Crazy.

The other day I was talking to my friend Carol on the telephone and we were having a good laugh over her Dad’s latest shenanigans.

Her sister was in town for the evening and they’d decided to have an impromptu family dinner at a nice restaurant downtown.  They called their dad and agreed on a time to meet up. Carol and her husband arrived in time to meet her sister and they were seated before her dad arrived.  After about half an hour they begin to wonder where their dad was. Carol decided that she would give him a few more minutes before she called him. Finally, worried that something had happened to him, she decided to call and check up on him. No sooner than she’d pulled out her phone her dad walked into the restaurant and quickly found his way to their table.

He apologized for his lateness, explaining that he’d fallen asleep after he got back from his rounds at the hospital. He’d woken up and when he saw the time, jumped in the car and raced towards the restaurant.  He sheepishly grinned as he told them that in his haste, he’d forgotten his shoes.

Carol told me that she waited for the part where he’d say that he’d turned around and had to go back home and retrieve them.  A quick glance, however, showed that her father was indeed only wearing his socks.  He laughed and said that he’d made it through valet parking and all the way to their table without anyone noticing.  Carol told me that she was exasperated but amused and thankfully was able to buy him a pair of sandals at one of the shops that was next door to the restaurant. Her father thought that the entire situation was hilarious and told everyone around him about his mistake. He gleefully told Carol that he planned to tell his friends, also doctors, and would conduct an experiment where they went places without shoes to see who noticed.

I laughed with Carol, and could see her in my mind’s eye, shaking her head with the  memory fresh in her mind.  She told me that her dad was crazy, and I told her that it was no big deal, explaining to her that the affluent are never crazy. Rich people were eccentric.  We laughed and the conversation moved to our kids and husbands, the regular telephone fare.

The story stuck with me, though, and I’ve been mulling over the conversation ever since. For so long, I was really self conscious of my dad’s mental illness. There would be times when would be having a family outing and my dad would do something that I thought wasn’t quite normal.  Mortified I’d always scan my surroundings, checking to see who’d spotted my dad acting not quite right.   My mom and my sisters always seemed oblivious, giggling and playing along, while I held back,  unable to let go.  Forgoing enjoying the moment and instead holding my breath, waiting for the next shoe to drop.

The color of my childhood memories take on a different hue as I look back on them with the perspective of a parent and as I create my own memories with my kids.  Playtime at the park  is sprinkled with laughter as we run, joke and act silly, oblivious to what others might think.  I chuckle as my husband  mockingly sings along with the radio, making my 10 year old son groan with mock mortification. I will also tell you, you haven’t lived until you and your kids have re-enacted Wayne and Garth’s Bohemian Rhapsody in your hatchback, with the sunroof open, music blaring. I don’t know, and don’t care, what people may think- it’s fun and makes us laugh.

So many of these moments remind me of my dad and the things that he would do.  Sometimes I laughed but there got to be a point where I was unable to live in the moment and enjoy myself.  It makes me sad that my fathers illness coincided with my increased awareness of the world around me and really amplified my self consciousness. I wish that I’d hadn’t heard all of the whispers of the family members who “felt so sorry for Juan’s girls.” Everyone who was so sorry and concerned, but never really  enough to lend an empathetic ear, just worried enough to gossip when one of us would “act crazy”. I really wish that someone would have pulled me aside and told me that while my dad was struggling,  and yes there were some really scary times, not every moment was affected. I wish I’d have known that  sometimes parents embarrass you, sometimes parents act silly because it’s fun, and sometimes people think that your parents are weird. I wish that someone would have looked back and told me that some of my life was normal and not every moment was tinged by mental illness.   Maybe it wouldn’t have helped much, but maybe it would have.

My attitude about my dad’s illness changed as I got older and started to learn more about people and I realized that everyone has little idiosyncrasies. I started to notice that everyone had little, and not so little, personality quirks that sometimes made other people give them side eyed looks.  Maybe it was just my way of coping with the new medicated version of my dad- the man who wasn’t quite the same person as when I was growing up but not quite different. I became more defensive of how people treated him and wonder if peoples attitudes would have been different if his shoes had been a little nicer and the collar of his shirt crisp and not frayed.  I know that some people are just assholes and some will treat anyone who deviates from their narrow view of normal badly so it may not have mattered, but I guess that I will never know.

Instead I can enjoy time with my kids, making them laugh, smiling at silly jokes and acting crazy. When they are old enough to get mad at me for embarrassing them I can smile and say, “Sorry kiddo, it’s part of growing up and having parents. One day you will embarrass your own kids”. I will smile because I will know that it’s true.

 

 

 

 

Writers Block or Lack of Discipline?

I’m stuck in a conundrum. Sitting in the confines of a cubicle, I used to joke that my most inspired moments were at 10AM. I’d drive to work in silence (my car ride often the only few minutes of silence in my day) and ideas would begin to take form in my mind. My workday would begin with good mornings, coffee and returning phone calls.  Around 10, my mind would often drift back to those half formed thoughts and I would quickly jot them down in a notebook that I had, full of inspiration, outlining brief sketches of the images in my mind.  I remember the feelings of frustration that I would have, feeling constricted because the few stolen moments would be interrupted by phone calls or the next task that had to be completed.

Now I am a stay at home mom.  I’d let out a big sign of relief as I carried my box of framed pictures and cubicle decorations to my car, elated that I would have time to write and to create.  I would be able to spend time with my daughter, help my son with his homework and use all of my extra time working on a short story that has been in progress longer than I would like to admit. 

My reality, however, is not quite what I thought that it would be. I anticipated a period of transition. I knew that it was going to take a little while to fall into a routine that my children and I would be happy with.  So here I am a full month later and I still feel stuck.  I’ve cleaned the house, figured out a rough schedule for my daughter and I, but the 10am lightening bolt of ideas has vanished.  I am experiencing the conundrum of having more freedom but I haven’t felt the thrill of having inspiration strike. Why the hell am I feeling this block?

So here I am, uninspired and a more than little freaked out about it. I’ve been trying to go through the motions and I have had a couple of good ideas to work with.  I’m really just hoping that I can create balance sooner, rather than later. Perhaps what I need is not inspiration but the discipline to dedicate to writing every single day, even if my mental coffers are dry as a bone. 

My four year old has been begging me to take her to fairy world, so I will have to sign off for now.

 

 

Black Pearl

My father died in April.

It’s been four months and I am still trying to get my  head around the fact that he isn’t here.  I am trying to adjust to this new normal.

I wake up in the morning, mother my children, go to work and trudge through the paces of my days. I am there but I am not present.

I am looking through a window and there are people talking but I can’t hear and I don’t care what they are saying.

I watch, feeling separate from what goes around me.

I am unhappy. I think too much. I drink too much.

I am lonely but am comforted by my solitude.

Melancholy hangs in the corners of my days and my mind toys with the idea of letting go of the thread that binds me to this reality.

The six year old girl in me wants to hide, cry and pull at her hair in sorrow, grabbing at the crumbling pieces of the myth that was her father.

There are emotions that are bubbling beneath the surface but I don’t know how to communicate in this language of loss, and so I am mute.

Frustrated by my inability to communicate and unable to let off the steam, the heat of my grief is burning through me.

I want to bleed it out, scream it out, but when I tear back the surface all I find is nothing. There is nothing to say.

I light  candles at my alter, burn incense and raise my intentions to the sky but I feel nothing. I am obsessed with death and I try to grab at the spaces between the moments spent with the ones that I love the most.

I dream of my father.

Sometimes he stands at the edges, watching me, like a silent witness.

Once we wandered through an old shopping mall, visiting memories that were for sale like cheap knick knacks in dollar stores filthy with age.

One night he came to me scared and wandering through oblivion, confused, unable to rest and stuck in between the living and the dead.

I try not to call to him. I hold his memory in white light and whisper prayers that he can move on.

In my optimistic moments I wonder if he is visiting me, letting me know that he is still there, like a small anchor to hold onto.

In my most fearful moments, I am afraid that he is lost, his soul still burdened by the illness that plagued his life and he still needs me. He needs me and I am paralyzed by my inability to reach across the chasm that separates us.

This is the  black pearl that is my grief,  wrought from the chafing of the splinters in my soul.  I am just now able to pull it out and observe it, vulnerable with my need for comfort.

April 13, 2013 3:40 pm

I sat beside you and

FELT

You slowly slip away from me.

I read words from sacred books

Raised hymns sang songs whispered prayers.

Trying to find comfort in tradition.

I tried to comfort you.

Hoping.

I was I am

Afraid to acquiesce accept give in. Let go.

I kissed your eyelashes in the soft light.

Eyes like mine. Heart like mine.

Fiery bright and proud.

Slowly racing away from here. From now.

I sat

Tracing matching lines on your hand my hand

Father and daughter

Simian Twin.

I sat watching

Watched

You slip out of the room.

Recognition in your eyes,

Gone now to take your final walk

 Into eternal night

Light ETERNAL

Filtering through the shades.

Now part of the unknown.

Forever.

I kissed your fingers

A bruised soul soothed

Under grey feathered wings.

Hot tears burning on my face

Stinging at my eyes

I was your witness and

I saw you.

There for just a moment,

Once more.

But now that you are

Gone

Who will see me?

Leviathan

Image
Gather tinder for the fire,
Fill the chalices up with wine.
The time to feast is upon us.
The full moon sits on high.
 
Tell the legend of Leviathan,
Dark prince of the seven seas.
Great seven headed serpent,
From his flesh the righteous will feast.
 
Leviathan is the sea beast,
Behemoth will rule the land.
Zezu curses the air all round, and
Hellmouth is where the damned will stand.
 
Tie the virgin to the beams,
Trussed bait to tempt the beast.
Hold her head underwater,
No consequence that she can’t breathe.
 
Hair tangled in the seaweed,
A dark crown to greet her doom. Her
Sheer white gown blows in the night,
Her eyes flutter and her lips are blue.
 
Can you catch him with a fishhook?
Harpoon his head with a fishing spear?
 
The young faun begs for mercy,
She smells his scent, yes the beast is near.
 
Will you tie his tongue with a strong hemp rope?
Make a pet of him, fear to make your enemies choke.
 
The waves, they crash and wane.
The monks, they chant and pray
They waves, they crash and wane.
The monks chant and pray
While she fades away.
 
 

*Image: Thomas Hobbes, Book of Job

To the victims of Sandy Hook, I am so sorry

I am still so saddened about yesterdays events and even more than slightly sickened from all of the pro gun propaganda that I’ve been reading all day. Why are we as a community not discussing the availability of better mental health care with the same gusto that we are rallying for our guns?  Perhaps it is because as a collective we are a sick  and unbalanced society. It’s hard to see the light when innocent children were killed and all people can manage to talk about is how we need more guns. It’s disheartening to say the least.

I’ve spent the day trying to keep my children from watching the news and overwhelmed by the onslaught of media coverage surrounding the events.  Facebook posts mingle pro-gun propaganda with photos of the young victims. 

I didn’t anticipate that this act of mindless violence would affect me so badly.  I mourn for the children who died, and I am so sad scared nervous for my own children.  It frightens me that so many are willing to shrug their shoulders at what they call our New Reality.  I am outraged at people rallying for looser gun restrictions. What could be more calloused than that at a time like this? I liken it to a salesman selling knives at the funeral of a stabbing victim.

At the most all I can hope for is that these little lives can lead us all to the light and open our eyes to the fact that something is very wrong with our society. Unless we can have an open dialogue of how to fix things, I fear that this may indeed be our new reality. 

 

Mental Illness and the Supernatural: About My Father

I think a lot about my father’s mental illness.  My father is a schizophrenic has schizophrenia.

When I was 12, he was working at a large commercial bakery owned by a large local grocery chain and ducked into the break room to get a sip of water and to get some respite from the smothering heat.  As he was walking to the bathroom, he slipped on a wet spot caused by a leaky water fountain and hit the back of his head on the edge of a break room table.  He developed a intracranial hematoma  as the result of his fall.  He spent a week in the hospital for monitoring and tests and was released under medical supervision.  Less than a year later he was diagnosed with manic depression and by the time I was 15 he had developed schizoafffective disorder, which was marked by severe paranoia, mood swings, violent outbursts, and sleeping. Lots and lots of sleeping. His medical cocktails included Ativan, Stelazine, Lorazapan and many others whose names I find it hard to remember.  By the time I was a senior in high school, he had been committed twice, once in a private care facility, and once, when the insurance ran out, in a Texas State Hospital.

I remember as a teenaged girl listening to my father whisper his secrets to my mother when my sisters and I were supposed to be sleeping.  More than once I heard him refer to the spot of his old injury as ” Heaven’s Gate”.  He spoke of visions and omens.  Before you roll your eyes, I will mention that this would have had to have been sometime around 1990, years before Marshall Applewhite led his cult in a suicide pact.

Before his illness, my father was a superstitious man. My mother believes that his mother was a witch and through the years told me stories of strange candles anointed with herbs  and alters laden with offerings hidden in the secret confines of my grandmother’s bedroom.   I was told that my father dabbled in witchcraft and necromancy after his father died of a heart attack during a triple bypass surgery. When I was not quite a teenager, my mother told me  that one night, after whispering passages from a book given to him by a brujero, my father suffered violent nightmares, and woke up with long scratches riddling his legs and arms.

The day that my grandmother died, my father saw what he called an omen. On the way to the grocery store, he saw a mama opossum walking with her young. As he was making his way back home, he saw the animal dead on the side of the road with her babies clinging to her lifeless body.   When he walked through the front door, I told him that my aunt called and wanted me to tell him that my grandmother was found in her living room, dead from a stroke.  He carefully placed the groceries on the kitchen table and walked into his bedroom.  I didn’t mention to him that I’d seen a strange dark figure walking in between the houses that morning as I performed my daily chore of taking out the kitchen trash.

That was the atmosphere that I grew up in: manic highs and lows, superstitions, omens, and stories.

As I get older I think more and more on the stories that my mother told me about my father’s young life and I start to question the scientific. I begin to wonder more and more about the supernatural and the effects that it could have had on my father and the effects on his health.

When I was a little girl, no more than 5, I saw a face in the glass of my bedroom window, leering and red.  It was there as plain as day and I screamed for my mother who, of course, saw nothing. Years later, when I was older, I looked out of that same window and watched in horror as I saw a man approaching one of my younger sisters, who was playing  and swinging by herself on the swing set. I tore through the house to jump to her defense, and when I finally got to her, I saw that she was alone.  She didn’t know who I was talking about when I mentioned the strange man to her. By the time I was a teenager, I often played with spells, toyed with conjuring spirits, and opened  myself to the unknown, dark or otherwise.  Once, after an enthusiastic study of the Necronomicon, complete with whispered invocations,  I woke up to find the family bathroom teeming with black ants and other insects. Freaked out, I told my mother what I’d done the night before and she made me promise that I would never play with things that I didn’t understand again. She took the book from me and burned it in the barbeque pit. All of this in the same bedroom that I’d had night terrors in as a child and in the room that all three of my sisters  will do this day say had bad mojo long after I’d moved out.

My sisters and I have  since wondered if I somehow wasn’t more successful at my fledging attempts at magic than I realized during my teenaged years.  As my father’s mental health began to deteriorate as he got older, I noticed that he was more and more focused on my old bedroom.
One weekend, when I was in my early twenties, I went to visit my dad, to take him some groceries, offer to take him out to lunch and just to make sure that he was ok.  As I walked through the house, I noticed that the edges of the door to my old bedroom were taped shut, under layers and layers of silver duct tape, not a crevice left uncovered. When I asked him why the room was sealed, he told me that there was an old woman who walked out of the room at night and wandered the house . He said that the tape was the only thing that would keep her in.  I felt a chill down my spine when he told me that the woman scared him when she would look at him and he didn’t think that the tape would work much longer. I don’t know what was more frightening, the details of his delusion or the possibility that it was true. Other than the tape, he was in good spirits, he was still bathing and seemed to be taking his meds, so I shrugged it off as just another one of his weird ideas.

At the height of his last really bad episode, a couple of months later, my father was sent back to the state mental institution, to monitor his meds, get his symptoms under control and to hopefully get him back on track.  This downward spiral is the frightening part of mental illness. Sylvia Plath had it right when she called depression the Bell Jar.  Once you have reached that tipping point and tumble in, it’s almost impossible to get out without a chemical ladder to ease your way.

Before he was about to be transported to the state facility, I was volunteered by the rest of my sisters to go back to my father’s house and gather some of his clothing and other small comforts that he could take with him to the hospital in order to make his stay more comfortable.  My key to the front door didn’t work so I had to climb through a small window that was in the bathroom, above the shower, to get into the house.  As I carefully made my way into through the window I noticed that the air was heavy and thick and even though it was sunny outside, the inside of the house was gloomy and dark.  The bathroom was covered in soda bottles, standing upright, side by side so that I had to pick my way through a narrow path to the bathroom door.  I looked at the bedroom to my right and I noticed that the tape still lined the edges of the bedroom door, but it was starting to curl and peel away in some places.  I quickly made my way through the house and sifted through the trash to find the things that he needed. I couldn’t believe how much the house had deteriorated in such a short time.  Even the walls were filthy and it looked like he hadn’t taken the trash out in weeks.  As I whispered the word “radio” out loud, I heard a small click come from the back of the hallway where the bedrooms were and heard the faint sound of music coming out of my old bedroom. My bedroom that was behind the taped door.  My heart was racing as I threw my father’s things into a duffel bag that I’d found and I quickly made my way to the front door.  The music was playing faintly through the house as I slammed the door shut and quickly jumped into my car.

I told my sisters what happened. We agreed that while my father was in the hospital none of us would enter the house alone again, and even then, only in the earliest of daylight hours.

My father has improved since then.  He has a sister who has taken it upon herself to take care of him in a way that I, or my sisters, cannot.  She renovated the rotten parts of his house, redecorated, and had a priest come to say a blessing over the repairs when they were complete, from what I was told. For this I am and always will be grateful to her. He is doing well with her at the reigns, but life with the mentally ill isn’t easy, and somehow I am always waiting for the other foot to fall and when things won’t be so great again.

I wonder if my father’s illness was somehow made worse by both his and my novice attempts at witch craft.  I wonder  if he is more sensitive because of his illness or susceptible to hauntings because he spends so much of his life in the lines between reality and perception. Who is this old woman who he mentioned to me?  Who are the figures that I saw as I was growing up?

I know that it is dangerous to blame mental illness of demons, spirits and ghosts. The history of the treatment of mental illness is riddled with stories of exorcisms, terrible suffering of the mentally ill, and often times, even death.  The dark ages of medicine were a horror story unto itself.

I do believe, however, that it is dangerous to disregard the spiritual when dealing with illness, particularly considering a history like my father’s.  Who is to say that the things that he experienced were not real? Based on the solely scientific, one could say that I was also suffering some level of illness, since I have also had experiences of my own.

I have more questions than answers, but I am still looking. Maybe one day I will have an answer.