My father found my sister hanging under the door, eyes bulging. I see my son, my flaxen haired son, in her noose. It doesn’t matter which way he whips, it only makes the rope knot tighter. Hysterical, he called my mother seconds after the paramedics. She knew the message when the operator paged saying her ex-husband was on the phone.
Dad used fly to Arizona to dry my grandmother out. I understood ‘alcoholism’ before I turned five. But none of us understood ‘bipolar’. None of us understood that my five foot ten grandfather left because my four foot six grandmother came after him with a knife in the dark. And I see my baby standing at the foot, no the head of my bed, with a sharp. The blade burns my throat. My sister tried to kill her husband, her boyfriend, her own daughter before she settled on herself. My grandmother died of uterine cancer.
On the other side, my maternal grandmother never tried to hang herself or stab anybody, but she wept for days on end for no reason at all. The days she didn’t weep, she frenzied. After she had reason, when my uncle died in a freak fall, she sobbed even more. He screams, sometimes, and flails his arms around his head. “My brain is all THIS,” he tells me, and I understand, because some days, MY brain is all that. She blamed my mother for my uncle’s death, even though Mom was two states away. She was always jealous that Mom lived while her favored son died.
Sam’s psychiatrist jots in his file. “Bilateral maternal bipolar disorder.”
Dad left the music industry because he couldn’t hack the artistic differences with the rest of the band. He came home shouting, and blaming. Anybody but him. Anybody but him. He drank and he smoked, and I’m not sure why he didn’t hit, but I’m grateful for it. Sam is too young to understand the self-medication of alcohol and nicotine. But how can I teach him self-awareness? How can I convey ‘moderation’? He stopped drinking and smoking for a long time. He does both again now, more cigarettes than liquor, but not to excess.
Mom made melodramatic proclamations and leapt from one desperate situation to another, prioritizing money above time, because she had to, or we wouldn’t have eaten. But the cost was high. It came in a younger daughter who followed her father’s lead right up until she turned into her paternal grandmother. But it wasn’t until she wrapped her own path around the world that my sister died.
“I can see why you’re so worried about him.” The psychiatrist has known about my sister, but not my parents. Or he knew but maybe didn’t understand. He doesn’t have a word for “every single person on the maternal side, including Mom herself.” At least ‘bilateral maternal bipolar’ sounded official.
My arms aren’t bite-bruised now, but they were when I called back in June, ovals of six year old tooth marks stretching from wrist to elbow. “I’d be shocked if we made it to eight years old without a week in a pediatric ward.” And there, it’s out in the room, the thing I came here to say. I don’t think my son will go to sleep away camp like most kids when he’s eight or nine. I think he’ll go to camp “fix you”.
Sam’s psychiatrist, looking at the remnants of my scars, says, “Let’s up the Depakote and see what we can do. At six, institutionalization should be an utterly last resort. It’s only going to traumatize him, and I want him to be old enough that we can actually help him, not just make him afraid.” He does not say, as he did when Sam first entered treatment, that my son is too young to predict such an outcome. He hasn’t named any institutions yet, but he’s probably mulling our options. He’s a muller, this man.
“He came at me with scissors the other day. When I took them away, he was eerie-calm. He said, ‘I was going to cut you. I was going to cut your head off.’”
The psychiatrist flinches. “If you have to, call the emergency room when he’s that out of control. You can document incidents like that, if nothing else. You’re both doing the best you can. You’re good, loving parents.”
I want to tell him “‘Good’ isn’t enough here. My Mom was a hell of a good mother. The best. And she only got one of her kids out alive. My Dad’s loving. He’s kind of fucked up, but he loves me, and he doted on my sister, spoiled her, made it worse, but never unloved her.” I want to tell him that good loving parents’ children die every day, that I will only be in control of Sam’s medical choices for so long, that when it all comes together, Sam will be the only one who can keep himself out of my sister’s noose. Just like, in the end, my sister was the only one who could put herself in it.
But I don’t say any of these things.
I don’t need to.
I can tell from the scars on his arms that this psychiatrist already knows.