Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Five Minutes

I’m going to try my hand at another prompt from The Red Dress Club. 

Imagine after you die, your daughter/son will be given the gift of seeing a single five-minute period of your life through your eyes, feeling and experiencing those moments as you did when they occurred. What five minutes would you have him/her see? Tell us about them in the finest detail.

My parents divorced when I was 11 or so; I know for sure it was the summer between 6th and 7th grade.  I am sure of this because I ended my elementary school career in one house, with my family, and then had to go to a brand new Jr. High, with no family, and no friends.  It sounds trite now, but starting a new Jr. High with not a single friend ranks as one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. 

There I was with newly divorced parents, a crazy mom, and a sister who made it her top priority to never be home.  And to make myself even more of a freak, I lived with my dad.  Back in those days divorce wasn’t very common, and it was downright odd for the children to live with their dad, and not with their mom.  Oh, and did I mention we had to sell our house, of course, and move to apartments (my dad, sister, and me in one apartment, and my mom about 10 minutes away in another)?  To say my world was turned upside down is a pretty severe understatement. 

The arrangement at the beginning of the divorce was that I would spend some weekends and such with my mom.  At that time she was doing okay and could handle the responsibility of having me stay the night with her every now and then.  Things slowly got worse for her though, and those overnight visits became fewer and fewer, until I was down to just spending weekend days with her. 

Her apartment was dark; for the most part I remember that she kept the curtains closed.  She was also an artist and the smell of oil paintings permeated the air.  Add that to the ever-present scent of the Aqua Net that she used, by the case I might add, and everything about her had a very distinctive odor.  To this day I can still smell her in that apartment.

It was a small apartment, your basic two-bedroom, one-bathroom, but certainly big enough to meet all of her needs.  As is the case with most apartments, the front door opened right into the living room.  The first thing you saw when you walked into the apartment was a couch and a round coffee table.

I was there visiting one day, a day when she was not doing well at all.  On her coffee table was a rather large Tupperware-type tub stuffed with bottles, bottles that contained all the medications that she was clearly not taking.  For if she had been taking those medications, then this 5-minute period of my life would not have occurred.

I remember sitting on the couch marveling at all the bottles.  She was in the kitchen at the time and I hear her having a conversation.  I am the only one in the apartment with her; curious as to exactly whom she is talking, I stroll into the kitchen. 

What I see and hear will stay with me for the rest of my life.  I am probably 13 years old at the time and my mom is having a conversation with her refrigerator.  I’m not talking about someone opening up their refrigerator and jokingly asking for a chocolate cake to magically appear (what, am I the only one who does that?).  No, I am talking about a full-on conversation…with her refrigerator.

She is bent over the refrigerator as if she is leaning in to hear a trusted friend tell her a secret.  She is laughing and she is pausing after she speaks so that the refrigerator can respond.  She even calls me over to join the conversation, like, “Get a load of this Jane, isn’t my friend funny?”

I’m not quite sure what to do, so I do what has become my MO:  I remain silent.  After all, my mom is having a grand ol’ time talking to her refrigerator, and I’m scared to death to break the spell.  I am literally paralyzed by fear and, well, shock.  It’s kind of like how they say not to wake sleepwalkers…to just let the sleepwalking run its course.  I feel that if I remain silent, and thus somehow invisible, maybe she will stop.

Eventually she does stop, and while I am certain that to this day she has no memory of this whatsoever, I can recall it in an instant, and I don’t even have to close my eyes to do so.  It is etched in my brain as if it happened yesterday, or five minutes ago. 

I want my children to know this about me because I want them to understand how invisible I used to want to be; how I felt, and continue to sometimes feel, that maybe if I just remain quiet and still that things will somehow get better all on their own…like they did the day my mom was talking to her refrigerator and I helplessly stood by and watched and waited until it was all over. 

Of course, it didn’t truly get better, just as nothing gets better if you just stand by and do nothing, but eventually it stopped, and I have to tell you, as a kid growing up with a schizophrenic mom, I spent a lot of time just waiting for things to stop. 


  1. I loved your story. For more reasons than I wish to share at this moment, suffice to say, mental health issues run in my family as well.
    I think we have the makings of a lovely blogship!

  2. Tough prompt, but I enjoyed that your 5 minutes had a meaningful message in it for your children. I can only so far think of moments that would share a lesson with my children about wishing I appreciated my mom more while she was still alive.

  3. Thank you An Authentic Life for stopping by. I'm thrilled you took a moment to read me. Sorry you have to deal with mental illness in your family as well. If you ever feel like writing about it, you have a willing reader.
    And I agree, a lovely blogship, indeed.

    Thank you anon for the comment. It does seem we show the least appreciation to the ones we love the most, doesn't it?