Jul 21, 2010


I never spent all that much time with my mother. She spent most of my life off in some mysterious place with mysterious people doing mysterious things. Being that I was a little girl, I had an image of her in my head standing by a bus station, holding onto a brown suitcase with both hands, waiting for the bus to arrive and take her home. Even though that home was never with us, I figured I could at least see her. There was a time when I couldn't even remember what she looked like, let alone remembered anything too solid. I remembered nights in her tiny apartment on the couch, watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps with her and my brother. I remembered something about buying a painted gold jewellery box at a second hand store, and some vagueness surrounding her paper maché masks and dark drawings. A street festival on Barton? By the time I was 12, I was on the cusp of believing that she might not be magic after all. But then, that would have lead me to an even sadder conclusion, so maybe I held on too long.

It was almost the summer when my dad told me he'd found out she was schizophrenic, and sat me down (as he always did, talked to me like an adult, bless him) and told me everything he'd understood from their un-talked about relationship from before. She and her younger sister had been given up for adoption, that I knew, though why the other 6 children were kept within the family, I don't know. She'd been 8 when she'd left home with her. Through foster care after foster care, she'd been abused, stories I don't know but imagine the worst and eventually it lead to...well, insanity. I'd been dumbfounded but didn't cry: big things never make me cry, I just felt something else...a feeling so intensely bad/angry/sickening I wanted to rip out my own stomach. Dry faced and a little too sober-minded, I nodded at him and still believed she was magic.

This was new information, all of it, to me, something we didn't mention to my brother (through autism, he may have lacked some compassion, some discretion, some I don't know what but we just couldn't) so it all felt like some hideous secret I alone had. It was like witnessing a murder and not being able to go to the police. Like watching a fatal car wreck and not knowing who to call. All that, and that had been years ago. Mom was fine now, wasn't she? She'd come back a few years ago, and not a hint of it...She played chess with my brother and watched cartoons with me, helped me draw and took us to Value Village for things sometimes. She smiled; she had a boyfriend (who didn't hit her, big surprise!) and nothing seemed out of whack.

Until my dad came to me one day, while I was in Grade 8 (two months after my 13th birthday) and told me that she'd been admitted into a mental institution because she hadn't been on her medication for months. If there was anything passed that initial statement, I don't remember it, because I simply nodded and kept writing my story on his laptop. Things didn't really change after that, passed the usual comments from friends my age who didn't really understand the situation all that well. I sort of moved about the house in a daze until a month later when she was allowed to call me, and even then there wasn't much to say. She sounded okay, always tired and as I murmured about my day I had this feeling something was wrong, very different (this is later how I would sum up the word 'perturbed').

Now, the next incident I don't even remember. Dad had handed me the phone to talk to mom and as he stood in the room, I had paled about two minutes in to the conversation. I dropped the phone and went upstairs and even now, neither of us know what it was that was said. I couldn't even give the gist of it. All I know is that my dad witnessed this, and it was the first time I was ever aware of actively, and almost immediately, suppressing a memory. Given what I've heard that she'd said to my father, to her boyfriend, to my step-mother at the time now, I couldn't even fathom what kind of words could have come out of her mouth. I've heard them all, I would like to think by now: Her midnight phone calls to my father, asking if I were pregnant, insisting that my brother had raped me. Her calls to her boyfriend about picking up her fictional daughter Ursula up from school (a girl who'd never existed, and even now the name makes me sick). Her hallucinations of wasps chasing her, calling her a paedophile. After that phone call, dad ceased all contact and I didn't talk to her for 8 months...not that not talking to her was an unusual thing.

When she left the hospital, finally, back on her drugs, she wasn't the same at all. She giggled a lot, gained weight, could no longer concentrate on chess, or reading, or art...she forgot all the French she knew and she never ever recovered to her normal self. Crudely put, she fried her brain. All because when she told her therapist she'd stopped taking medication, her therapist insisted that this independent decision was a good step. The only reason she went back on them is because my dad said she'd never see us again if she didn't.

I visit her now, it's been about 7 years since she was admitted and she seems fine – even if neither focus nor intelligence comes naturally to her anymore. She still doesn't draw, she tries to play chess and she's happy. At least we have that.

Any effect on me seems to have been fairly side-stepped. While I became an artist to become like my mother, it's my obsession and passion now. While I could hate her, I really don't, despite a lingering and severe fear of abandonment, especially serial cases. Through all of it, the only thing that made me cry was the fact that I now give her the advice she should be giving me...tips on shaving, make-up and clothes. Sometimes job advice, other times budgeting. And while she'd getting better, sometimes it's so frustratingly slowly that I want to scream and cry and throw a fit and have a childhood for the first time in my life, but I don't. As usual, quiet, dry-eyed, taking deep breaths and thinking about it. And anyway, I get the crying out for small things like broken necklaces, raging meaningless arguments and losing video games. I had to carve my own female idol, but I'm not too disappointed with how it all turned out. I have a good Dad and between us we do fine.
Athena Dykman

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