Marcela is someone else I stumbled upon-not quite sure how, or where. I was immediately entranced by her certainties-her devotion to her family, to her children and to herself. Married to a soldier, she herself has soldiered on while he has been away, and has been nothing but a positive and inspiring role model to me, reminding me to look for the silver in the midst of all the fog.
Marcela blogs at The Sushi Chronicles, and is a breath of fresh air in my feeds most days. Thank you my friend, for being brave enough to share this with all of us.
(and I apologize for the formatting. It will NOT do what I tell it to!)
This is not easy for me to put in paper.
It’s not easy for me to speak about it, much less to put it in paper.
C was born a few years before I was, to the woman closest to my mother. My mother and her mother literally shared their lives with each other, never living further away than a few miles. They knew each other so well that at times one folded into the other, while being opposites in so many ways.
In many ways, C was my parents child as much as she was her mother’s. Years later my brother was born, and a year after that it was my turn. Both my brother and myself came fast, one after the other to end the “single-childness” of C in our communal family. She went from being doted on exclusively by 6-7 adults to having to share them all and share her mother and my mother with my brother and myself. She did not like it.
As we grew up, I always looked up to her, but now looking back to our childhood pictures, I know she was not fond of us being dressed in similar dresses and me following her as her shadow. I so wanted her as my sister, she always searching to be without us. So my brother and I would play together, with hot-wheels and other boy toys and whenever I needed a girl-toy fix I would play alone or with school friends, as C would not ever join me.
I so longed for her attention, and felt very rejected for her. Then I learned to leave her alone. She only joined when she wanted, and the game had to be under her rules, otherwise it would end. Then came the one day the three of us were playing together and C decided I’d be the mother and she’d be my daughter. I was 5. I have a sketch in my mind of how things happened, but what I know for sure is that she leaned on my shoulders and I could not hold her weight so I bent forward and hit my face against the glass corner of my father’s desk. Blood started gushing out as my brow had opened about an inch and half. I remember my brother and C trying to stop the blood with kleenex and telling me not to make noise. Which of course prompted the mothers to come and they were not happy with what they found.
That was the very last time we officially played together. I needed a good number of stitches and to this day have the trace of that accident visible on my face.
C would share my room for nights or weeks and sometimes months, and then it would be just me again in that bedroom. Cycles of that coming and going.She was raised as one of us, went on vacations with us, attended the same schools, went to the same extracurriculars. Yet, she always stayed at a distance from us. She was there with us, but never really joined us.
Growing up, I just thought she was not a social person. I believe that’s what I told myself to reason why C would not hang around with me, even as we were getting to our teens. It was always hard to have a conversation with her. If you didn’t agree on her points, she’d get angry and so many times raise her voice which in my family was a big no-no. My parents tried to steer her away from that, but one way or the other, she was always ready to yell and scream.
When she was 16, something happened. I don’t know what as I only overheard pieces of conversation. I know she had some sort of “nervous breakdown” and was taken away to El Paso. In our small Mexican City, you simply did not deal with “nervous breakdowns” where everyone would hear of them. I got to see her about a week later, she looked frail and pale, sitting at a hospital bed. She was happily talking to my mother when we got into the room. She quieted down as she saw us, she did not seem happy that we were there. That broke my heart yet a little more.
After that we had a parade of doctor’s visits, all of them in Texas. I was not sure what was all the testing going on, but I knew my brothers and I had to wait endless hours at the reception areas, upon me to entertain my little brother in the “surrogate mothering” role I had assumed with him. After that, I can tell you of countless episodes, medications and doctors she went through.
I only once heard the official diagnosis: manic-depressive schizophrenia.
Her mother and my mother then sort of molded into one, trying to nurture her into health. My brothers and I felt displaced as the priority was C, her peace, her joy, her stability… none of which came, with cycles of euphoria and success and severe depression, hallucinations, paranoia and violence. It was very difficult for me to deal with what was going on. On her good days, it seemed to me that everything was an act she’d put up to get the attention, on her bad days I was filled with remorse for doubting her being ill and trying to be invisible so as not to be the target of her rage.
My mother loved C as her own, and both her and my father tried everything they could to help her, and to some degree their own children were put aside. I did not understand then, but my mother did explain it to me later on: as a mother you protect, and sometimes over-protect, that child you regard as the weakest. In our family that was C. The rest of us, while never neglected, were paid attention in a very different way.
For a long time I was angry at my mother, thinking that she preferred C to me. During those late teen years we argued a lot, the most heated arguments always involving C in some way.
Her stays at my house were more sparse, yet when she did stay over it would be weeks at a time which made for a very uncomfortable situation for me, as I’d go back and forth from having my own room to sharing with someone that I felt did not like me or wanted to be with me.
We all grew, went to college… we all graduated and started working. C’s episodes of anger and violence were fewer, but then she decided she was well and dropped her medication altogether. It was not long before she had a severe breakdown and ended up in a hospital and then at my house for almost a year.That was a very difficult year, as she was very unstable and would go from laughing to crying, from hugging you to hitting you.
It was very stressful for everyone. I can remember lots of incidents, but the one that truly stands out was the one that broke me away from her for good. She was mad for some reason, started yelling at everyone, my older brother, my mother and myself at the house with her in that moment. My mother trying to calm her down, her getting more and more aggravated. All of a sudden she went straight to my mother and was about to hit her, I got in between them protecting my mother and she hit me with all the anger and frustration in her body. I just took it while my brother tried to restrain her. She scratched my arms, my face, gave me lots of bruises. I just stood there between my mother and her praying for it all to end.
My brother finally overpowered her and then it was all silence. My mother crying. C crying. My brother talking her to peace. I just was in silence. I decided that I had enough. I did not understand.I could not and did not wish to even try anymore.
I stopped talking to her. She tried to apologize, but I knew it was a matter of time till her rage would surface again and her apology would not mean anything yet once again.
I’m not proud to say that after that I was mean to her many times not through something I did but through what I did not. I would not acknowledge her in the room, even when she slept in the bed next to mine. I would not respond to her words, I would not hold eye contact with her. I knew then it was hurting her, but I wanted to hurt her and in my mind that was the only way to avoid ever being hit or yelled at by her again.
Cycles of happiness and turmoil came and went, just like it had always been with her… My mother and I broke the line separating mother and daughter and became friends, best friends. I was 23, and from then on my mother was my confidante and I was hers.
And then I heard my mother’s side of the story.
My mother explained to me as an adult what had gone on all those years, and all the pieces came together and made sense, I had finally a complete image of what had gone on. We always wondered if this illness had been part of her always or just after a certain time in her life, we could never come to an answer. I’m ashamed to say that it did not change my attitude towards C. I did become more civil, but I kept my distance as much as I could, always expecting her to hurt me.
I started traveling a lot, moved to a different city, and felt like I was leaving all that behind, yet one phone call home would bring all the pain to the surface upon hearing that she was in a down again… it took her a third hospital stay to convince herself that she could not be playing with her life like that. She finally committed to following to her treatment and looking for stability.
I got married and so did my brother. My little brother graduated from college and C was in a stable job. We all seemed to have grown past it all. Yet I could not forgive her. I would not let go of all that between us.
It took me giving birth to my daughter to finally understand what my mother and her mother had done. It took seeing my infant child so defenseless to put myself in my mother’s and in C’s shoes. It took becoming a mother myself to let go of the pain and confusion, and I knew then that all my parents and her mother had done was just trying their best to help her, and that her yelling, crying and all that violence was a cry for help and love.
I felt ashamed of myself. And still do to this day.
C and I now have a good relationship, the kind of relationship I always wanted from her. It’s such a shame that now I live so very far away. I talk to her as often as I talk to my father, and sometimes more than to my brothers… she is at peace, takes her medication without missing a single dose, she’s happy at her job and has some good friends.
I have to admit here that I don’t talk about this with anyone. not even with my husband. He loves C, always has and I’m afraid that if I mention anything to him he’ll love her less or see her with different eyes. And although I keep silence about C’s specific history somehow protecting her, I do talk to people about mental illnesses, I read as much as I can, and try to steer others into learning, into understanding… that is the only way to truly help.