Took Me Years To Write

Yesterday, my mother went back to the hospital. She’d been out of the hospital and on a rampage for two weeks. The house is a shambles. My stepdad has been bunking in hotels. The family is exhausted and angry.

leafses

For the last two weeks, my mother tore about in the house, packing my stepdad’s stuff. She’s decided it’s over between them after 43 years. She says he’s cruel and after 43 years we know he’s not. It’s part of her mental illness in which we are all her enemies.

Yesterday, Lena, a social worker from the county, talked her way into Mom’s house while my sister Anya and I were sitting in the living room. Lena and I had made an appointment, which enraged my mother. Lena’s questions enraged my mother. Anything we said enraged my mother. Lena’s taking me aside to talk enraged my mother. Mom demanded Lena talk in Mom’s presence, but Lena and I walked away. Mom came after us  and told us we were doing the exact thing she’d told us not to do.

“Mom,” I said, “she has procedures.” Mom slammed the door. Lena initially told me she did not see enough evidence that Mom was either suicidal or homicidal. She consulted with her supervisor and told me Mom was going to the hospital, we could drive her or the police could take her. I was devastated. We went inside so Lena could deliver the news, which went very badly.

orchidses

Lena had spent hours with us and had to leave, but she gave Mom a deadline: she would let Anya and I drive Mom to the hospital, but in 45 minutes, she would call the facility, and if Mom wasn’t there, Lena would call the police. Mom was fully enraged by then and would not hear a word I said when I suggested she pack a bag.

Lena rang me from outside to say it had been determined that Mom had violated a court order, so the police would have to be involved. It was awful news but came as a relief to Anya and me that I wouldn’t have to drive her to Somerville across some of my least favorite highways while Mom said terrible things to us. Things happened quickly after that: a police officer arrived, then another, then an ambulance, then the ambulance left on another call. Meanwhile, Mom ran around frantically, packing a bag she eventually had to leave behind anyway. When she finally got into the police car and they drove away, Anya called her dad, who was waiting around the corner. This is what we have been reduced to by my mother’s mental illness: we talk all day every day about one person’s problems and spend all our time and energy coping with them.

By the time I got home from this 3 pm appointment with Lena, it was three hours later. My husband Pete had rearranged our bedroom. My cats weren’t sure I was sufficiently worshipful. I talked about what had happened for over an hour before we made dinner. My brother called and shouted for half an hour because he’s been so upset with Mom for weeks and feels powerless in California.

This morning, I woke up early and at 7 am, a social worker called to say Mom was being transferred back to the facility she was released from two weeks ago. I begged her to find a closer hospital. She promised to try. It’s been two hours. I am waiting.

orchid abode

 

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It’s A Clean Machine

A thousand slides can make you feel like you're a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Dad’s images of a Cape Canaveral launch from 1975, including a surprising number of boats, which were in space, but not the same way.

Starting sometime in 1963, Dad started photographing everything: his wife, his children, the neighbors, street lights, college classmates, train tracks, rockets, places he went, birds, plants, boats, statues, co-workers, bonfires, bodies of water. When he died, a mountain of his work moved to my apartment. Since July, I’ve scanned and uploaded about 2,000 images to a private Flickr museum of these images. It’s an ambitious project, facing a number of obstacles.

First: some slides were originally developed with dates and numbers, some with just dates or numbers, some with no dates or numbers. Second: Dad kept over 800 mixed slides in carousels, rather than dark plastic containers, and in these less than ideal conditions, some slides have faded or developed mildew damage. Third: at some point, my stepmom Summer labeled a bunch of plastic slide containers, which may save my sanity; unfortunately, about a decade’s worth of slides were stored together, which may send me round the twist. Fourth: a few years ago, the digitizing company I paid to scan slides essentially poured separate groups of slides into a machine and I have yet to undertake separating them because I panic every time I think about it.

Despite all this, I’ve made progress. I’ve started to recognize pictures that must have been taken at the same time, significant places and faces I haven’t seen since childhood. My father was 21 and my mother 22 when I was born, and these images start before I was a year old. It is strange now to see my parents as young twenty-somethings, to witness my father’s learning to see the world and his life through the camera’s lens. In these pictures, I see that we, his children, were photographed constantly and were completely accustomed to it. I don’t remember being photographed constantly, so in some ways, it’s like looking at someone else’s life with my face.

There’s another obstacle: not all of the slides are here. Enough dated and numbered slides are present to render obvious the gaps. Where are these missing slides? I don’t know. Summer doesn’t remember Dad mentioning them. I don’t know what that means, or what it would ultimately mean if thousands of images were just missing.

At this stage in a blog post, I usually make a joke about how some ginormous thing in my life is totally small, except in this case, that’s too literal. This ginormous thing in my life is meaningless to all but a handful of people on the planet, and even they don’t really seem to care much. So I am doing this because I can and I should, to the best of my ability. When I’m done, I’ll store the slides as permanently as I can, but I doubt anyone will ever look at them again. Dad would have been as surprised as anyone else that there could be a private museum of his photographs, and for that reason alone, I will keep building it.