1983 versus 2016

​Every time my kids complain about summer camp, I wish I could take them back to the summer of 1983, when I was 11.

They could hang out in Yreka, where the only things going on for me were trips to Ringe Pool, the occasional day jaunt to Jones Beach (not THAT Jones Beach – a sandpile off the Scott River), playing on the hill behind my house, the responsibility of my then 8-year-old brother, and entertaining my mom. I’m grateful for my friend Devanie, who kept me sort of sane.

(That’s me in 1983 rocking the argyle socks with short shorts while Devanie gets to swim…)

They could experience the pain of no home electronics, no internet (NO YOUTUBE! THE HORROR!), 13 channels, and the boring drive to Medford in order to visit a mall. They could pluck cheat grass from my dog Macc’s paws. They could – gasp! – ride their bikes a few miles to TJ’s Pizza in order to play video games (at a quarter a turn – not cheap!).

Instead, I get to hear how they wish they could stay home so Pooka could watch YouTube and Boy could play on the Xbox and how life isn’t fair and why don’t we let them have sugar cereal anymore and how they would be really good and not fight and blah, blah, blah.

JUST. GET. DRESSED.

helpless

My mom and brother have schizophrenia.

When I was a child, I thought my mom was homesick for the Philippines and that my brother just copied her odd behavior; when I was a teenager, I thought they were severely depressed and angry. As an adult, I started to understand there was something else wrong.

When I was 38, my dad called, “Your brother might be on his way to your place. He cut every wire in and out of our house and yelled that we were spying on him for the government.” My brother did eventually show up, demanding to live with me. Instead, I used his paranoia and convinced him that the best way to “stick it to the man” was to collect disability benefits and then he could live on his own. All he had to do was get an official diagnosis. “What could I be diagnosed with?” I gave him some explanation based on my own anxiety and depression, and we went to the hospital. After a couple of weeks on meds, he walked away from treatment and has never returned.

A few months ago, he ended up in Boise again. He was the best I’d ever seen him. I thought things were good. He was sober, going to meetings, and claimed to be “vacationing in Boise.”

I was surprised that he was so healthy, because weeks prior he was out of it. He’d told me he wanted to go to Alaska to work. I gave him our Alaskan cousins’ info and got a strange text a few days later stating that someone had stolen his identity and was texting as him, that he never had any intention to work there. I knew it was him that had called asking, but I shrugged it off. He said someone was trying to pin drug charges on him and had hacked into his phone. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if that was him being delusional or him trying to use his diagnosis to get out of trouble.

Over the last few weeks, he would pop into my salon here and there. I gave him a haircut and some clothes. He got temp work and started making money. He really seemed okay. I didn’t see him for a month, but I wasn’t worried. Then he came into my business trashed last week. He was slurring and swaying, “I’ve been drinking for days. I think I was fired. I’ve made inappropriate choices and I’ve been using meth again.” He looks like he’s lost 30 pounds, his face is puffy, and his stuff is missing, so he’s dirty and getting dirtier by the day.

You can judge me, but I won’t bring him into my home. My kids’ safety is my number one priority, and I can’t trust him. He refuses to get into treatment and says he isn’t schizophrenic, “It’s my electromagnet field giving you that perception.”

He’s hovering around my business, making my clients nervous. He barges in, insisting that I have his things. He was upset that I threw out his dead phone battery, even though I replaced it with one that worked, “I like to keep things.” He’s upset about his missing bag, which is full of old Styrofoam coffee cups he won’t toss and a pair of shoes he found on the street.

And I don’t know what to do.

My dad says to call the police. My mom, apparently, is also going downhill. She sleeps in ten-minute increments and then yells gibberish. He hasn’t slept and also feels helpless. He tried to get her committed somewhere, but the current laws state she has to sign herself in and she won’t. He knows it’s just a matter of time before she loses it in a store, and then the police will be involved. I don’t know if he’s worried or hoping that will happen…

Most of our homeless population is like my brother. They should all be in hospitals. They used to be. President Carter tried to make sure funds were in place to care for the mentally ill. President Reagan, former governor of my home state California, followed his state’s model and made it nearly impossible to institutionalize them. Those funds were blocked and the “crazies” were let loose onto the streets. Violent crime and homelessness increased.

And people like me and my dad were left without the right to check our schizophrenic family members into treatment.

So what happens now?

becoming

My daughter did her fourth commercial yesterday. This was a significant one, because it was the first time she had to audition to get hired AND she spoke. She was the lead of her vignette.

Everyone was amazed at her composure and maturity. They were sincerely impressed with her consistency and ability to be directed. They were extremely happy when, after four takes, the director said, “We’re good.”

He looked at me, surprised, and said, “She’s good.”

And she was good.

I’m always proud of her, but yesterday I felt something different. I could see her becoming. She’s becoming a professional. She’s becoming someone that adults know they can rely on. She’s becoming this person that is beyond me. I thought about that as everyone high-fived her. She’s at that point in time where she is creating her future, and my job is to support and step back until she asks for me. I felt a mix of happiness and longing.

The longing was its own mix. Part wanting to hold on to my little girl; part wanting to be at that phase of becoming again – this time with a mother like me. That sounds arrogant, but let me explain. When I was in the becoming phase, my mother, a schizophrenic, would get jealous. While she was proud of me, she would rage about her own missed opportunities. I would buy myself the perfect jeans, my mom would hear people compliment me, and I would come home from cheer practice or dress rehearsal and find that she had cut them to fit her. Her response? “They look better on me.” She would show up to football games overdressed in hopes people would see her, the mother of one of the cheerleaders, and say, “You look young enough to be her sister.” And she did. And she acted like it. And I felt both protective and pissed.

Rhiannon is smart, talented, and beautiful. There hasn’t been a day when I have looked at her and been angry about it. Because of my own childhood, I even look for that anger, like yesterday. What am I feeling right now? I wanted to check in with myself and see if that weird, almost mythological, jealousy had arrived. Nope. I watched her and the crew and felt that all was right in the world. Somehow I helped create this fantastic creature. What I felt was closer to awe.

She’s becoming.

And I realized I am becoming, too. I am the master of re-creation, and I am becoming, too…Becoming a mother who can really relax, knowing that the only addiction Rhiannon has is the need to do more film. Becoming a different type of business-owner, a different type of wife, a different type of step-parent, a different type of artist.

What I am not becoming is a version of my own mom, who is/was not well, and couldn’t see her daughter with awe. And I can feel sad that my mom and I will never have that. Sadness is okay. Because of that, I am a damn good mother myself. When I talk with Rhiannon, I’m saying what I wished my mother could have said to me, and it makes me greater. Because of that, Rhiannon’s star can rise as high as she wants it to go. She’s amazing, and I’m in awe.