"Roxanne, hi, umm, it's Ralph, your mother is dead", this was the beginning of the phone conversation from Wyoming. Wyoming, the place where my mother was supposed to be happy for the first time in her life. A new home, a loving partner, a garden grown with love and care by my mother's hands. This call came while I was taking a nap before finals in the middle of the afternoon. I stumbled over my words, "why are you telling me this, my mom is not dead, what are you saying, why are you telling me these lies, my mother is not dead, why would you two pull some kind of joke like this on me?" Yes, those were my first words of reaction to the news that Ralph had just found my mother in her closet. She had found his gun while he was out shopping, and shot herself in her face. Sorry readers, for the graphics. However, that is what happened. My forty eight year old mother had just committed suicide. I was only twenty-nine at the time and for years had dreaded this day. Nine years have gone by since that fateful phone call, nine years of nightmares, fear, and the constant dread that it will happen to me.
The history behind that final day of my mother's life is rife with pain, hurt, loss, abandonment, and loss of childhood. She was diagnosed with Manic Depression Bi-Polar when she was in her early thirties, although her siblings can attest to her strange behavior as a child. Her solitariness, her withdrawal from peer relationships, her impulsive nature which led to the birth of her first child, me. I grew up in a home where the lights were never on. I fondly called my mother the "Vampire Lady". She was either asleep or too drugged out to have any real mother daughter talks. Our relationship was ripe with volatility from the age of about sixteen or so. Her illness had us jumping through hoops as children, us being my younger sister and I. I was my sister's caretaker from way back. Through the many moves, the many men, some abusers that my mother tried to find solace in. She never did.
Her mental illness is what is the driving force behind my quest to help others with mental illness. I grew up with a mother who threatened suicide yearly. She was hospitalized at least five times during my adolescence. I can honestly say though, that she always sought help. I remember many times she would find a new doctor who wanted to try yet another experimental antidepressant. My mother and her medications were the theme of everyday. Did mom take her meds? Did the Doctor call with the new script? After the many stays in the psychiatric hospital, my mother acquired a bizarre crew of confidantes. There was the friend with Turret's, the one with multiple personalities. Some nights our form of entertainment would be playing Monopoly with this mix of folks. You would never know what personality would come out from Paige, or if Mark would start to cuss with no control. Although, this probably was not the ideal way to spend an evening for two young kids, it was a form of humor for us. With my mother, you would take the good times and hold them dearly, because you never knew if you would get "that" call. The one where mom tried to check out again.
My mother's mental illness has changed my life course, how could it not? I am not good at trusting people, or I trust too easily. I question my sanity all the time because at one point when I was sixteen one of my mother's doctor's told me that I would most likely inherit this lovely disease, due to its genetic makeup. Therefore, I never know if I am just crazy from the stresses of the world, or that I am manic-depressive and will commit suicide at some point in my life. I can say I have survived my mother's suicide, and that I have at times put it in perspective. However, there are those days that I cannot get out of bed and I do not want the lights on. Candlelight is the most soothing, thanks to mom. My mother and I had a very volatile relationship, at times, I believed she hated me and wished that I had never been born. I grew up blaming myself for her illness. I have her journal that I inherited after her death; it is rife with ranting of her hatred for me. As an adult, I have had to remind myself that it was not her, that it was her illness. Sometimes for me that is hard to reconcile. Now readers, I do not want you to misunderstand me, my childhood did have its benefits, and people who tried to make a difference. My grandparents tried to bring some semblance of normality to my sister's and my life. I am thirty-eight now, married with no children. My fears of this hereditary disease have stopped me from bringing children into this world. I will say I have some peace about the last moments of my mother's life, she seemed happy finally and at peace. I suppose that should have been a big warning sign that something was amiss. I carry guilt around to this day because I was the last person to speak to my mother before she shot herself. I hung up on her because she had what I used to call her "headache" voice, the voice that could not be reached. I hung up on her and the police believe I interrupted her while she was getting ready to go into that closet. I live with that, and I know that mental illness is the most heinous of diseases.