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 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.