The Beginning of Sorrow

my-brother-and-i1The thing about tragedies is that they catch you by surprise.  You get up in the morning and lazily eat breakfast as if you have all the time in the world.  You pick out something to wear (as if it mattered), and lackadaisically wander through the routine of a morning.  You think your meaningless thoughts, none of them giving you any warning as to what’s about to come.  All the while a tragedy, is secretly unfolding, sneaking up behind you, changing your life forever.

This particular tragedy had been put into motion hours before I found out about it.  If only I had known earlier… If only.

My older brother Robert and I were extremely close.  So close, even his wife was envious of our relationship.  We could be in a crowd of friends, look across the room at each other, and nod, as if to say, “yeah…I get it, I am thinking the same thing as you.”  As my psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis told me once, my brother and I had to be close to each other just to survive our childhood.

We remained close even after I had gotten married at sixteen and was pregnant with my first-born son and he was a world away, fighting for his country and his life in Vietnam.  He was eighteen-years-old.  I tried not to let my worry consume me, but I kept a good luck charm for him on a shelf in my living room.  Some days I would take it off the shelf and hold it in my hands, hoping it was working its magic and keeping him safe.  But fear still gathered in my stomach and buzzed in my ears when I thought of him there, alone, without me to watch over him.

When he got back to the States, he had seen too much, done too much, to ever regain the innocence of youth.  He self-medicated with drugs, and got kicked out of the Army with a “bad conduct” discharge after getting caught stealing pills out of the pharmacy at The Presidio.  By the time he got back to Los Angeles, he was suffering from major depression and the after effects of malaria.  I watched him while he slept with his eyes open.  I worried more about him now that he was home then I did when he was in Vietnam.

Several years went by; Robert had married and I had finally gotten away from Michael the Archangel.  Both of us were suffering the horrible effects of our childhood and our own choices.  His depression was as bad as my anxiety.  He was living with my parents, and I was frantic, trying to get him help.  I took him out to the Veteran’s Hospital, but he was turned away (bad conduct discharge).  I took him to the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department.

Before we went for his appointment, I called and made sure they understood his problem in case he wasn’t exactly open about it.  I told them that he had tried to kill himself by swallowing pills and that I was really worried about him.  When I took him to his appointment, I sat in the waiting room having a panic attack. About an hour later he left that appointment with a 30-day supply of Elavil.  (It is illegal to give a suicidal client enough medication to overdose, and his estranged widow later won a lawsuit involving this error).

A week later, the call from our mother came at around noon. “Linda, I can’t wake up Robert!  I’ve tried all morning long,” my mom said.

“All morning long?  I’ll be right there,” I said.  My legs turned to jelly.  I got my boyfriend to drive me to the apartment, about five minutes from my place.  I ran into the bedroom and shook him.  “Robert,” I yelled.  He was lying on his side with one arm over his head.  He looked peaceful, as if he had just fallen asleep. When I shook him and yelled his name again, he grimaced, and the word “seizure” entered my mind for the first time.

I ran into the living room and grabbed the phone.  I called for a paramedics and waited for what seemed like a half hour.  Once they got there, they took over.  I waited in the living room with my mother and tried to listen to what was going on in the other room.  My fear kept me frozen to the chair.  I kept waiting for one of the paramedics to come out and tell me that he was sitting up and talking, but all I heard was the beeping of some machine they had taken into the room.

“Seizing! Seizing!” I heard one paramedic shout. The two young paramedics burst out of the bedroom, and wheeled him quickly through the living room and out the door.  He looked gray.  One young paramedic attempted to reassure me as he passed by, but even he looked scared.  By that time my father was home and we all jumped into his car and followed the ambulance to the hospital.

When we were about halfway there, the paramedics suddenly pulled over and tried to wave us on.  My father pulled up behind them and stopped anyway.  I was sitting in the middle of the front seat, hanging on to the dashboard, unable to sit back into the seat.  I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and my breath caught in my throat.

One paramedic jumped out of the van and threw open the back doors.  I watched as he frantically pumped on my brother’s chest.  The other paramedic shut the doors behind him and jumped back in the driver’s seat, turning on lights and siren as he screeched away from the curb.

Once at the hospital, I did not see Robert again.  By the time we parked and got through the emergency room doors they had taken him away.  We gathered together in the waiting room.  No one said a word.  Finally, a doctor came in and shook his head.  “I’m so sorry,” he said.

For some reason, all I could think was that I had to call someone, a pastor who had been counseling both my brother and me for free through the Salvation Army.  I had called him as soon as we arrived and asked him to pray.  I stumbled over to the pay phone and placed my quarter in the slot at the top. I needed him.  I needed him right that second. He answered on the first ring.  “Wilber?” I started.  I heard myself start to scream.  “No!!!!” I wailed.  I screamed again.  My knees buckled and the receiver flew out of my hand.  A young woman, sitting by the pay phone, jumped up and ran out of the room.

I stumbled over to the couch and sat down next to my father. I looked up at him, trying to make sense of what was going on.

“This is what he wanted,” was all he said.

What? How would you know what he wanted? I looked down at the tile floor. I tried to breathe.

At that moment a young doctor stepped into the room and told us it would be best if we all went home.  There would be nothing left for us to do there.  We all stood and looked from one to the other, then turned and walked out like a group of zombies. We left my brother in that cold, unfamiliar place, all alone.

Robert Bruce Amthor

March 27, 1950 – August 24, 1975.

In the Well with Tolstoy

edvard munch - the scream  1893

edvard munch – the scream 1893 (Photo credit: oddsock)

My brother’s suicide left me feeling as if I had been pushed over an emotional cliff, arms flailing as my body hit the jagged edges of rock outcroppings on the way down. The suicide of my father felt like I had been tied to the front of a runaway train that broke away from the tracks and headed over the edge going 110 miles per hour.  I hit bottom and lay there, stunned, and unable to move.

Slowly, I rolled onto my back, exposing my belly like a trusting cat. But it wasn’t that I trusted, it was that I no longer cared.  Hurt me if you want to, kill me if you must, just get it over with.  The God I knew had broken me, but there was no supervisor above him to take him to task.  In a small, dark corner of my mind, I thought there may be a hell worse than the one I was in, so I got up and kept moving, and spoke to no one about how I really felt about any of it.

My father’s suicide coincided with a time when churches all over America were chatting it up big time about the end of the world.  Author Hal Lindsey was pushing his theory that the planet was headed for disaster very soon. He had written a best-selling book and a film, aptly titled The Late Great Planet Earth.  Another lovely end of the world scenario was published under the title, The Jupiter Effect, a best-selling book by John Gribbin, Ph.D, and Stephen Plagemann (1974) that predicted that an alignment of the planets of the solar system would create a number of catastrophes, including a great earthquake in my area of the country.  This was supposed to take place in eight years.  I was sitting on death row without the right to an appeal.

In response to all this, pastors hurriedly began studying and teaching the Book of Revelation, readying the flock for the Great Tribulation.  A conversation amongst believers hardly took place without the mention that time was short. The solid rock became shifting shale. I smiled as I sat in on a conversation about the fruitlessness of getting a living room re-carpeted (considering we were all about to die) but the tentacles of fear and sadness crept over and around me, squeezing the very breath from my lungs.  My therapist added “with psychotic features” to my major depression diagnosis.  I began “seeing” bushes dying, stairways crumbling, as if I could see the end of the world taking place before my very eyes.  God had pushed the “fast-forward” button.

The God I loved and trusted became the God I feared.  This God had some bizarre plan for mankind that culminated in the “rapture of the church” and the “Mark of the Beast.”  I observed those around me.  I could not figure out how those who knew that this horror was on our very doorstep could go on living as before.  Why weren’t they on their knees day and night, or snatching poor souls off street corners and away from death’s grip?  I literally could not figure it out.  It never occurred to me that they did not believe what they were saying.

I found myself a member of a club to which I no longer wanted to belong.  I tried to ignore the leader, become invisible in the crowd.  I had become afraid of Him.  I politely listened to the others, but one of us was crazy, and I was pretty sure it had to be me.

My pastor tried to help me.  He was the voice of reason.  I sequestered myself in my house, not daring to come out and face the zombie apocalypse.  I asked question after question but the thoughts in my mind were tangled, like a rubber band ball.  Trying to untangle them was exhausting, and I began to lose the ability to keep a thought in my mind for more than one or two seconds.

He had compelling reasons why I should not succumb to the hysteria of the moment, but his words were like vapor, slipping through my fingers and away.  So I made him write all the good thoughts down…the ones that gave me hope that the zombies out in the street had it wrong, had come out too soon.

I was coming to a crisis of faith.  I read My Confession, by Tolstoy, and I identified with his plight.  I was precariously close to releasing my grip on the branch in Tolstoy’s well.  I may as well let go of my grip and sacrifice myself to the dragons below than wait for the mice to gnaw through it.

Once in awhile I would have a thought, and to quote Tolstoy himself, “life rose within me.”  Then, like my hallucinations, the thought would melt away and I’d be left with nothing but a desire for death.  Over and over this happened.  I suffered from circuitry overload, and thoughts continued to disintegrate as fast as they would come.

One day, a spark of hope lasted longer than usual.  I realized that in all my railing against God, I had never felt his presence more sweetly.  In all my anger and confusion, I had not succeeded in pushing him away.  The opposite was true.  Instead of allowing me to turn my back and walk away, he seemed to be relentlessly pursuing me.  The hallucinations began to melt away along with the block of ice surrounding my heart.  A cloak had been gently placed around my shoulders, and it felt a lot like love.  My heart and mind began to heal. I had walked through the valley of the shadow and survived.  Now it was time to stop awhile and rest by the stream, and then pick up my pack and keep moving.

Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.

~ Leo Tolstoy

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.

Shades of Grey

I recently found that the link to my guest blog post on Lucinda Bassett’s website was broken.  It turns out that she designed a new website to go with the theme of her upcoming book, “Truth Be Told.”  I am a featured guest blogger on her site.  Here is the fixed link to my original post about the suicides of my brother and father, Shades of Grey:

http://lucindabassett-truthbetold.blogspot.com/2012/10/shades-of-grey-from-guest-caller-linda.html

And her website address is now:

http://lucindabassett-truthbetold.blogspot.com

Potted Mums and Forget Me Nots

PURPLE MUMS

PURPLE MUMS (Photo credit: JAMART Art Photography)

A few days after my brother killed himself, I went to the apartment he had shared with his wife and two-year-old daughter.  I was attempting to help his widow, who was also one of my closest girlfriends, pack up the apartment.  She was moving back home with her mother.  I was moving through my own days as if I were walking through black ooze.  Emotions of hurricane strength made my experience of life feel one dimensional, as if part of me, the thinking part, had died along with my brother.  All I could do is “feel.”  I couldn’t respond to the questions of others.  I stared at them and quietly wondered what it was they expected from me.  The only sounds I seemed to be able to make were sounds of groaning or weeping.  My eyes seemed to have lost their ability to see colors.  The view from where I sat was dark and made up of varying shades of grey.

I walked into my brother’s closet and spotted a pair of man’s brown wool socks lying on the floor.  They were my brother’s socks.  I picked them up and brought them up to my nose.  My brother!  The smell of my brother when he was alive!  Desperately, I wondered how could I hold on to that pungent smell of dirty socks.  Longing sat like a weight on my chest.  My sister-in-law gently pried my fingers loose and threw the socks in a sack.

I helped to plan his memorial service carefully.  I bought a long blue dress with pictures of angels all over it.  I hoped there were angels there, wherever he was.  I asked a minister my brother and I knew to perform the service, and I picked out my brother’s favorite music, “Time in a Bottle,” by Jim Croce, and “So Sad,” by Alvin Lee and Mylon LeFevre.  That last song tore me to shreds.  I had played it for my brother many times, and now wondered if this helped to fuel his desire for death.

One by one, the small group of people entered the borrowed church.  The music played, the minister spoke.  A few people stood to pay tribute.  Too soon, it seemed to me, the service was ending and the last friend of my brother’s had stood to talk about what his friendship had meant to him.  No one else had anything to say, so the minister dismissed the small band of mourners.  As everyone filed out, all I could think was, “it can’t be over!!”  I screamed, and fell against the person sitting next to me.  Everyone hurried out, including my parents, leaving only the minister to try to deal with my hysteria.  He handed me a pot of mums that someone had brought to the service and patted my back, helpless to know how to help me.

A couple of days later, I took those potted mums and brought them to the Parks and Recreation Department in the small suburb of Los Angeles where we lived.  “Can you plant these in one of the parks?” I asked.  “They are from my brother’s funeral.  He died a week ago.”  I sensed his compassion for the broken, sorrow-filled young woman standing before him; he took the mums I held out to him.  “Sure,” he said.  A week later I tried to find them.  I drove to every park in town.  I pictured them languishing in the back of the landscaper’s pick-up truck and my heart broke for those mums, experiencing death all alone.  A second death in two weeks. My brother dying all over again.

The next day I went with his widow and my boyfriend up to the hills of Malibu, California.  We took a shovel, his ashes, and a packet of “Forget Me Not” seeds. It was sunny and warm near the beach that day.  I felt angry at the sun and felt the day should be shrouded in fog.  We buried him there in the hard, dry ground, and scratched the dirt enough to cover the seeds.  I would not know how to find that spot today, and I later regretted I did not make a map.

I cried for my brother every morning as soon as I woke up for two straight years.  I cried out to God during those dark, lonely days as well. When my father killed himself three years later, I knew the drill.  But eventually, step-by-step, day-by-day, I healed.  The colors of life not only returned, they became brighter than they had ever been.

A lot has happened since then.  It’s a pretty amazing, hope-filled story that continues to take twists and turns to this day.  I hope you’ll continue on with me as I weave this multi-colored tapestry.  People are amazed when they read about some of the things that happened, and frankly, I’m always surprised at that.  To me it just seems like “my life.”  I’m too busy just living it to stop and be amazed.  And yet a part of me understands their reactions, and that’s why I’m writing this story.  Please post any comments or ask any questions you would like.

The Beginning of Sorrows

Me and my brother, Robert.

The thing about tragedies is that they can catch you by surprise.  You get up in the morning and lazily eat breakfast as if you have all the time in the world.  You pick out something to wear (as if it mattered), and lackadaisically wander through the routine of a morning.  You think your meaningless thoughts, none of them giving you any warning as to what’s about to come.  All the while a tragedy, is secretly unfolding, sneaking up behind you, changing your life forever.

As far as my part in it, it began with a phone call from my mother, but it had been put into motion hours before.  If only I had known…

My older brother Robert and I were extremely close.  So close, even his wife was envious of our relationship.  We could be in a crowd of friends, look across the room at each other, and nod, as if to say, “yeah…I get it, I am thinking the same thing as you.”  As my psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis told me once, my brother and I had to keep close to each other just to survive our childhood.  We remained close even after I had gotten married at sixteen and was pregnant with my first-born son and he was a world away, fighting for his country and his life in Vietnam.  He was eighteen-years-old.  I tried not to let my worry consume me, but I kept a good luck charm for him on a shelf in my living room.  Some days I would take it off the shelf and hold it in my hands, hoping it was working its magic and keeping him safe.  But fear still gathered in my stomach and buzzed in my ears when I thought of him there, alone, without me to watch over him.

When he got back to the states, he had seen too much, done too much, to ever regain the innocence of youth.  He self-medicated with drugs, and got kicked out of the Army with a “bad conduct” discharge after getting caught stealing pills out of the pharmacy at the Presidio.  By the time he got back to Los Angeles, he was suffering from major depression and the after effects of malaria.  I watched him sometimes, while he slept with his eyes open.  I worried more about him now that he was home then I did when he was in Vietnam.

Several years went by; Robert had married and I had finally gotten away from Michael the Archangel.  Both of us were suffering the horrible effects of our childhood and our own choices.  His depression was as bad as my anxiety.  He was living with my parents, and I was frantic, trying to get him help.  I took him out to the Veteran’s Hospital, but he was turned away (bad conduct discharge).  I took him to the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department.  Before we went for his appointment, I called and made sure they understood the problem in case he wasn’t exactly open about it.  I told them that he had tried to kill himself by swallowing pills and that I was really worried about him.  A week later, he left the appointment with a 30-day supply of Elavil.  (His estranged widow later won a lawsuit involving this incident).

The call came at noon.  “Linda, I can’t wake up Robert!  I’ve tried all morning long.”

“All morning long?  I’ll be right there,” I said.  My legs turned to jelly.  I got my boyfriend to drive me to the apartment, about five minutes from my place.  I ran into the bedroom and shook him.  “Robert,” I yelled.  He was lying on his side with one arm over his head.  He looked peaceful, as if he had just fallen asleep. When I shook him and yelled his name again, he grimaced, and the word “seizure” entered my mind for the first time.

I ran into the living room and grabbed the phone.  I called for a paramedics and waited for what seemed like a half hour.  Once they got there, they took over.  I waited in the living room with my mother and tried to listen to what was going on in the other room.  My fear kept me frozen to the chair.  I kept waiting for one of the paramedics to come out and tell me that he was sitting up and talking, but all I heard was the beeping of some machine they had taken into the room.

“Seizing! Seizing!” I heard one paramedic shout. The two young paramedics burst out of the bedroom, and wheeled him quickly through the living room and out the door.  He looked gray.  One young paramedic attempted to reassure me as he passed by, but even he looked scared.  By that time my father was home and we all jumped into his car and followed the ambulance to the hospital.

As we got about halfway there, the paramedics suddenly pulled over and tried to wave us on.  My father pulled up behind them and stopped anyway.  I was sitting in the middle of the front seat, hanging on to the dashboard, unable to sit back into the seat.  I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and my breath caught in my throat.

One paramedic jumped out of the van and threw open the back doors.  I watched as he frantically pumped on my brother’s chest.  The other paramedic shut the doors behind him and jumped back in the driver’s seat, turning on lights and siren as he screeched away from the curb.

Once at the hospital, I did not see Robert again.  By the time we parked and got through the emergency room doors they had taken him away.  We gathered together in the waiting room.  No one said a word.  Finally, a doctor came in and shook his head.  “I’m so sorry,” he said.

For some reason, all I could think was that I had to call someone, a pastor who had been counseling both my brother and me for free through the Salvation Army.  I had called him as soon as we arrived and asked him to pray.  I stumbled over to the pay phone and placed my quarter in the slot at the top. I needed him.  I needed him right that second. He answered on the first ring.  “Wilber?” I started.  I heard myself start to scream.  “No!!!!” I wailed.  I screamed again.  My knees buckled and the receiver flew out of my hand.  A young woman, sitting by the pay phone, jumped up and ran out of the room.  A doctor hurried in and told us it would be best if we went home.  There would be nothing left for us to do there.  We had to leave my brother in that cold, unfamiliar place, all alone.  Robert.  Robert Bruce Amthor: March 27, 1950-August 24, 1975.

Free Fall

Year Two, Day 26: A Touch of the Crazies

Year Two, Day 26: A Touch of the Crazies (Photo credit: Bryan Gosline)

(If you are new to this blog, a good way to read it is to start with the very first post, “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night.”  This is a memoir, the story of my life.  If you are offended by expletives, you may want to skip this post.  I do not use them to add shock value, but to just tell the story of what happened as honestly as I can).

The terror was relentless.  It punctuated every waking moment.  On the worst days, I lay on the floor all day long, just attempting to breathe. My thoughts went pinging around my head like a highly polished steel ball in a pin-ball machine.  I lost all ability to daydream, as I attempted to control each thought; making sure one didn’t get away from me like a runaway semi-truck.  There was no emergency ramp in sight, no way to put the breaks on going very quickly and completely insane.   I didn’t understand what was happening, how I could suddenly lose myself so quickly, so easily.   I had no name to pin on it.  I knew no one who had ever experienced it.  I felt alone in my madness.

I went to my physician and he put me on Valium.  He sent me to a psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis.  Every two days I waited in Dr. Teemis’ waiting room until he called me in, holding the door to his private office as I walked through to the inner sanctum for those privileged enough to have gone crazy.  Then he shut and locked the door, then shut and locked another door, which was right in front of the first one. I thought all psychiatrists must have double locking doors, although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why this was so.

I sat in a chair, as far away from Dr. Teemis as possible. Each visit began the same way.  He’d lean back in his black leather and chrome office chair and put his feet up on his desk.  He folded his hands in his lap and stared at me from across the room. I would wait for him to speak, to take over, to offer a solution, some answers.  But he almost never spoke first.  Once in awhile, he broke the silence by asking a question, but he never seemed satisfied with my answers.  He asked about my relationship with my parents, the alcoholism, the neglect, and traumatic events of the past.  I left every session feeling worse about my life than I had when I was actually living it.  There was no way I was going to talk to this guy about Michael the Archangel.

Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family’s mental health.”
― Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

Dr. Teemis always asked what it was that I was really afraid of.  I was afraid of being afraid for no apparent reason!  What’s not to get about that?  Didn’t he understand that one day I felt fine and then the next day I felt such horror and dread I thought I would die from it?  I believed Dr. Teemis had the key and was waiting until just the right moment to give it to me.  I grew to rely on him to keep me sane enough, to keep me from ending up back in the state mental hospital.  I didn’t think he liked me very much but he seemed resigned to see me week after week nonetheless.

As the fear increased, my world narrowed.  It became terrifying to drive a car.  At first I just stayed in the right-hand lane so I could turn the corner and take the side streets back home if I had to.  That worked for a while, as long as I didn’t have to get gas and sit there, waiting for the attendant to take the nozzle out of my gas tank.  I was sure that one day I would panic and drive off, pulling the hose right out of the pump. Another day I panicked in line at the market, and I realized that even if I told myself over and over and over again that I could make it through just a few more minutes while the checker rang me up, the truth was, I couldn’t make it.  My fear was that one of these days I was just going to start screaming at her and run out of the store without bothering to pay.  I left a full cart of groceries in the middle of the store more than once, and drove quickly home, picturing the ice cream melting all over the floor before the cart was discovered and the food put back on the shelves.  Shopping soon became a thing of the past.

Depression piled itself on top of the fear, and suicide became an option.  I thought about it all day, and then at night too, when I would wake in a sweat, my breathing shallow, and my heart racing.  The thick wool blanket that felt like the top of my head got heavier by the month.  Soon, I spent most of my days in bed, just trying to make it through the next five minutes.  I would watch the clock as the minute hand ticked on, and felt good about making it through another day without dialing the number that would bring the paramedics to my door.

During one of our sessions, I began to talk to Dr. Teemis about how these crazy feelings were affecting how I felt physically as well.  At times I was sure I was having a heart attack.  I ended up in the emergency room at least twice a month, positive I was close to death.  I explained how during the week before, my left leg had felt numb.  Dr. Teemis explained how being a psychiatrist meant that he had medical training as well, and he asked me to lay down on the couch while he checked my femoral artery.  He pulled down my pants and pressed his fingers on the artery, close to my crotch.  He stared into my face, attempting to gauge my reaction.  I went stiff and silent.  Disgusted, he pulled my pants up and told me to have it checked by my own doctor the next time I went.

I worried about that femoral artery.  I was sure it was clogged and I was about to stroke out.  That look on Dr. Teemis’ face was proof something was wrong!  Who cares that most twenty-three year old young women don’t have strokes? Maybe it was the years of drug abuse.  Maybe it was the blows I took to my face and head at the hands of Michael the Archangel.  I had to do what Dr. Teemis told me to do and ask my own doctor right away.

“What did he tell you?” Dr. Hutchinson asked.  I noted the tone of his voice but chose to ignore it.  I repeated the conversation I had with Dr. Teemis and how he felt my artery with his fingers and told me to have it checked.  Dr. Hutchinson paused, watching my face, then quickly looked away and began writing in my chart.  “Nothing is wrong with your femoral artery,” he said.  He sounded irritated or impatient.  I couldn’t tell and I didn’t understand.  Certain thoughts ran through my mind but I couldn’t let them land.  After all, if there was something wrong with my psychiatrist, then I was done.  There was no one else who could help me.

Months went by, and I continued to deteriorate.  I believed my visits with Dr. Teemis were the thin thread keeping me hanging on to reality.  I sat in his waiting room, two or three times a week, trying to make it through the ordeal of being out, away from the one place I felt somewhat safe; my bed at home.  One day his receptionist sat behind the tall counter and chatted away on the phone.  It sounded like a personal call, but I didn’t care.  Where was Dr. Teemis?  Thoughts of suicide had overloaded my brain that week, and I did not think I could live through another day without a session.  I waited for 45 minutes and finally got up the courage to interrupt her and ask where he was.  She covered the mouthpiece with her hand.   “I’ll try giving him a call.”   She hung up the phone and dialed another number.  I heard her ask someone if he was there, and a few moments later she said, “Linda is here to see you.  She’s been here for quite awhile.”  She hung up the phone without another word and told me he’d be there in a few minutes.  She quickly redialed to continue her own call.

Another fifteen minutes passed and suddenly the door to his private office opened.  I sighed and smiled as he asked me to come in.  As soon as I entered the room I smelled the alcohol.  He loosely waved his arm at me, gesturing at me impatiently.  He seemed angry.  He leaned back in his chair and it tilted back a little too far, forcing him to grab the edge of his desk for support.  He swung his feet up on the edge of the desk and laced his fingers behind his head.  “How’s the fucking?” he asked.  My stomach lurched and I stared down at the floor, unable to speak.  “How’s the fucking?” he repeated, more forcefully.   His tongue tripped over the words and it sounded like he had too much saliva in his mouth.

“I don’t know.” I stammered.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” He sneered and I looked towards the double locking doors.  “Well, I don’t really feel like it much right now,” I offered.

“I bet you’d feel like it if a sexy neighbor down the street asked your husband to screw her!”

“I guess so,” I said.

“I guess so,” he mimicked.

We both grew silent. Dr. Teemis can’t help me, I thought.  I was at the bottom of the pit now.   There was no deeper, darker place to go.  But unfortunately I was wrong about that.  I had stepped off the edge and was in a free fall.  But I was just bouncing off of ledges.  The bottom was there, and eventually I would hit.  And when I did, I would lay there for a long while, stunned, and unable to move.

Shades of Grey

shades of grey

shades of grey (Photo credit: nahlinse)

A link to my first blog post on Lucinda Bassett’s blog, Truth Be Told:

 

http://luncindabassetttruthbetold.blogspot.com/2012_10_01_archive.html

(Having problems with links.  Copy and paste into address bar please)

This is a blog post about how I dealt with the suicides of both my brother and my father.  These events will be coming up soon in “Light at the End.”  Stay tuned…

And for those who have not read my blog before, it’s a memoir, which means it is best read starting at the very first post, “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night.”

Please, always feel free to leave comments or questions for me.  I love to interact with others.  Thank you!

Family Legacy

The third quarto of Hamlet (1605). A straight ...

Every family has a legacy.  Passed down through ancestors and on to us are continuations of family trusts, heirloom furnishings, or even good solid surnames. My own family legacy left me none of those things. It left the legacy of suicide.

Long before I was born my grandmother stumbled upon the lifeless body of her eighteen-year-old son, Bobby. He had somehow managed to pull the trigger of a rifle and kill himself in the small confines of the bathroom of their home. My mother named her own first born son after the brother she had lost.  But within both my mother’s and father’s family line, suicide was to continue.  Uncles of both my mother and father ended their lives within a few years of each other.  And within my own immediate family, the legacy would continue.  But let me start at the beginning…(to be continued).

To be or not to be, that is the question..
― William Shakespeare, Hamlet