I’ve alluded to my mother’s mental illness before. Manifestations of her mental illness became more evident in my twenties. It is both good (for me) and bad (for her) that I missed much of it; I spent my twenties living 500 miles away for work or 2000 miles away for graduate school. When I heard about what was happening with my mother, it was often too late to do anything to help the situation. Other times, I was aware of what was happening as it was happening; I would do what I could to help but I was often at a loss of what should be done. I’m still not sure I would know what to do if it happened today. What does one do when a family member walks off the edge of normalcy?
My mother was evicted from her apartment for reasons related to her mental illness, causing the bulk of her belongings to be placed into various storage situations. During this time, many family heirlooms were inadvertently left in situations that amounted to an offering to weather and squirrels. Periodically, my husband, my father (divorced from my mother) and I would have no alternative but to discard many formerly-precious items. At one point, we had a bonfire. Heirlooms beyond saving. Antiques crumbling. History aflame. Memories burning, forever gone.
Every time I sifted through the stored belongings, I focused on finding photographs of my childhood and saving anything salvageable that had sentimental value. Mostly, I sought to find the photo albums. Find the albums. The albums. The albums. I was in possession of only one photograph of myself as a child at the time that I left for graduate school and my mother’s tumultuous-ness and transient-ness peaked. One photo.
I desperately sought photographs of my childhood as I dug through the dilapidated remnants of my mother’s former life. Many times I searched alone, scaling precarious mountains of broken possessions to reach a newly-eyed box, only find old cans rotted through giving another stark insight of the warped mind that packed the box. I thought that my childhood photos were lost forever. I would ask my mother about the albums, but she refused to provide any information to help me (mentally ill, remember?).
A year ago, my mother underwent a series of hospitalizations for physical issues that led to us moving her to a nursing facility near us. She requires more medical and psychological care than we are able to provide. This series of events – while very sad – enabled my husband to find the albums I was seeking for twenty years. One long day my husband packed her small apartment while I stayed home with the kids. I desperately wanted to go, but there was no one available to watch the kids for an entire day. I left him with details regarding my mother’s wishes but ended with, “Please find the albums.”
He found the photo albums – hidden – in an almost secret compartment of an end-table. That was last May. He called to tell me the news and I immediately broke down in tears. My past had been reclaimed. My husband claimed it for me. I would get to see a photo of myself as a child again. I could hardly wait.
I am now in possession of photos of myself as a child, photos which I had not seen in twenty years. Finally, I could compare my children’s faces to my face at their age instead of comparing their faces to my distant memories of myself. Finally mine.
I share some of the photos with you as a reminder that – if something really, truly matters to you – never give up no matter how dire the circumstances.
Just look at that little girl (click to enlarge):
The photos of me as an infant like that above were surprising. This is not at all how I thought I looked at this age. By about two years old, we arrive at my self-perception.