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These are the faces that haunted my dreams as a child, to the soundtrack of my mother sobbing on the couch. Television documentary on, piles and piles of bodies in a big, ragged dirt hole. Nobody put flowers on their graves, she wailed. It was the late 1950’s. It had just happened. Most of the Hungarian side of my family was gone. All of the Russian side was.

Years later, in school, I was presented with the story of the Japanese internment camps. Well, it had happened during the same period. We knew better now.

Today I watched a black television screen with only a soundtrack. This time: Children sobbing, wailing, crying out for their parents, the translation a scroll of white pinching my soul with each letter.



Whose Life?

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Every time I turn around there is a small, sharp pain in the lower part of my back. A recent development, it started around the time spring began. There are also other things. Things that come and go. Sometimes my eye twitches, or when I get up too quickly, I get dizzy. Odd little symptoms of a malaise too vague to investigate.

It is everywhere right now. Two famous people have taken their own lives and we shake our heads in wonder. They had so much to live for. They were so successful. They were famous! When will we get it through our collective, heads that it is on the inside where the problem lives? The shaded areas of the psyche, where secrets and wounds fester. I ponder the phrase: take your own life. Is it taken as in claimed, or simply eradicated? There is some beauty to the concept. The Israelites at Masada took their own lives rather than live as slaves. A body turns against itself in illness, pain, suffering; and the person decides when to die. She takes her own life.

And yet, for the thousands wrestling with depression, suicidal psychosis, another story: help exists. It must be sought, it has efficacy. Tortured souls: please ask, please tell, please allow others in.

I know this is not going to be a popular idea, but I also think that, in the final analysis, some people just are done living. Not everyone can be saved, wants to be saved. If you trace the provenance of any single life it never changes. My life is mine. Your life is yours

Every time I turn around there is a small, sharp pain in the lower part of my back.



A bitter rain falls outside. My choice would be to burrow in, today, but I don’t have that option. I woke to see that my son’s latest tox screen was up on the computer. He tested positive for opiates. Opiates? WTF? What is going on now? I call the doctor. Why didn’t he notify me? Sorry, not in until Monday. It is Friday.

I walk past my husband, pause, hold my breath, and then keep going. Why even start, I’ll just carry this one myself. Like a marionette, I pass him on the way back and he asks: is something wrong?

 I am trying not to lie, these days: Yes, something is wrong, I tell him.

We discuss and agree that we are helpless, hapless, hopeless. It is all so out of our control. I am going into town to take temperature of the situation.

First stop: Rite-Aid. Reason: I forgot to get the Lithium, and he has lost his phone for the third time this year. At the counter, I have a whispered consult with the pharmacist: Where are the opiates coming from? (I have a theory that it is the cold medication he abuses…again, we have no control). I am told that isn’t possible. No more opiates over the counter. Leaving only that he is buying drugs on the street. A lump rises in my throat which ends the conversation.

I retreat to the car, where, under pounding water (a streaming waterfall down the windows) I dole out the Lithium into the baggies containing his other meds. Now I have to figure out how to activate the phone. Miraculous wonder: I am able, with the help of a lovely woman in some faraway land, to do it. Paper bags, pill bottles, phone paraphernalia litter the car. I head to his house.

He answers the door like Kramer on Seinfeld, in boxer shorts, with hair like a landslide.

On the way home, I call his sister. Of course, he denies everything, says it’s a mistake, I tell her. What am I supposed to do now?

Wait! I just thought of something, she says. Remember when Elaine ate the poppy seed muffin and tested positive for opium? Maybe that’s what happened. It’s a real thing.

I drive along a ribbon of mud, feeling better.                                                                  Seinfeld. Muffins. Rain.






Crown of Thorns

So this is the thing: Do I really need this crown of thorns, after all? I have an embarrassment of riches. I am talented. I am loved. I have wonderful children, a loving husband. I have more real friends than anyone deserves.


And he sits in his room.

At least now it is clean. Not thanks to me, who used to turn the other way and let it all go to hell, for long periods, because I couldn’t stand it. But. Thanks to my relentless advocacy on his behalf, he now has DHS workers who come every day and care for him. They clean his apartment and give him his meds. My burden is lightened, his life is better, and yet I feel wrong because I am not wiping up the crap myself. Scooping up the cockroaches. My grandmother would not have foisted this task off on another. But I have. I travel the world and have nice dinners while a county worker cares for him.

It's funny, both his caregivers repeatedly tell me what a good mother I am. What is that? Do most others just abdicate completely? Yes, I keep track of everything, I make sure he is okay. I spend time with him. I take him places. I make sure he is safe and sound, every day. If we didn’t have the caregivers, I would do it all (hell, I did it for ten years). But does that make me a hero? I feel like I am doing the bare minimum.

And he sits in his room.

We make plans. We think of ideas. We sign up for things. And then he bails, at the last minute, almost every time. His father says I am a fool. Give up already. But I can’t. I cannot. The question is why? Is it for him? Because I want better, more, for him, or is it for me? Is his sickness a reflection in my ego? A verdict on my life? The final word: I failed. 

And he sits in his room.

I do know this. I love him beyond imagination. I am bound to him, carried by him, pulled into the bowels of the earth by him. And I would have it no other way. I know that I will never give up. But what I need to know is why. Is it MotherLove or is it my ego? God. Someone tell me. Only I can answer that question and I am frozen.

I was so full of pride. He was handsome, brilliant, charismatic...and then it was all gone. Did I do this? Was it my hubris that called this disease to him? To shut me up and teach me a lesson? Is he the victim of some cosmic retribution? I think it might be true. If I had had more humility, maybe the universe wouldn’t have picked him for this insidious disease. I hate myself. I just know this is my fault. 

And he sits in his room.  



Hearing Voices

I am walking. It is the big city, the New York City. I’m alone, looking at the people around me. I am not afraid. It is night time, but I don’t fear things like that. 

Ahead of me a girl with fashion model-like clothes. Swishing, poignant, making a statement. So many people talking out loud. I always check to make sure there are earbuds, so I know that they are on the phone. A young black man, angry, defending himself, “My mother says no I can’t make it happen but fuck her I know I can do this.” A strong-legged girl shouting, “If you can’t deal with my feelings then just forget it.” Greek tragedies played out on cement for us all to see. No one is concerned about privacy. I’m here now and this is what is happening, you can listen in or not. 

I walk with intent. I always do. And then I see him, just a half step ahead of me. “Yeah, well, no, you will never get it. You fool. You know nothing! I can’t ever explain it to you.”

I walk with Half-Step-Boy and observe. No ear bud on the left side. Hmmm. I saunter to the right to check. Nope. Nothing there.

Ah for the time when we knew that people talking out loud were the crazy ones.

So now I am sure. He is crazy. No iPhone, no ear buds, no electronics. Only the electrical charge emanating, agitating, disrupting my…my what? Oh god it is my cervix. That is where I feel it! The place where it happens. The sperm enters; maybe a person, maybe nothing. Maybe a beautiful boy who veers terribly off course and loses his mind. (I have one of those myself.)

 oil on canvas                                                                                                         Nicholas O'Rourke

oil on canvas                                                                                                         Nicholas O'Rourke

I walk for three blocks, a half-step behind Crazy Boy. I summon the genetics of his mother and tell her that I am here. I am beside him. I hear him. There is nothing I can do, but I am next to him, trying to carry some little part of his burden. Her burden.

He screams, and people stare. The noisy night shatters into silence for a minute. I can see it disperse into the air: his mind, his agency, his future. I want to jump up and catch it, return it to him, but I know that is impossible.

I walk, one half-step behind, and gather the detritus, because I know it is not garbage. It is his soul.

The Dime

Today is shopping day. It is always a test of my Zen capabilities. Sometimes it is not fun, but sometimes it is. Nick can stand in front of the frozen entree section for twenty minutes. Deciding. He wanders off. Every single time we get to the cashier, he remembers something he needs. I can’t send him to “run” and get it, I may never see him again. So off we go to some far corner of the store and back to the end of the long line. My friends ask me why I even take him with me. I should just go myself. I explain that he wants to come, to pick out his own food. They say: let him make a list. I cannot explain the nuance of this activity to them. He is a grown man. He is crazy, but he is not a child. His abbreviated life leaves him in charge of very little. He wants to pick out his own food. I can give him that.

Off we go to the Walmart (in itself a test of one’s Zen) for his supplies: massive amounts of paper towels (never toilet paper…don’t ask), coffee, ivory soap, Simple Green, bologna, cheese, half and half, sugar, frozen entrees, and ice. Lots of ice.

We have a good time. He is lively and asks for new coloring books. Nick was on track to be a famous artist (seriously) and now he is happy to fill endless superhero outlines with colored pencils. He pulls one ridiculous item after another off the shelves and says, “Hey, let’s get this for Dad. He would like this.” A huge, neon Christmas sweater. A coffee mug with the face of a lion sculpted on it. Children’s candy shaped like cartoon characters. “Let’s get him this popcorn, for at night when he watches black and white movies!” 

I had to relent on that one because it connected directly with reality.

On the way home, he starts slamming his arm against the inside of the door. Then he pushes his legs forward and straightens his whole body. I’m afraid he’s going to break the seat. “Nick, Nick, what the hell? What’s wrong? You need to calm down!”

He glares at me with the dark, scary, crazy eyes and yells WHAT? Really loud. Here we go. I know that there’s nothing I can do. I can’t get mad at him, I can’t calm him down. Things are going on in his head I can’t even get near. It turns on a dime.

We pull up in front of his place, he flings the door open and jumps out. I sit in my seat, very small, as he grabs his groceries and slams the door with the velocity of a meteor hitting earth.

There is nothing I can do but pull away.

One dime. It turns on a single dime.

 Self-Portrait at 14                  watercolor on paper               Nicholas O'Rourke                 

Self-Portrait at 14                  watercolor on paper               Nicholas O'Rourke          



How Was I Supposed To Know My Son Was Crazy?

It sneaks up on you, the crazy. It’s cagey. This is the thing: if I made you a list of the red flag signs of serious mental illness, and another list of typical teenage behavior, they would be virtually the same. You watch all the kids acting like idiots and assume it will pass. But little glitches in your kid’s behavior gnaw away at the dark places of your mind. Is this really normal?

Initially you assume it must be drugs. And it is. So, you act on the drug problem and get him help. You’ve got it somewhat under control, only things don’t improve. This is because your son is using drugs to subdue the voices in his head that you won’t know about for years.

Next comes the parade of therapists. Years of confusing and conflicting opinions, thousands of dollars, and still no answer. Precious time lost when you might have intervened before it was too late. The diagnosis gets worse and worse until finally the haymaker is thrown: schizophrenia. The departure of a mind, cradled in the exquisite skull of my son. Gone. Future veered terribly off course. Mental illness is like a hurricane, a tornado, it plows through your life, leaving anything not nailed firmly down, destroyed. Decimated. No way to prepare for this  adversary, just hang on for dear life.


I’ve been thinking about the babies, lately. The beautiful babies who lie in your arms and suck at your breast before falling, milk-drunk, into a wanton sleep. Did we have any idea, an inkling, of the place this would take us to: motherhood? The sheer black you find yourself surrounded by when they are in peril? The sky-high, heart bursting love? The breakneck speed at which we move to help them. Save them. The crumpling grief. The future in a green-gold eye.

They can drive us to distraction, bring us to our knees, wail all forever, and it changes nothing. We will walk the floor, holding them, all night. We stand like roughcast stone monuments, sending out our love. Nothing can topple us.


Mothers::Come Here

Mothers::Come Here  


Take a minute and read. I know how much you need to hear from another mother who has lived through the mental illness of a child, has shitty, toxic teenagers, or wants to jump off a wine cliff every night. Who understands that you love them so completely, so ridiculously, you’d dance in fire at the hope of helping them. I know your need because it is mine, also.

I had a son. A perfect, and beautiful and shiny boy. All the fingers, and all the toes. They laid him on my belly. I really didn’t believe there was an actual human being inside of me until I saw him. Serious, dark composure (like a judge) his brown eyes pummeled me with questions. Oh my god, the love. The semi-truck slamming into my soul, laden with unfathomable love. In a second, the earth pivoted on its axis and I was a mother.

 Vesuvius Erupts                                                oil on canvas                                               Miriam Feldman

Vesuvius Erupts                                                oil on canvas                                               Miriam Feldman

Twenty years later he left me. Some kind of unknowable shift occurred in his brain and he was no longer with us. Schizophrenia. First: anxiety. Then: depression. Then: bipolar. Finally: goodbye, Nick boy, you have been swallowed by the rancid swamp water of the worst mental illness diagnosable. I’m at the shore; scrappy, wild-eyed, flailing arms. Why can’t I save you? Why am I suddenly irrelevant? I have a stick! I have a rope! I have a college degree, and yet you float away from me. I glance back over my shoulder and see your sisters, all three, glaring at me with the fury of injustice. “Save him, Mother.”

I would do anything to release him from insanity’s grip. Hey, God, take me! Please. Pour cancer all over me, it’s fine.  But there are no deals like that. You stand at the shore and wail, into a vast and relentless wind. No one hears you.

Holy, moly, that sounds sad. And it is. But it is other things, too. It’s profound. It’s shockingly beautiful, sometimes. I know this isn’t politically correct, but it’s also really funny. Crazy is funny a lot of the time. 

So here I am, internet world. It took me a long time to get here. I am battered and shaken and changed forever. But I have learned things. I have endured and accepted and learned. I am happy, yeah, I am.  

Let’s help each other. Mothers, come here.