Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Spacin' With Mom

Generally, when my mother's schizophrenia was taking control, she would sit in our kitchen and smoke her brains out while staring out the windows. I was sure my best course of action at those times would be to just disappear; but I never followed up on my rational choices. Even as a kid I thought I could do something about her quandary; I could help her, maybe even save her, and in the process save myself from feeling so incredibly helpless during every minute of every day that I wasn't trying to make the world right.

All I really had in my toolkit was the gift of speech and the ability to tell tales, with which I thought I could divert her attention, move her focus, make clear that she was not alone and that the world was not truly against her. 

None of that really affected her. It helped me to be doing something but until I truly understood what her illness brought to her, I was just dancing in quicksand. 

And then one day I came home high as a kite on LSD. My mother was up, and in her customary position at 3AM; at the kitchen table, giant glass ashtray overflowing with butts smoked right into their filters, coffee steaming in her cup. Even though I'd pretty much checked out of real life by then, by 15 as it was, I still had some "fear" of my mother discovering my true self; my drug use, my punkishness, my "so unlike the first American Pope I was supposed to be" lifestyle. So, confident in my ability to be stoned out of my mind and still carry on a relatively sentient conversation, I pulled up a chair and added my contributions to the ash pile.

She was in "that place". I knew it by the snappy vitriol aimed at my father, the poor moron that was at that moment outdoors cranking brakes on boxcars in 20 below weather, trying to make enough money to support our band of merry pranksters. I argued, but in a calm way; I was far too incapacitated to debate so I kept my comments in the "tepid disavowal" category. Sometimes that turned her wrath onto me, which I thought was fine as men are trained to accept pain as a natural burden. "I can take it" I'd always tell myself as she'd shred my soul with hatred I knew was illusion created by crossed wires, yet still left scars.

But this night that didn't happen. In fact she seemed almost placid, as if she'd resigned herself to her misery and was simply taking a few last halfhearted gasps at vengeance.

And then an odd thing started happening; we both began to cycle in and out of reality in sync. 

If you've never tried LSD I can only explain what happens simplistically. It's generally an eight hour "trip", half of which is a build up to a "climax", a short lived hold at maximum high, and then a wafting back to the ground called "spacing out" or probably a hundred other names. People are affected differently of course so much of this is generalization, but it's the "coming down" portion I'm referencing here.

For about 4 hours you drift in and out of the drug's spell; ten minutes feeling perfectly normal but tired and not very energetic, and then you drift away into this other place of your brain's own making. Where "it" is exactly is obviously unique to you, how you perceive it is pretty much the same each time you go; you might be frightened, confused, out of body (ish), angry or euphoric. You might go blind in effect, seeing nothing but swirling colors and elongated trails made by physical movements within your periphery, or you might have absolutely vivid hallucinations of what seem to be real objects or even beings; the old conversation with a unicorn thing.

So she and I would drift off into our little made up worlds for how ever long it took for our minds to make their case, and then we'd be back, having a conversation. After a few times on that Ferris wheel it dawned on me that we were on the same carnival ride but in two different circuses. I started to ask her about what she was seeing, what she heard. I asked her in some way I can't recall, but it seemed to make sense to her. She didn't glare at me like I was accusing her of being crazy, and she didn't ask the obvious question "what the fuck are you talking about". She just started talking.

By the end of that experience I was a new man. I had zero academic understanding of mental illness, I couldn't even make what I'd learned a tangible enough thing to describe it adequately to anyone else, not that anyone else was interested in listening to me at the time anyway. But after years of dealing with this "thing" raising its ugly head from somewhere within my sweet mommy, without even 5 expensive minutes of explanation from the bevy of "professionals" who dealt with her and by association with my siblings and I, after banging my head on random walls throughout my junior high days because I couldn't just FIX the problem even though I'd been told I was gifted and really, really smart and should be able to conquer almost anything I set my focus on... I suddenly "got it". Not the words she heard, not her visions specifically; and yet I'd been to her world, I'd seen those shadows, I'd walked the paths, felt the cold, lost. all. hope; and then gained it back again. I'd had all those experiences before, far more times than I'd like to admit, but I'd never made the connection.

It was a new day for me. I was actually able to help more, to calm, to reassure, to anticipate, to just plain deal. I'd learned that thing you can't really have until you walk in at least a pair of shoes similar to those the focus of your attentions has been walking in all their lives. I'd learned empathy.

I wrote a poem about the experience. It's said in my voice, and really is about me, at least in the abstract. But it's of the memory of that night, of a scene involving two lost souls wandering through an unknown place, alone, anxious yet fascinated by... by what exactly...

If on the morrow I've been lost, found lacking every social grace
please leave me to my rocking, as I'm bound to crawl back home
it's comfort that I'm after, it's a shelter from this maddening pace
it's lessening by a hundred beats, life's taunting metronome

If you've come by and find me mute, give time that I'll relearn my voice
please sit with me if you've the will, that I might know your care
it's metaphor that I've misplaced, I've not one more grammatic choice
to paint the prison I've become, to lay my anguish bare

If this is asking more from you than all you have and then more yet
I understand and hold no grudge, I'm comfortable alone
But please don't fear, just walk away and leave me here with no regret
once comes my reawakening, I'll tell you all I've known