll know them when you see them. Despite this tiny, and I do mean tiny, negative, the effect of the author’s writing is still exceptionally strong.

In summary, this is one to curl up with when you have 4 hours to sit and blast through the whole thing in one go. I did it bright and early on a Saturday morning but the results in the middle of the night would be soul-shaking. Highly recommended for those who don’t mind a bit of gore and who don’t mind NOT having an iron-clad answer to the question of “So what exactly happened…?”

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So I Called My Mother…

So many of you are saying, and rightly so, “so – the hell – what?”  Yes, I agree that without proper context my titular declaration above is an utter non-event.  In general, we all call our mothers fairly frequently until some unpleasant time should come to pass when such an act should be more akin to a Twilight Zone episode than a business engagement with AT&T.  So yes, I agree, the epitome of anti-climax is persistently clinging to the gnarly underside of this blog post.  I get it.

That tells me firstly that you merely need some background and as background, I will provide this blog post from my previous locale of online textual babbling, dated Thursday, April 15, 2004:

Rob Becomes an International Crime Syndicate Kingpin

Until very, very recently my mother (also known as the head lunatic) has been an annoying but tolerable pain in my expletive. Her random accusations that the entire town was attempting to put an end to her life was tiring at worst and amusing at best. Her constant paranoia was redundant, unfounded and entirely the product of a deranged mind.

Clearly, her entire workplace was not part of a complicated scheme to ruin her life. Any logical person can see that her ex-husband was not driving past in a truck that he no longer owns. The neighbors were not spying on her and nobody had to poison her 15 year old dog to bring about its death. All well and good, harmless banter you may say.

Indeed I would agree until I was recently implicated in this international crime ring dedicated to her ruination. I am simply amazed that this woman can have no self esteem whatsoever and simultaneously believe that so many people spend their valuable time harassing her and planning her destruction. In any case, I count this as final justification for disassociating myself from her and her idiotic ramblings. I leave this blog entry as the final memorial to the hysteria that is my mother.


So there you have it.  After prolonged and persistent accusations and a specific request from her to “stop fucking calling her” I did exactly as she asked to the tune of seven years.  Somewhat amazingly it wasn’t really that hard.  Conversations were predictable, but not really entirely constructive in any way.  They ran approximately along the lines of:

Mom: I’m so terrible

Me: I’m not sure how you can possibly say that.

Mom: Everyone hates me

Me: Who hates you?

Mom: Everyone

Me: Why would they hate you?

Mom: Because I’m a terrible person.

Lather, rinse, repeat ad infinitum.  Fast forward to today.  Being heavy with the Christmas spirit (Lemon Vodka tea!) I dialed her up.  As usual when I call at 5:30 in the evening, I woke her.  Grand start!  After the usual awkwardness of talking to someone who gave birth to you for the first time in almost a decade we got down to business:

Me: So how are you?

Mom: Just grand.  That’s sarcasm if you can’t tell.

Me: So I gathered.  So what have you been doing with yourself?

Mom: Not much.  I got laid off four months ago and I just lay in bed most of the day.

Me: That’s too bad.  Have you had any job prospects?

Mom: Nope.  Haven’t tried to find any.  Do you have a gun I can borrow?  I want to just end it all and be done.

OK, so you get the idea.  As it turns out, she actually had a job at Wal-Mart in those four months stocking shelves.  She quit because it was too physically demanding.  I can understand that.  After a while she actually seemed to almost joke a bit about how she didn’t like going to Wal-Mart just to shop so she must have been crazy to actually get a job there.

What really gets me here is just the leaden blanket of depression that hangs over her.  She’s absolutely identical to the person I talked to over seven years ago.   Not one iota has changed.  She’s still depressed and paranoid and absolutely convinced that the world is out to get her.  Everyone hates her.  Everyone’s out to get her.  Nobody’s on her side.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in a miasma of self-loathing as she does.  All her negative emotions are turned inward until there must be precious little room for her poor, withered soul to even move.  The world hates her and it hates her because she’s is an incredibly terrible person.  That’s the idea, paramount and scrawled in huge, gleaming, neon lights that greets her awareness as she wakes each day.

Odder still is the fact that to my knowledge, she’s never really DONE anything to ANYONE.  She’s the most unobtrusive person you can possibly imagine.  She has always kept quietly to herself and if anyone has any negative emotions about her at all it’s probably simply that she’s TOO quiet and assumed to be too snobbish to associate with people.  Ironically, the only person that I know of who has any real right to think poorly of her is me.  If you’ve read my brief but consternation-filled autobiography, you no doubt remember that my upbringing was anything but featherbeds and warm hugs but I don’t hold any of that against her.  She did what she thought was best in her own rather misinformed way.  We all screw up.  Whatever.  I’m a better person for it.  Let’s move on.

Somehow though the threads of her negative emotions have tangled themselves into a gordian knot that I’m not sure anyone can unravel.   To wax physiological for a moment, her prolonged negative emotions have skewed her brain chemistry to the point that her current state is the new and permanent norm.  If I thought I could actually fix this, even a little, I would do so.  Nobody deserves to stew like this in their own dark thoughts but I’m not sure I have a ladle big enough to extract someone from 50 years of self-inflicted loathing.


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