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The During, part 3: Treatment beyond Our Consent

Over and over and over again while my siblings and I struggled to get help for our mom, we were chastised for letting her go unhelped. It was the damndest thing.

People usually offered the admonishment gently, but one neighbor put it more bluntly when I ran into her at a garage sale. “It’s a shame you kids aren’t doing more for your mom!” she told me, scowling.

“You have no idea what we are or aren’t doing for her,” I replied curtly before walking away. My youngest sister, recalling this exchange a few days ago, said she was surprised I didn’t punch this neighbor in the face. I was, too.

She had no idea. But then again, it wasn’t so long before that I, too, had been clueless.

Click here for The During, part 2,
or here for the why of this all.

March 19, 2004

Last night was a night of missing.

I missed my mom most of all. I wanted to call her just to talk, to hear her voice, the one that used to make me laugh and feel all the things the world could be: wounded and beautiful, kind and angry, soft and harsh all at once. This was a voice that taught me wisdom, to really look at the world and try seeing it for what it is. I wished so much I could pick up the phone and call, but… even if I did, she probably wouldn’t answer. If she did answer, the voice would not have been the same that could have such soothing power when I was sick or hurting in younger days. Instead it’s a frantic, manic voice, bringing words that bear no relation to anything I’ve just said. She doesn’t listen, doesn’t know how, just speaks of conspiracies against her. I also told her how I felt, told her I can’t communicate with her till she seeks treatment, and I guess I have to be firm even on those nights where I want nothing more than my big, strong mommy to hold me and make the world be okay. Read more…

The During, part 2: I Miss My Mom

My mom once told me that she’d been diagnosed with schizophrenia. She said she disagreed and would say no more: not who’d diagnosed it, not when, not how. It was information I was utterly unable to act upon, apart from to refer to her illness as schizophrenia.

I later discovered she’d shared different diagnoses with my younger sister. I couldn’t call her illness schizophrenia with much confidence, and took to referencing her “mental illness” more generally.

I still sometimes say she had schizophrenia, but the truth is, I don’t know. As it’s hard to get water from a rock, it was also hard getting clarity from Mom.

Click here for The During, part 1,
or here for the why of these posts.

August 6, 2003

It’s after noon already & I’m the only one who’s left the house today – & then only to take out the trash. Nick actually just woke up, which means the day is set to really begin, the fun parts that involve finding Mom & talking with her about commitment. My heart feels like it is literally breaking with the weight of my mom’s terror & the knowledge we cannot know right now whether she will ever be sane again. Right now all we have is hope, & I don’t know how well founded it is. I pray it is. I pray for the best for Mom & know, no matter what, we will figure out how to deal with whatever comes, always with the love & help of awesome friends. I will learn to overcome this fear, the kind that hits hardest at night but is always present in some gnawing form.

(Breathe. Just breathe.)

August 6, 2003

Oh, no.

Scant hours after talking to Lane County Mental Health and filling out the pre-commitment paperwork which will at least lead them to establish basic contact with my mom, my mom managed to find our house. So much for a safe haven. She worked the main street name from someone, then proceeded to go up and down the streets in search of Nick’s truck. She found it and now here she is, talking about how her neighbors have tapped her lines and handing off her safe deposit box keys in case one of them “takes her out” for “talking too much.” She’s resting comfortably on Rache’s couch and I just want her to leave right now, because I don’t know what to do with her, this woman who was once my mom. I am so scared by this whole situation, but all I can do is keep on plodding through – others have done it before, and we’ll do it together now…

Oh, and now she’s asking – subtly – if she can stay with us. Oh, God, what are we supposed to do? This is so tense.

I wish she could just accept the medication she’s been prescribed over the years and try to find some peace, make it so we could be around her without fear… but that’s seldom the path the mentally ill take. I so want to say something, but if we do, we’re stuck here with her, no telling what she might do.

August 8, 2003

Yesterday was a tough day. Rache, Nick and I were probably more nervous than we’ve ever been in our entire lives. We’ve all dealt with pre-test nerves, with performance nerves, with all the kinds of nervous moments you encounter in the course of life, but this was something new. What are you supposed to say to someone in this situation, especially your mom? “Yeah, we really don’t think you’re quite right…” She was running around the house trying to find things to hand us, sure her neighbors were going to take her out at any moment, before we got her to sit on the porch. Nick said we needed to talk, but then fell silent. Read more…

I Don’t Give A Fuck What You Think

I was born of two abusers.

From my father I learned what I didn’t want to be.

From my mother I learned parts of who I wanted to be–not the shrieking, paranoid ones, but the hopeful, loving ones that reflected her belief tomorrow could be something altogether brighter than today.

One minute before I took this picture, I stood with my hand on my mom's doorknob and wondered,

Forever

My car has no hubcaps.

One of my then coworkers was concerned when the fell off. “That’s terrible!” he opined.

“Terrible? Really?” I asked. “I’d save that word for a cancer diagnosis or car wreck.”

I called my mechanic. “Do hubcaps provide any structural support?” I asked. Read more…

Died with his hands in the air

daddy littler jMy husband is a Black man.

We had our #IfIDieInPoliceCustody discussion before Sandra Bland’s death in custody inspired the hashtag.

Officer Darren Wilson killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, one year ago today. I wouldn’t have believed the #IfIDieInPoliceCustody talk necessary then. So an unarmed kid was killed by a police officer in a Southern town thousands of miles away? What does that have to do with me?

In late October, I saw how many people were still protesting. I suspected it likelier I was uninformed than that they were delusional.

My suspicion inspired my education. I spent November and December learning what Ferguson had to do with me. I first wrote about Ferguson in “Ferguson: the color of justice” on November 17, 2014, more than three months after Michael Brown died.

Two weeks later, I wrote about Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice and Darrien Hunt, a small sampling of Black men–and in Tamir’s case, child–killed by police officers as brutally as needlessly. I broke their murder stories into tweet-sized bursts in hopes of distilling something complex into digestible pieces, which I hoped would plant seeds of question in readers’ hearts.

I wrote in early December: “I will not deny, nor take part in perpetuating violence by my denial.” I stopped writing about Ferguson afterward, but I kept reading and watching relentlessly until late December, when I realized I was no longer educating myself. I knew. I was merely crushing hope each time I read about another unarmed person of color turned hashtag courtesy the police. I decided it was time to step away from constant coverage and protect the hope that fuels me to work for change.

I have seen many new name-hashtags since. I’ve learned about the victims behind them and mourned. I’ve come to take for granted truths that existed long before I recognized them or found them plausible.

Though I didn’t realize it for three more months, my education began with Ferguson one year ago today.

Of all the videos I’ve watched in the year since, one outwardly innocuous video stands out in my memory.

Were Michael Brown’s hands up, or weren’t they? (Did his actions pose imminent threat when he died, or did they not?) Based on reading articles alone, it seemed impossible to determine the answer. I ultimately bypassed news articles in frustration and instead watched every single firsthand account following Mike’s killing.

One stood out among them for me. One made my stomach sink as I thought, the world is so much harder than I realized.

It’s the one that comes to mind nine months later as my moment of revelation.

In this video, two White contractors stand side by side in the moments after Mike Brown’s death, facing something the viewer can’t see. They’re not performing; they’re utterly unaware they’re being filmed. “He had his fuckin’ hands in the air!” one of them shouts, incredulous, raising his arms to demonstrate. (The contractors affirmed this later.)

He had his fuckin’ hands in the air!

In the year since Mike Brown died, those words have stuck with me. They have been the ones that can’t be spun, or turned into something else, or undone. And they’re words I’d never have found, if I hadn’t been between jobs and foregoing sleep in search of the truth.

A year later, I find the mystery isn’t in whether or not Mike Brown posed a threat when Darren Wilson fired his killing shots; after all, Mike “had his fuckin’ hands in the air!

The mystery is in how little has changed with so many people dying needlessly since.

And so, if my husband ever dies in police custody, I want you to know:

Like Mike Brown, he will have died with his hands in the air.

Hope within my reach

I will be worthy of that cape.

I ended my post “Becoming a superhero” with these words.

How could I earn that cape? Not by battling super villains or saving entire countries from natural catastrophes, but by my attention and engagement with my kids.

I’ve remembered that cape here and there, and gone through periods of donning the cape and losing it deep within the wreckage of my perpetually untidy house. (It’s okay; Thunder Thighs had a perpetually dirty house, too, but she saved the world for four kids all the same.)

like my mom

Thunder Thigh’s powers were much more exciting  (and inspiring) than “keeping an immaculate house”

These things seem to come in cycles as life’s balances shift. I’m comforted remembering no one can be a superhero all the time. Even Superman needs the downtime of being inconspicuous Clark Kent, as Batman needs to occasionally intersperse weaponed battles with the usually more mundane ones of Bruce Wayne’s day to day life.

Yesterday, I sat down at the kid table with my sixteen-month-old son while my husband and older son slept. Littler J and I ate together slowly.

I burped. Littler J laughed uproariously, so I burped again.  Read more…

Debbie, happily

I used to hate it when people called me “Debbie.” One of my very first blogs featured an image demonstrating this.

11/3/11

Yep.

Only two people could get away with calling me “Debbie.” One was my little sister, Amelia; the other, my very first not-sister girlfriend, Sarah.

It was generally important to me that people take me Very Seriously. No one took my single-mom-of-four mother Very Seriously, a frustrating situation I didn’t want for my own life. “Debbie” wasn’t a remotely serious-sounding name. Deborah, on the other hand, was a name synonymous with wisdom. Read more…

The smile that sees the future

Else why would I wear Vibrams?

Pic by Li’l D

My five-year-old, Li’l D, tried skateboarding for the very first time yesterday.

I enjoy being able to get myself from one place to another by skateboard, an enjoyment I think my son will share. Eventually, after all the falling.

I wasn’t thinking about that when I offered to help Li’l D. I decided to stop glaring at a neighbor kid doing skateboard tricks in front of my house for destroying rare (relative) silence and make some noise of my own.

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” I grumbled to myself. To Li’l D, I called, “C’mon, kiddo! If you want to learn to skateboard, now’s the time.”

Really?!” Each of the thousand or so times he’s asked before, I’ve told him he can learn when he’s eight.

He readied himself faster than he’s ever readied himself. We went outside just in time to see the neighbor kid retreat into his home.

I could call it! I told myself. Looking at Li’l D’s excitement, I realized that would be a great way to break my son’s trust.

I spent a few minutes trying to show him foot positions and help him find his balance. This was hard since Li’l D already knows everything, but I persevered. I was pretty stoked to see him trying something that didn’t come naturally.

(I was surprised when he got back on his bike the first time he fell. He wanted to throw in the towel, but I explained that he’s getting better even by falling. I was motivational enough to get him going, and now he’s a pro. He’s not usually so patient.)

After a few minutes, I shadowed him as he pushed himself slowly along the sidewalk in front of the neighbor kid’s house. The board slipped from under him. He stumbled onto the lawn.

I was in the middle of encouraging him when I glanced up on the neighbor’s porch.

What I saw sent jolts rippling through my brain. Read more…

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