(Inspired by Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine)
When I was two, my mother went to the hospital to give birth to her second child. But came home with vacant arms, a missing uterus, and erased dreams of the ideal two-child family. Because I was so young, nobody told me what had happened. But my earliest memories start around that time.
One of my first memories of my mother is finding her sitting alone in her bedroom, sobbing with a grief I’d never imagined could exist. Was she thinking about her lost child? Her lost uterus? Her lost dreams? It scared me. Then I started crying. Mom held me, and rocked me in her arms. We cried together.
Looking back now, I assume she cried for her various losses. I cried for a loss, too. The loss of security. Of feeling my mother could protect me from the great sorrows of life. If mom was unable to keep sorrows away from herself, I knew there was no way she could keep sorrow away from me, either.
I spent most of the next year living with my grandparents while my mother was in a mental hospital/asylum with what today would probably be considered a severe case of post-partum depression. I’m sure it was a great sorrow for a two-year-old child to be separated from her mother for that long. I guess I didn’t need to wait long for that prophetic feeling of approaching sorrow to reach my life.
Back then, what did they call what mom suffered from? A nervous breakdown? Mental instability? Depression? A momentary loss of happiness? I asked my uncle, my mom’s youngest brother, about it. He remembers she went to a mental hospital up north somewhere. In Burlington or Sedro Wooley. But he was in junior high at the time and had preteen dramas of his own to think about. His memories of what was happening with his married older sister are spotty at best. He does remember something about electric shock therapy.
My dad never talked about it. Ever. Mom’s hospitalization was a forbidden topic.
Our family had a number of forbidden topics.