Home > Family, Health, Love, Personal, Relationships > The Before: Our evil neighbors

The Before: Our evil neighbors

I’ve previously written about my mom’s mental illness as if it were a footnote, when it was actually a definitive part of my youth.

This post includes my journal entries from the beginning: when Mom’s “colorful” acts struck my untrained self as peripheral oddities, not potential markers of mental illness. What was mental illness, anyway?

These entries reach into the early summer of 2003, when my mom fell apart and my entries got much, much longer.

See here for more on the what, why and how of this series of posts.

The story began before I was fourteen, but I was fourteen when I began making note of it in March of 1993.

March 6, 1993

I am truly fed up with mother. I do love her, never doubt that, but I am so sick of her saying things like, “Oh, Tom…” Tom this, Tom that, “When will I find the man for me?” Darn Joe for being married. I have more important things to talk about and do than shallow stuff like that.

Mom did more than talk incessantly about Tom, a member of her church at the time. She frequently drove by his home and office, and tried bumping into him elsewhere. 

She once persuaded me to confront him about the drug habit she’d decided he had. I did so to stop her pestering me, and kept my promise to swear she wasn’t behind it. 

Despite my protests, Tom knew I wasn’t behind the confrontation. He didn’t believe a 14-year-old would randomly, autonomously accuse an adult of illegal activities. He told me gently this wasn’t normal, but his “normal” and mine lived in different universes.

January 14, 1997

I remembered also how Mom would sometimes come to school in fits of depression and take us out to lunch or just drive us around. One day, one of the popular girls told me that my “big sister” was beautiful – my big sister! I wonder if I ever told mother about that…

I didn’t journal much about Mom’s swings between mania and depression, but “fits of depression” were common for her. She’d spend days hidden beneath a blanket on our sofa, calling to my siblings and me to bring her food she discarded remnants of on the floor around the sofa. 

She went through at least one period where she locked herself in her bedroom drinking, something she rarely did. My siblings and I could hear her rhythmically pounding her head against the walls and floor as she wailed that she was a terrible mom. 

None of this alarmed me. It was, for a long time, simply life as I knew it.

February 1, 1997

Mother dragged me to a concert earlier. It wasn’t actually a concert but a dress rehearsal. (Why did I put “dress” in there?) I was falling asleep and told her that she had to make it worthwhile for me – I told her she had to talk to Ed. She missed him, but is going to try to call later – and she’d better!

Mom had long since forgotten about Tom. She’d taken to pursuing musician Ed instead. I soon enough begged her to stop driving by Ed’s house, but she kept going by long after he said he wasn’t interested. 

I no longer thought of this as normal. But it was Mom-normal, and–unable to change it–I had to accept it, whatever “it” was called.

June 23, 1997

I got in an argument with my mother earlier. She started talking about how the neighbours are trampling her plants and maliciously trying to kill them and then mentioned one neighbour in particular that she is always talking and obsessing about. I said something to the effect of that our neighbour couldn’t possibly be spending all of her time thinking about mother (implying, of course, that my mother spends a great deal of time thinking about our neighbour) and deriving malicious plots. She started to yell at me, a most uncomfortable situation in the car.

She wasn’t only concerned about neighbors. She also believed my gentle younger brother was destroying her clothes and hurting cats. Nothing could persuade her otherwise.

October 29, 1997

Today is my last day as an eighteen-year-old. This means very little to me. I could buy alcohol if I lived in Canada, but I wouldn’t… other than that, it’s another birthday… It’ll be hectic – school, work, school, schoolwork. I’m not exactly a party gal, either, so my party won’t really consist of anything more than my family.

Mom’s not taking the news very well, and she’s in fact been a little bit off… more than usual. I’ve always fought when others have called her crazy, but have I been mistaken?

August 9, 1998

I’ll be moving in in about ten days, each of which will go by with painful slowness.

I’m sick of being in this damned place and though I know there will be extra difficulties when I move out I won’t miss many of the things I’ll leave behind. I won’t miss Mother’s neediness and whining and I won’t miss her paranoid griping about all of the things the neighbours have done lately. You know, I think we must live in the only neighbourhood in existence whose occupants have nothing better to do than break or bend flower stems or smear dirt on car windshields. Mmm-hmm. But how do you broach this point to someone who won’t listen to a word and will list you among her enemies because you don’t believe her?

I appreciate my mother’s creativity and her intelligence, and I recognize readily that she has put a damn lot of effort into raising us. I suspect it’s as Bill said, though, that she’s not all here. It wouldn’t bother me so much if she would keep her craziness to herself or do what artists do and transform it into something enjoyable rather than something oppressive.

Now I’m thinking about my Mom again and feeling guilty as I always do when I bitch or am negative. Despite all of the things I wish I could change about her, she really has done some wonderful things.

July 3, 1999

In other news, Mom flipped out and basically doesn’t want to talk to us anymore – shux! I don’t know if she’ll want to reinitiate contact, but even if she does we’ll not just willingly comply. I don’t think either Rachael or I are much enthused at the prospect of returning to the realms of a relationship where all boundaries proper are set by one person and, when those boundaries are not observed, those breaking them are unrespectful and rude. Two sides to a story? This is a concept that, sadly, our mother was never introduced to or at least chose to ignore. She wants our respect? She can’t just order us to have it, seeing us not as individuals but just machines who ought to listen attentively and do as she says. Maybe it was different in the “old days” and maybe emotional abuse was a given to be expected, a parental right. Such is not our world, though – and our parents will have to learn this, knowing their kids won’t wait forever… unlike post office workers, not all conditions will be weathered.

I ❤ her, but that’s not always enough.

July 28, 1999

What else is in the news? Mom has disowned us again and that’s that. Too much work for her, I guess, and with us having our own lives, just not enough attention going her way. We’re not who she wants us to be and she can’t handle that. I had hoped for a free closeness, familial fondness and bonding, but I shall have to take it where it exists.

November 23, 1999

Trauma. It’s past eleven now and I just found out that all of the things in the basement were thrown away – the papers, the books, the odds and ends. I’ve already accepted their loss, but I don’t think I’ll be able to talk to mom for a while. I can handle and have handled many things, but that was going too far… if she had called us rather than just throwing everything out, we’d gladly have come by… and it would have taken her less effort.


But what’s done is done. I can’t create reality from memory.

She’d destroyed all our photos, drawings and artwork, leaving only those pieces we’d already taken from home.

May 18, 2001

I’m sitting in the car outside Mom’s psychiatrist’s office, happily soaking in the Eugene heat and listening to the sounds of the trees waving in the wind. I was dozing off and being carried away by thoughts of California. How will the weather be? Where will I spend my time? Most of all, who will I spend it with?

I remember my excitement to move to California for law school, but I don’t remember the rest of this at all.

January 4, 2002

Mads is sadder than I’m able to tell. When I wrote in her journal at the station, I inadvertently glimpsed sad-looking words she’d written and scanned for context. She’d thought I was pissed about Leno, pissed at her and “wanted to die.” She’s still under mom’s dark spell, seeing a world of dark with no one to bring her out of it. What fault she is willing to assume! It’s all wrong, & I hope she doesn’t have to wait for vacations and college to see this. I know she will & I’ll try to help her, but I so hope for sooner than later.

My youngest sister and I camped overnight to watch Brendan Fraser on Leno. We had a great time together, but it was freezing. We laughed as we warmed ourselves with gas station coffee.

I didn’t understand why Madeline suddenly fell silent before the taping. But when I saw Madeline’s words before she left Los Angeles at the end of her trip, I saw Mom as well. 

I remembered the laughter; Madeline, our coldness, for which she blamed herself.

January 4, 2003

Why can’t she shut up? How long is my mom going to bitch about her freaking neighbor and how she knows he’s stolen? What the hell good does this do? Why can’t I just mute the phone conversation since she won’t let it go?! GODDAMNIT! Let it go! You can spend a lifetime obsessing about things you can’t control, or just let ’em go! GAH! GAH! ARGH!

May 2, 2003

You have no idea how much I love my mom. No idea. Scrounging up change she didn’t have, she bought boxes of maccaroni for the free movie ticket promotion Kraft had. Which I didn’t know till I got her letter a bit ago. “I wish I had done more of them. I know how you like to go to the movies.”

I want my mommy. I want a hug from her big, strong arms right now, her chin on my head as she plays absentmindedly, lovingly with my hair in the way that’s made me feel at peace since I had hair to play with. She was never perfect, but hey? Who ever was? Why do people expect that? What mattered was that even when she fell apart, she pieced everything together again with an extraordinary love. Was that easy? Hell, no, but she always did it, and we always loved her, even when we were angry.

“I sometimes feel like Sleeping Beauty. I’m awakening, but there is no Prince Charming there with a kiss and most important a wrench to fix things in the house.” I know parents always wish better for their children, but it’s also very much the case that children can wish things had been better for their parents, that they could take away years of hurt. While there’s no erasing what’s been done, I take comfort in knowing time keeps on flowing: there’s all this time ahead of us to make up for bruises with kisses and laughter. And we will, we will.

Please stay tuned for The During, and
 feel free to share your thoughts and experiences here if so moved.

 last : Losing loved ones still here | The During, part 1: This Demon with My Mother’s Face : next

  1. September 9, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing this.

    • September 9, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      Thank you for sharing it with me. I feel lighter of heart already, so imagine I’ll feel in another 15,000. Or so … yep.

  2. September 9, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Deb. I imagine that it has to be tough to go through all these entries.

    • September 9, 2015 at 7:39 pm

      It felt tough going through, and there wee a few that had me sobbing … but when I reached the end of those entries, I felt proud to see how much my siblings and I have grown and changed for our experiences. Revisiting it all was worth it, though I’l always wish my mom could have had a kinder life.

  3. September 9, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Oh, my friend… I’ll be here reading the during, as well.

  4. September 9, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    Deb, your childhood and early adulthood sound so hard. My dad was an alcoholic as we were growing up and I can relate to the duality of feeling towards your mum but gosh, mental illness sounds 1000 times harder on the family. Hugs.

    • September 9, 2015 at 7:42 pm

      At the time, it just seemed like … what life was supposed to be. But now, reading it through these eyes, I am relieved to know it’s not like this for everyone. To look at my sons snoring a couple feet apart in their bedroom and know they’ll someday be shocked to learn what Mama’s life was like when she was little. Just as I’d have it. Big, big hugs.

  5. September 9, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    As I scrolled down and read your entries, a part of me was cringing and another part of me was saying, “What a healthy, smart thing you did when you wrote down your feelings. You may not have realized it then, but your writing was your “saving grace”….I started to journal a little when I was 12 …wish I had done it more often. Think it would have helped me deal with a “not so perfect childhood”, as well. I assume, Deborah, this is part of a series that you will be pursuing with your friend to write a book with? I think it has a major potential for a wider audience……. 🙂

    • September 9, 2015 at 7:45 pm

      I am so glad my best friend bought me my first journal! I cringe whenever I read the first one, but I’m thankful for it all the same. I wrote to understand better, and to make something like sense of senseless things. It helped so much, as did writing in the sixteen or so since that have followed.

      My sisters and I talked about writing a book about how similar and different were our experiences of this period. I’d long since forgotten it before reading through these old entries, but felt that aspiration being rekindled as I kept on reading.

      There’ll be four parts to the during and one part to the end, but even that … is just a small piece of it all.

      • September 9, 2015 at 8:08 pm

        A collaboration of all of you and your experiences……do it!!!! If you can physically (and emotionally) do it, then do it!!! I think it’d be brilliant and would be a great read. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I vaguely recall them writing blogs, as well? It would take time and obviously coordination, but I have a strong feeling that this is a story worth reading, Deborah, for a lot of people……at least talk to your sisters about it. Even if it has to wait for awhile (because of “life’s obligations”, etc.), really consider it for a future date……I’m not a publisher, but it seems to me that people are hungry for stuff like this right now, and having it written from 3 different perspectives could be just “the thing” that makes your story “worth reading” to the powers that be. Can’t hurt to check it out with some people who actually know about this kinda stuff, yes?? I’d buy the book and I don’t buy too many books these days! ❤ Anyways, just a thought, Kiddo…..

  6. September 9, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Heartfelt hugs and oceans of caring.
    So many hard times. So many confusing times. The mother you admired. The mother you adored. The mother who did your head in. All of these people (and more) crammed into one needy body. That you always loved, and sometimes didn’t like at all.

    • September 10, 2015 at 5:07 am

      That you always loved, and sometimes didn’t like at all.

      These words sum it up so perfectly. Always, always, so much love, tangled up with frustration and loss and dislike. Thank you, with hugs.

  7. September 10, 2015 at 4:10 am

    I hope as you were reading these you were reaching back and hugging the young person who wrote them. You have grown to be such a loving, giving woman. You have grown to be such an insightful and gifted writer, some of these gifts started here, with these painful entries in your journal.

    I wanted to hug you, then and now. Thank you for sharing these, thank you.

    • September 10, 2015 at 5:11 am

      I was. Sometimes I’ve looked back and wondered at how harsh I could be. There’s no question whatsoever when I go back to where I was and see my actions in their context. It was so hard, and I did what I could to keep going … a what-I-could I’m now glad worked, though sometimes I wished I could just disappear and not have to deal with any of it ever again.

      Reading from here is a healing thing. I feel so much sadness and love for my younger self, and gladness she kept trying to figure out. I am so glad to be where I am now, and grateful for the company of wise, compassionate hearts–like yours–who lift me with hands and words days when my heart can’t quite tell if it’s living 2015 or 2005.

  8. September 10, 2015 at 4:17 am

    Wow. We just never know what someone is living with and through. I can not imagine going through these entries at any age but it seems like it was a very good exercise for you to write these down as life was happening around you. What a tough thing you had to balance. Thanks for sharing such an intimate part of your life.

    • September 10, 2015 at 5:12 am

      It was so good for me to write all this down. Writing was–and remains–my favored path to understanding, and to healing.

      Thank you for sharing this with me.

  9. Deb
    September 10, 2015 at 6:43 am

    I am so proud of your choice to share these words and impressions about your mom and you. I suspected that I might see familiar descriptions, insights from your world that hinted at some of my own experiences, and I was correct. I grew up with my mother, the alcoholic, but as an adult it became clear that alcohol abuse was simply a symptom of something deeper.
    “November 1999…” the throwing away period, the lose of memories that didn’t even belong to the person tossing them, the destruction of others life, destroying identity and agency right along with the ‘things’…I only discovered my loss of personal belongings after my mom was dead. Just one more thing to work through without being able to confront the person and ask why, although I learned that there were no answers anyway…
    Thanks again, for moving ahead with these posts Deb. The doing of this activity DOES make a difference.

    • September 10, 2015 at 6:09 pm

      alcohol abuse was simply a symptom of something deeper
      Oh, how this resonates with me. I always thought the “colorful” was the story; that’s the joking I mention early in tonight’s post. Later it was clear that was just a paragraph in a much larger story.

      Thank you for saying this–all of it. I felt so anxious preparing to post last night’s, only to discover a physical sensation of weight lifting from me when I actually hit the “publish” button. Now I’m looking forward to the goodness of releasing a necessarily condensed version of the rest of this story (from my view; my sisters are sharing their own), revisiting everything with somewhat greater understanding–and so much joy!–in my life now.

      Thank you. ♥

  10. September 11, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    My mom suffered with depression and it took its toll on us. Me more than my sister. Thankfully, I don’t think she remembers. I think it was awfully brave of you to share these entries. It’s hard to cope with much less understand when we’re young. Understanding what is going on in their minds can be overwhelming and cause so much anxiety. It’s not something you can easily talk about.

    • September 18, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      It’s true. It’s definitely not something easily talked about … in my case, even with my husband! Part of what prompted me to share this was realizing how quiet I’d been even with him, and how that’d shaped his own understanding.

      I’m glad I revisited all of this. I see so much more clearly now than I did in the thick of it all.

      There is a huge load off my shoulders.

  11. September 12, 2016 at 7:18 am

    Okay, so I know you wrote this a year ago, but I can so relate to your mom. I also have a mental illness and raising children. The self doubt can be debilitating. The hurt in your children’s eyes when you’ve done something is soul crushing. I did the best I could with the tools that I had, but often I felt I just wasn’t enough.

    I have talked to my children about it now that most of them are grown and I am on medication. They all agreed that I was crazy and surprised to fine out I knew what they called me when they thought I couldn’t hear them. The nice thing is that they never doubted they were loved. They never doubted I wanted to be there mother. That is the greatest accomplishment of my life.

    Kudos to you for taking the time to understand why your mother is the way she is. She has raised a beautiful and loving daughter.

  1. September 10, 2015 at 4:50 pm
  2. September 14, 2015 at 6:12 am
  3. December 25, 2016 at 6:06 pm
  4. February 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

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