Shitty Momma Day. While I am filled with agitated energy (energy that insists on waking me at 4am to contemplate both the outline of my book-in-progress and potential methods of suicide, energy that compels me to go running even when I’m shuffling my feet like some thorazined inpatient, energy that keeps up the ruminating assault of negative thoughts), it seems I don’t have enough energy to smile at my son or read him books.
Last night, my son was restless, refused to stay in bed, kept coming downstairs interrupting MY couch time.
“Momma, I’m hungreeee,” he said.
So I handed him a tube yogurt.
“Momma, I’m thirsteeee,” he crooned.
I poured him a glass of water.
“Momma, I’m scared of the bad man who wants to hurt kids.”
“Upstairs to bed,” I thundered. “I’m tired of this nonsense.”
Nonsense? No mother in her right mind (I’m not), would send her child to bed when he’s scared of the bad man. A real bad man.
Back up: We arrived home from our vacation to a stack of mail and one very terrifying, homemade flyer. Apparently, we have a Dangerous Sexual Predator (convicted) living down the block. In my immediate, horrified rush, I showed the flyer to my kids, demanding they study his face, and, if he ever approached them (he shouldn’t as that’s part of his parole), they were to scream and find us.
“But Momma,” my son cried, “I’m scared of the bad man.”
I sighed and got my ass off the couch. Comfort and reassurance were what was needed. My own whining and irritation would have to wait.
I scurried upstairs with him and tucked him back into bed.
“Momma, would you read me a book?” he asked.
Here’s the thing: when I am approaching a manic episode (as I think I am), the smallest requests become major irritations. All I want is for the chatter of others’, even my own children's, to go silent. Everything in the manic brain becomes chaotic and muddled: voices seem louder and grating; simple clutter (socks on the floor, a pile of magazines askew) feels like the stash of a hoarder; other people needing you and loving you feels claustrophobic. All I want is to be left alone. But that’s impossible because I have accepted the responsibility of being a wife and a mother. I am part of a family, not an island unto myself. But as I told Dr. B. today, what I’d like is to be left on top of some barren piling in the North Sea.
The question remained: Could I read him a book.
“No,” I said. “I’m too tired.”
He looked crestfallen and I felt immediately guilty. I am, after all, a writer. I write stories for a living. One of the greatest pleasures in my own life was when my own father would read books to me at bedtime—chapters and chapters of Nancy Drew books. And here I was saying “No,” to my own son.
“Momma, snuggle with me,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. “Five minutes and then I go back downstairs.” If I could turn off my stupid manic head, I might be able to hear my heart which was saying, “It’s okay. Just let yourself go and fall asleep beside him, with him. You know you’re exhausted.”
But no, five minutes and I was sticking to it. Before I got up, my son cupped my face and started laughing. Insane cackles.
“Laugh, Momma,” he said.
I managed a few lame chuckles.
“No,” he said. “Laugh.”
So I forced myself to laugh and immediately his face lit up.
“Now keep laughing,” he said.
If only I could. But these days, all emotions are flat. Joy, happiness, excitement, even sadness have to be summoned up with great struggle. I plaster my face in the emotion so other people will believe I am present and listening and feeling. But I’m not. I feel alone and far away. Like I’m in another room, another house entirely. No, I’m not even in a house—because that would imply warmth and comfort, that would suggest that I am inside, part of the heart of a home. Not me. I’m locked out of the house. I can see the lights on inside, inviting me in, but I can’t find my key anymore. Instead, I’m alone in the wintry garden, arms and legs snagged on a thorny bush, snow up to my knees, teeth chattering.
I held my laugh as long as I could, then gazed down at my son, into his big brown eyes, eyes that said, “I love you. I trust that you will protect me from the bad man. I know when I wake up you will be here loving me back.”
I kissed him, and trudged back downstairs. This is the awful truth: Mania can even make me tired of love.