It bothers me that the very people I suspect of keeping something from me that I need to know, tell me to “move on”. It bothers me when people tell me empathy for myself and for my mother is obsessive. Is survival obsessive? But it is true I had become spent, my days a blur of exasperation, looking for answers…
My mother was going to keep her secrets, kill me before I found them out, or she would die trying. All I had by way of diagnoses for her was scraps of my own memory. One was the very vivid memory of a female counselor my father introduced me to, twenty years previous, who told me my mother had been treated for schizophrenia. Schizophrenia. It didn’t make sense at the time, and that’s why I at first dismissed it. But the memory was not my imagination. Schizophrenia was not something I could have cooked up. And as far as I knew, it did not run in my maternal bloodline.
The friend of my father had shown me a picture of a very maternal looking lady involved in treating Mom, who looked vaguely familiar.
And why had a counselor been trying to talk to me about my mother?
Why had she showed me this woman’s picture?
Of course schizophrenia made more sense now – my mother’s paranoia, her jealousy, the audio delusions and the splitting from “I’m going to get even with you” vengeance back into sweet little old lady. Sweet Little Old Lady had taken a lot of energy to perform, so she reduced it to public appearances. Mom isolated herself at first from friends, then from family. My grown children were frightened of her, and avoided her entirely. My daughter had the healthiest attitude, referring to her grandmother as the “Drama Queen”, though the stress of this period would catch up with her later.
Of course, “Drama Queen” had been an understatement.
Now that Mom was with my brother, the only family member left she had not disavowed, far away in Connecticut, I scoured the office room back at home, looking for more clues. I was beginning to spend long nights at my computer with a glass of Merlot, that all too often led to two, or three, or four. The night sky would start to pale in the window behind the desk, where I sat surrounded by stacks of disordered papers I could never manage to sort through. These “computer nights” taught me about anosognosia, online support groups, and how people with schizophrenia lack insight to realize that they even have schizophrenia.
These nights taught me about how there was a whole world of suffering family members who could not, because of the broken mental health care system, get help for those that they loved. It taught me that the more I screamed out “Please help my mother! She’s psychotic! She wants to destroy me!” I would be told by the powers that be that I was either 1) crazy for saying so, or 2) uncharitable for not just letting her die.
Finally, computer nights taught me that if I didn’t find answers soon, I was going to become an alcoholic.
There is one thing I know now, that I didn’t know then. If the truth about my mother was somewhere within me all along, buried in the recesses of my subconscious like a random page in one of my paper stacks, or memories perhaps as old as my childhood, it would not be revealed to me via a frantic search.
Like I said, I didn’t know that then. But I prayed a lot, and fell asleep exhausted, night after night.
Maybe it was the wine.
But I was getting the impression I was having a repeat nightmare, whenever I finally let my mind and body relax, and go to sleep.
In the past I had dreamed about a real incident from my very early childhood, in which my mother had brought me to church with her. I don’t remember even my brother being with us. I had told her something was wrong, desperate, tugging at her sleeve. This is not a real mass, Mommy. There were priests in back of an altar, moving around so very fast, from side to side.
As an adult I have wondered if this memory is just of an eastern rite liturgy, something of which I should not have been afraid. But I know it’s a real memory, and I know I had fallen asleep, or dissociated, during the service, because I was so terrified.
I was a sensitive child.
But now I was having a worse repeat dream of the same genre, only of a much darker and more surreal shade of evil, a night terror if you will. In the morning the details of the narrative slip through my mind like fine powder through my hands, lost in the grasping. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to remember this dream, because it was so horrible. I was left only with a heavy awareness of the presence of “ black”.
I would wake up in a cold sweat, my heart pounding.
Breathe, or else your heart will start palpitating. Just breathe. You have to stay alive. Go into the bathroom and drink water. You are thirsty, dehydrated, from drinking so much. Splash your face with cold water, while you’re in there. Hey wait a minute, didn’t Mom used to use that expression? Where did she learn that? You used to laugh, but it is a grounding technique.
Finally, one time, when I awake, frightening images remain with me like snap shots in my mind, as well as fragments of conversation.
An evil man in black, that I ironically pity, like a wizard, or a fake priest. He’s holding a knife over me, raised up over my head to stab me.
My mother is lying there, somewhere in the background. She is young and beautiful, a pale sweet face in a cloud of dark hair.
She is always innocent.
Why is she letting them do this to me? Is this man my father?
No, comes the gentle quiet voice to whom I had addressed the question. That’s the other little girl’s father.
And he’s not killing you, he’s killing her.
I awake this time, my heart pounding. What other little girl?
Dear God, please tell me, what other little girl?
And the thought that I had felt that they should have taken me instead.
Because, after all, the other little girl was just a baby.
In the morning I am disoriented. I know my dream means something, yet I cannot believe what it seems to mean. My mother take part in satanic ritual? That is stretching my own imagination to the limit, to the brink of insanity, is it not? So once again, I am left all alone in my understanding, to cry and to grieve, but I don’t even understand for whom I am crying.
Yet, I cannot escape the inner conviction, the inner contradiction, that my mother, though innocent, has done something horrible, and she is going to get away with it, the secret buried with her in her grave.
I know it, because somehow I was there.
I am back in bed, furtively saying the St. Michael the Archangel prayer. I am frightened to the quick. I fumble around with my hands at the little bedside table where I keep a rosary and some prayer cards. I know I must remind myself that it is okay, because God is with me.
For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.
2 thoughts on “Night Sweats”
I remember the nights we would talk while you were having your wine and talking about your mother. You had and always will have a good heart. I’m blessed you let me into your life. I sincerely hope sharing your story is as therapeutic as it is for me. See you around the stable.
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Thank you Rudy. You were never one of those I suspected of “keeping something from me”. Rather, I appreciated your honesty even when we disagreed. In a world where so many men are afraid of being vulnerable, your brave masculinity shines.
Writing is therapeutic for me (that’s the side effect blessing) but I think it is even more so now that I have figured out a way in which it might directly serve others. The draft above is an excerpt from Unraveled, Paradox of Joy.
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