Another installment in the series of posts of the WCWW scholarship contest winners and runners-up! Today’s post is written by ThinkingTooHard, one of the five scholarship winners. Enjoy!
We’re on the floor in my bedroom, shooting marbles. My 9-year-old is beyond glee as he teaches his mother the nuances of how best to aim, whether to use index finger or thumb to shoot, how to angle properly for the target. This is his dream come true, to teach his mother something.
Twice, he ‘forgets’ to tally his own points so that we stay neck and neck. (I stink at marbles.) He is amazed that I’ve never played and asks if my siblings ever did, then if I played any games with them at all.
“How much older are you anyway, Mom?”
Too much older, I think to myself. “Eight years older than your aunt and 10 years older than your uncle,” I said.
I adjust my angle on the floor, line up my finger and send the marble neatly across the rug, where it passes through the others untouched. I am nearly 40 and it is patently obvious that this is not my game of choice.
I do remember playing cards though – lots of card games. Those, I was good at. But that was after Mom left.
She didn’t physically move out, but she may as well have. By the time I was 12, my mother’s mind had disappeared as sure as if she have driven down the winding dirt road of my youth, passed the fields and onto the highway.
That long familial haul was accomplished in cycles. One cycle of maternal devotion, perfect braids and a bright pink raincoat. One cycle of new siblings, learning to be Mom’s best helper, changing diapers and cleaning the house. A third cycle of breakdown and avoidance, brought on by my mother’s new best friend: mania.
My son shoots his marble hard, smacking several into disarray, a grin on his face. “I read a book at school about a girl who was a marbles pro,” he tells me. “No one could beat her. She used to squeeze a pencil eraser, like this (he pretends to grip one inside the lower half of his thumb) for an hour every day. Her thumb was ripped. I bet it was one giant muscle. . . But it was just a story.”
I smile, shoot my marble and manage to knick another. One point.
Sometimes, when we play games, he asks me about her, my mother. Why she talks so much, all the time, at warp speed. Why she’s so needy. Why she can’t sit still.
How best to answer?
The truth is that my mother let her disease take over long ago. That she chose to be manic rather than be a parent. And it was her choice. Her prescription was never filled.
I read an article a few years ago where the author likened the disorder to a glutton, a greedy friend who craves thrills, action, attention, and will do anything to live on. It described life with a manic to perfection.
The result is that my mother behaved then – and does now – more like a child than her children. It meant that her oldest (me) took care of her. It’s a pattern she continues to expect, even as I approach my fourth decade, and she her sixth.
I was 11 years old when I noticed something wasn’t quite right. She would rise at dawn and clean non-stop. Paint the house, on a ladder to the second story, while 8 months pregnant with my little brother. Mow the lawn, prune the roses, grocery shop and make dinner. All in one day.
In my family, as in most, explanations were not offered. Deny, deny, deny, until you can figure it out on your own.
It took me 15 years. She had to go faster, do more. Eventually, she had to serve herself first and screw the rest. She couldn’t help it. Mania is a bitch that way.
Friday through Sunday, she would hit the bars, or the beach, or whatever exciting place the men half her age wanted to take her. She shopped, spending far more than she had in the bank. She worked, and worked, and worked – up to three jobs at a time. She did everything in excess, which is precisely what is expected.
Mania is irresistible, and will always lead you down a path of regret.
At home, a typical Friday night meant Dad and his friends played cards. Sometimes, as a special treat, he would let me join in. This was after I put the “kids” to bed, of course. Sometimes, I would win a hand or two. But mostly, I would just smile, happy that his grown-up friends still treated me like a kid. Because I was a kid. No one seemed to remember that any other time.
The marbles smack on my bedroom floor, bringing me back to the present. My son hit his target for a big five points. He is trying not to grin. “It’s okay, Mom. You can still catch up.”
I smile, wondering how anyone can choose not to be there for their children. How they can turn their backs without yearning for the moments like those I am fortunate to share with my son right now.
My next shot miraculously hits its target, then catches a groove in the braided rug and disappears under the bed. Fetching it out of the dust-bunnies, I’m surprised yet again to be so suddenly filled with grief. It’s heavy. The tears are coming and I am glad my face is hidden. My crying scares my son, mainly because I can’t offer him a believable explanation.
The same thing used to happen on weekday mornings, at home, when my brother and sister had to be dressed and fed before school. And sometimes on Saturdays, when the house needed to be cleaned and the laundry done. Or on Wednesday nights, when Dad would drop me off at the grocery store with money for the shopping.
I was just so tired, and angry. Why couldn’t I play with my friends? Go to the mall? Flirt with boys at the library?
In the end, I would will myself to just get it done . . . try not to hate my mother so much, and get it done.
I used to fantasize that some morning she would wake up as her old self, and be proud when she saw how well I’d managed – the cooking, cleaning, caring for the kids. Hope dies last, as the saying goes. I didn’t give it up until I moved out 10 years later. In the confines of my one-bedroom apartment 80 miles away, I still sometimes wished she would call and say thank you.
To my father’s credit, we never lacked for anything, the kids and I – except our mother.
My son is too young to understand, or so I tell myself. More likely it’s that I still don’t understand.
“You can still catch up,” my son’s words about our marble game echo in my mind. I wish I’d had that chance, to catch up with my mother. But she was always going too fast.
Once, about four years ago, she called to tell me about a new medicine she was taking. Although she couldn’t bring herself to recognize the sham that was my childhood, she seemed almost apologetic in tone – reserved, quiet.
Definitely not manic.
And for the first time in a very long time, the hope I’d held onto for far too long began to stretch and rear its head. All I ever wanted was for my mother to care, instead of asking to be taken care of. I needed her.
Of course, I should have known she would give up the meds eventually. The ugly truth is that mania is her drug of choice.
Back in my bedroom, I find my marble, put on a brave face, and take one last shot. Five more points for me and we are tied. My son decides we should end here.
“Good game, Mom. Tomorrow night, can we play cards instead?”
“Sure,” I said.
I was always good at cards.
ThinkingTooHard is a blogger, freelancer, graphic designer, mother, daughter, and damn good friend. She was once a badass journalist, but retired for her two kids. She is now a stay-at-home, and spends most of her time working on a memoir about her relationship with her manic mother. Some day soon, it will rock the universe. Seriously.