Glacier National Park: A Prophecy

The first time I was locked out of a car I was 8 years old and on top of a mountain in Montana. My mom and I had been whisked from Idaho to Montana by her friend Joan. It was 1979.

This was one of the occasions when my mom was suicidal. Joan — who had a good sense of humor — said, “if you’re going to kill yourself, you might as well go to Montana first.”

This was my first road trip with my mom. In addition to all of her other diagnoses, she was agoraphobic and had panic attacks in cars. Somehow the exhilaration of not killing herself made her brave enough for a drive to Montana.

I had a denim purse, and probably about $20 my grandparents gave me for souvenirs, some of which I spent at a gift shop at Glacier National Park. And I left my purse there, somehow… I was 8, I swear I wasn’t drunk.

We drove past weeping walls and cloudy blue glacial lakes, until we got to a peak, with a view of a glacier.

That glacier is probably mostly gone now. Glacier National Park no longer has glaciers to speak of.

There was a visitor’s center of some kind. I have no memory of what we did there. I’m sure there was some interpretive info about ice ages and ice dams and floods… the forces that carved the landscape I knew.

We went back to the station wagon as the sun was setting, and the keys were locked in.I was a little scared, but mostly I was exhilarated by this unexpected adventure. Joan got a clothes hanger from some RV nearby and was able to sneak it in and unlock the door.

That was when I realized I didn’t have my purse. We drove back down the mountain in the waning light and stopped again at the old-west-style gift shop. And they had my purse, but the person who turned it in had taken the last $8 from my wallet.

It was clearly a child’s purse, and they took the time to hand it over to the clerk. But they took my $8. This is what I’ve learned to expect from life. Yes. I made a mistake and left my denim purse on the ground outside a tourist shop in Montana. It was my fault at the end of the day… but still, someone chose to take my $8.


Happy Birthday, Mom

Friday was my mom’s 65th birthday. I don’t remember the last time I talked to her, but it was probably more than three years ago now. Every so often, she leaves me a voicemail, and it’s like getting messages from the dead.

August 1st has always been kind of a family holiday. My mom was born on her dad’s birthday in 1949, so we had a double birthday to celebrate. It was part of the summer birthday season — her sister has a Bastille Day birthday on July 14th. The autumn birthday season included my grandma at the end of October, and my cousin and me two weeks apart in November. For each of these occasions we had a family celebration with cake and presents. Grandma made the cakes from scratch, baked them in the wood-burning cookstove, and decorated them as cats, billiard tables, and in 1980, Mount St. Helens.

My mom once told me that receiving gifts is how she receives love. Her dad and birthday twin gave her (and everyone) cash for birthdays and Christmas. At Christmas he wrapped the cash in aluminum foil that he shaped into candy cane hooks and hung from the tree.  She was always very concerned by how much everyone else got. If someone got more than her, it meant that they were loved more. I learned not to tell her when my grandparents gave me gifts or money, because she would be jealous.

I haven’t given my mom a gift or sent her a card or letter since 2011. The last letter I sent was eight pages long. Handwritten, heartfelt, apologetic, and maybe just a little threatening. I wanted to help. I was trying everything I could to take care of her, including threatening to invoke the medical power of attorney she’d granted me when she had cancer.

I felt like I had to step in. She had alienated her state-appointed caregivers, including the only case manager who had worked with her for long enough to know when she was off her meds. She was making antagonistic phone calls to her sister and her dad. He already had pretty advanced Alzheimer’s by then and her calls confused him and made him cry. She walked into her neighbor’s house and stole their cat.

She never wrote back. She went back to legal aid and had my power of attorney revoked. She started calling me at odd hours, sometimes several times a day, telling me she never wanted to see me again “for eternity” and then some really crazy stuff about going to the courthouse in Banff, Canada to get a restraining order… and get married.

She hadn’t been to Banff since she was a kid. And her new husband was an imaginary person named Malachite.  My mom has Schizophrenia. Schizo-Affective specifically — a lovely mashup of paranoid Schizophrenia and Bipolar. She was on a high, and when she gets manic she goes off her meds.

She was taking her anti-psychotic “as needed” according to her own perception of what she needed. She was doubling her doses of Klonopin and dancing around her living room all night. This last bit of info she told me herself, because she knew how frustrated I got with her late night shenanigans when I was a kid, so she wanted to push that button. I’ve gotten very talented at not responding to button pushing.

Ultimately, the only way to help a mentally ill person who doesn’t want help is to convince someone that they are a danger to themselves or others. Family members called the police a few times explaining that she was unable to care for herself and was a fire hazard (she built a shrine in the hall outside her apartment including unsupervised candles). Eventually, my uncle exaggerated a bit and told the police she was threatening to kill them. They took her to the psych unit for her 72 hour evaluation, and from there she was sent to the state mental hospital in Orofino, where she had taken a sabbatical back in 1984.

By then, I had stopped taking her calls. She was repeating the same message over and over. She never wants to see me again. She doesn’t love me. She’s not my mother. Before I stopped taking to her — when I was still trying to reestablish goodwill — she told me she’d liked me okay until I was about five years old.

I don’t expect to ever see her again. And on some level I hope I don’t. She’ll always be my mom, and I do love her and wish her happiness, but I am tired of being hurt by her.

Thankfully, she was able to get a bed in a pretty nice assisted living facility, so someone is making sure that she takes her meds and eats regularly. I used to fret about how I would take care of her when she gets old (for my own mental health I could never live with her), but now I guess I’m off the hook.