Broken Pickers

Broken Picker

Broken Picker

Well folks, now you know the worst of it (see post ~ In the Well With Tolstoy).  Being a creative type, I sometimes imagine something worse happening to me in the future, but thankfully, so far, nothing has come close to losing my brother and father to suicide.  Sometimes I still catch myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I console myself with the knowledge that it already has, and most of us only have one left one and one right one for each pair we own.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  After my father died, I still experienced divorce and another marriage to yet another abusive, controlling man, a divorce from said man, a broken neck, and a terminal brain tumor, and that’s just for starters.  But as horrible as all that sounds, it still did not compare to the total destruction of my family.

So, I still had a long row to hoe if I ever wanted to feel remotely “normal” again. I was beginning to understand my illness a little bit.  And I believed that the Lord was guiding me through the muddied waters rushing through the storm drains of life.  But I had a problem a lot of people suffering from serious mental illness have.  We really have no idea how much the trauma, abuse, and neglect has hindered our decision-making capability.

We have “broken pickers.”  We tend to make some of the same mistakes over and over again, and it can take awhile to figure it out.  We try, but we tend to follow certain patterns, especially in relationships.  It goes something like this.  The next time, all you need to do is pick someone at least one step up from the last one you ended up with and it’ll all work out.  For me, that meant that the next one must not beat the hell out of me.  That was the deal breaker.  But I digress.

One thing I did after my father died, after much consideration and forethought, is to get pregnant with my third child.  If there is one thing I do not regret in my life, it is my decisions to give birth to various and sundry individuals.  They are all now my best friends, and they make a mama proud.  God knew each one of them before they were even “knit together in their mother’s womb” (Psalm 139) and all three of them love him dearly.  So, under ordinary circumstances, my decision to get pregnant at that time of life may have made some sense.  My fantasy of having a nice, calm Christian family life was not to be, however, and it’s possible that maybe I should have seen this coming.

To my ex-husband’s credit, he never once beat the hell out of me.  Not only that, but he was extremely helpful to me during the years I experienced the worst of suffering serious mental illness.  He took me to appointments with my therapists because I could not drive.  In the beginning, he came home early when I called, sick with fear, and he watched the children when I could not cope with the unrelenting anxiety, depression, and grief.  He attended church with me, at first as a way to support me, and eventually, he developed his own relationship with the Lord.  We were as happy as happy could be, outside of the hell I experienced in my own mind.  And having a new baby in the house helped.  He was a joy to both of us.

Then something began to change.  My husband had a problem with drugs before we married, but he had trusted God to take away his appetite for smoking a doobie before breakfast.  And God had come through…that is until my husband took a new job working with a bunch of Deadheads in the next town over.  He just could not resist the stuff and returned to it again and again like a dog returning to its vomit.  I argued and cajoled, pleaded and begged, to no avail.  The following years were filled with alcohol, drugs, lies, and infidelity.  I prayed. I waited. I prayed some more.  I waited some more.  I finally gave up.  A second failed marriage, and I was still not a well woman.  I had progressed, but the fear, anxiety, and depression were ever present, partly because my life was still a series of crises.

Driving down the street one foggy morning, tears popped into my eyes.  I had just dropped my daughter off at her middle school and watched as her friend’s father hugged his pre-teen and waved goodbye as he drove away.  As one thought led to another, an imaginary phone call with my deceased father ensued in my mind.

“Dad?  It’s Linda.  Um, I’m kinda in dire straights (again).  My husband left and I don’t have any way to support us.  Can I come home and stay for awhile?”

“Of course,” my Dad would say, wearing a blue cardigan and smoking a pipe.  “Your room is just how you left it.”

My heart ached with the thought of it.  To feel that kind of love from a father!  To be taken care of, if only for a little while!  I saw myself tucked safely away in my twin bed with the lavender ruffled spread.  I was so weary of constantly worrying about what I would do with three children, no husband, and anxiety and depression still such a huge part of my days. I had not been able to work for over ten years.

Suddenly a thought inserted itself into the middle of my reverie.   As I continued to drive on auto-pilot towards home, a Scripture I had read seemed to force its way to the forefront.

“The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13 TLB).  For the first time I “saw” God as the compassionate father, one who, unlike any earthly father, can actually change circumstances and make permanent changes in my life.  Instead of band-aid fixes, he could move hearts and open closed doors.

I continued towards home, a little warm glow beginning to melt the icy grip of fear.  There were more battles to face, but it was a start.  I couldn’t quite trust enough to hand over the reigns completely.  But amazing doors were about to open.  And unbeknownst to me, I was headed on a path to healing.

It’s Too Late – She’s Come Undone

hI could say I didn’t see it coming.  Except that I did.  I worried and fretted and tried to talk to other family members about my fears.  I saw signs, and I especially tried to warn my mother.  She didn’t even have her name on their joint checking account.  What would she do if anything happened?

No one listened so I prayed.  I prayed every morning for six months straight. Please Lord, don’t let that horrible thing happen.

I had been attending the little white church for three years, and the sense of family and my relationship with God were wonderful additions to a life shaped by fear and sadness.   I had finally left Dr. Teemis and began seeing a young masters level student counselor doing his internship.  He continued to probe into all the dark places, the hurts that weren’t healed yet, the wounds that were still fresh.   I still didn’t understand my illness and hadn’t made a lot of progress.

My mother invited us over for dinner a few days after Thanksgiving.  My dad loved chocolate cream pie, so I decided to surprise him and bring one with me.  I was baking the crust when the phone rang.

“Linda, you need to come over here!”  I heard panic in my mother’s voice and got her to calm down long enough to tell me what happened.  My dad had put his shoes on and told her he was going to the garage.  When he didn’t return she went to see what he was up to.  She peeked in and saw him lying on the cement; she ran back into the apartment and called the paramedics, then me.

My chest felt hollow, and once again I found myself holding on to the dashboard of the car as we rushed over to the apartment.  My mind filled with memories of another emergency three years earlier, in August of 1975, when my brother committed suicide.  I tried to will the thoughts away, but they seemed to force the breath from my lungs.

We pulled up to the curb outside my parent’s apartment and I noticed a small crowd gathered across the street.  A paramedic was closing the back doors of the van and I saw there was no one on the gurney.  I looked over at the garage, hoping that my dad was chatting with a police officer nearby.  The garage door was partially closed, and my heart lurched as I turned away.  I went into the apartment and stood in the center of the living room, staring at my mom.  We didn’t speak.  There was a knock at the door.

A young police officer stood with a clipboard in his hand.  “I need to ask you some questions,” he said quietly.  “Was your father right-handed or left-handed?”

“Right-handed,” I answered.  What is he getting at?  I wasn’t about to ask any questions.  Maybe Dad will come walking in the door and we can all just go home and pretend this never happened.

“How old was your father?” he continued.

How old was he?  Was?  “Fifty-one.”  I am a robot.  My mind has become separated from my body.  I’m on another plane.  I may not be able to get back this time. 

It’s too late. She’s gone too far. She’s lost the sun. She’s come undone

~The Guess Who

Once the questions were over and the front door shut against the world, I walked past my mother sitting silently on the couch and went into the bathroom.  I shut the door and locked it.  And then I did what I thought any self-respecting believer in Christ who has any faith at all should do.  I stared in the mirror and whispered a prayer.  “Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Jesus, praise you, Jesus.”  But deep in the brain that had detached from the body, another phrase was repeating itself over and over again.  You’ve destroyed me, God.  I’m done.

I’m Just Sayin’

Our first clear view of Haise Baby Zero

Another hot, muggy morning in the City of Angels, smog so thick my eyes burned.  I wiped away another streak of black eyeliner running from the side of my eye and kept walking, keeping time with the jingle bells hanging from the end of the two leather strands I had fashioned into a makeshift belt.  Hitching rides had become routine.  On this particular morning, I had been hitchhiking for over an hour already, and I was tired of it, so I walked along the side of the four-lane highway, not even looking towards the cars as they whizzed by.  The heat rose off the asphalt, making waves that I could actually see.  I put my hand on my belly and shook my head, wanting to be sick in the street.  I imagined each passerby guessing my dilemma and worrying about the lone young woman on the side of the road. Unlikely.

A pink Volkswagen bus with hand painted peace signs painted all over it drove by and honked. “Sorry!  We’re full!” someone shouted from the passenger window.  I saw this was getting me nowhere so I crossed over to the other side of the freeway off-ramp, turned to face traffic and stopped, sticking my thumb out in the traditional hitchhiker’s stance.

The year was 1971 and I was on my way to the Los Angeles Free Clinic.  I was hoping against hope that my fears were unfounded; that it was some mysterious flu bug and that I was not really pregnant.  Again.

There must have been twenty-five to thirty of us in the waiting room.  There were few chairs, so most of us sat in various positions on the dirty tile floor.  I made myself small against the dingy walls, gray with the exhaled smoke from cartons of cigarettes smoked on an hourly basis.  I wanted to be sick again.

The doctor was young, and seemed caring enough.  After informing me that I was approximately 2 ½ months pregnant, he told me that if I was going to “do something” about it, it better be soon.  I did want to do something about it.  I was only eighteen-years-old and my son was only a year and a half.  The father of this baby had finally sold enough drugs to fulfill his fantasy of life halfway across the world in the Caribbean.  Who was I to ruin his plans?

Roe vs. Wade was going through the courts, so the doctor told me that I could obtain a legal abortion.  He asked me if I had any suicidal thoughts.  “No, not really,” I offered.  “Well, you need to say you are having suicidal thoughts,” he prompted.  “Oh, ok, well, yeah, I’ve had a thought or two about that these last few days,” I lied.

The next couple of weeks were a blur of appointments.  I had to see a social worker and two other doctors.  The day finally arrived and I took a taxi to the hospital for a quick D&C.  Nothing to it.  In and out.  All alone.

A week went by uneventfully, and I tried not to think about anything.  One night I woke up from the sound of someone screaming.  I felt a white-hot pain centered in my abdomen and realized the screaming was coming from me.  I clutched at my belly and began to rock myself furiously, afraid of waking up my Dad.  My mom heard me and came in to see what was wrong.  She ran back to the bedroom to get me a couple of my father’s Percodan pills.  Ah…bliss for about 3 ½ hours.  My Dad gave me more with the promise I would replace them when I got my own prescription.

The next morning, I took another taxi to the gynecologist’s office.  At first he acted like I was overreacting to normal pain.  After an examination, he discovered he had left a piece of my baby within me.  I had a terrible infection.  I told him I wanted a prescription for Percodan.  “Isn’t that a little potent?” he asked?  “It takes away the pain,” I answered, sighing.  Moron.  He seemed resigned as he wrote out the prescription.

I took another taxi home, too tired to try to hitch.  I took two Percodan and sat in the orange Naugahyde chair in my parent’s apartment for the rest of the afternoon, experiencing what it felt like to be underwater but still breathing.  I kind of liked it.  I felt no pain.  At least not the physical kind.  Another kind of pain was waiting in the wings.  When I lied to the doctor that day about my suicidal thoughts, it never occurred to me that in a few short years they would become my constant companions.

It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.
- Mother Teresa Of Calcutta

I have never forgotten those few weeks and the decision I made back then, forty-two years ago.  The other day I was with my grown daughter.  I looked at her and in a flash I saw her as a baby, then a toddler, then a young child, a pre-teen, an adolescent, and then the beautiful young woman she has become, full of promise, giving so much to the world, to her family, and to my grandsons.  I stood a little taller as I watched her.

I thought of her brothers, my sons.  My children are the deepest, most profound blessings of my life.  They give me my greatest joy.  They are each different and unique, yet we share blood, genetics, and a sense of humor that just won’t quit. I thought of that one person that is missing from my family line.  I often do.  That baby from long ago who would now be a man.  I wondered about him, who he would have been, what he would have looked like, what his voice would have sounded like, and all the missed kisses and hugs between us.  Yes, it would have been hard at the time.  But who ever said life was supposed to be easy?  I’m just sayin’.