Mental Health

“We are not alone” Wednesdays: Pick Up Time

(This is the second installment by my friend, Shelley, of her childhood marked by the abusive effects of a mentally ill and alcoholic single mother, who never got the treatment she needed to be able to mother in healthy ways. To read the first installment click here.)

My sister and I had a regular babysitter we went to since infancy.  She was about my mom’s age, but had children young.  So when we learned how to talk, we called her, “Grandma.”  Grandma and her spouse pretty much gave us the love and affection we lacked at home.  We liked spending time there, and they were our second family.  So from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. we could be the kids we were allowed to be.

We dreaded pick up time.  That was the time that we could tell if it would be a good night, or if we were in for our regularly scheduled episodes.  They had become the norm, and we really didn’t know any different.  I would sense the time being close to pick up time and suddenly feel anxious.  I didn’t want to go home.  Would mommy be upset?  Would we be sent to bed without dinner again?  Then the car would pull into the driveway.  We would get our coats and load up into the car.  I would sit in reluctant anticipation, as she drove home and pulled into our driveway.  The sound of the car door slamming would let me know what we were in for.  Nope, not going to be a good night.

She unlocked the door and we silently, quickly paced into the entryway.  Her voice cuts the silence like a dull knife slicing into chewy bread.  “What do you girls want for dinner?”  She gives us suggestions until we all come to an agreement.  We put our coats away as she prepares our dinner.  Our dinner is placed on to our small coffee table and we begin to fill our bellies.  I notice mom doesn’t eat.  This was a frequent occurrence. Mom let out a long sigh, picked up her green bottle, and pours herself a drink.

I couldn’t count how many times she refilled her glass.  I did know that in the next couple hours, the completely full bottle was now empty.  By that time, mom had relaxed and began to go to sleep.  The television was blaring, but couldn’t drown out the buzz saw of mom’s intoxicated snoring.  We watched television for a while, then decided to brush our teeth and go to bed.  Most children are told to brush for a couple minutes.  Our mom required us to brush for at least five minutes.  She felt that this meant our teeth would be perfectly untouched by decay and make her look like a better mom.  Outward appearances were important to her.

We climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep.  The only light shining in our small room was the moonlight, whose beams peeked through the opaque, infantile curtains in the window.  I had my baby blanket tucked safely in my hand, running the satin edging between my tiny fingers.  I found comfort in it.  My eyes began to droop.

I woke up in terror.  I could hear the raging voice coming down the hall.  The footsteps were heavy, as the wretched blue and black flip flops clunked with each step.  Whenever I heard that, I would ball up in terror.  I began to wonder what we had forgotten to do before going to bed.  It really didn’t matter.  Mom would always find something to get upset about.  This time it was the fabric she had inside boxes.  “Who got into my boxes?”  I knew it wasn’t me.  My sister wouldn’t admit if it was her.  So we were there stuck in this predicament.  Knowing we had a very curious cat and no lid on the boxes, it was a reasonable guess to say that the cat may have done it.  So when suggested, I immediately knew that was a wrong answer.

“Don’t insult me by claiming the cat did it!  I’m not an idiot, you imbecile!”  She began to destroy the entire play room.  Everything that had been neat and tidy were suddenly strewn about the floor.  All of our books lay scattered, and the entire floor was covered.  “Clean this mess up then go to bed!  I don’t even want to look at you tonight!”  We folded the fabric in the boxes then began to organize the shelves the way mom would want them.  When something wasn’t put in the right spot, we would whisper between each other whether or not it would look better somewhere else.  Mom’s idiosyncrasies were beginning to invade our world, and we didn’t have the ability to protect ourselves from them.


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