By Rachel Kimbrough
Far as I can tell, you spend the first 18 years of your life not knowing what the fuck is happening, and the rest of your life trying to figure out what the fuck happened. My private nickname for my mother has been “Crazy Ma” for as long as I’ve been a thinking person. That used to be a term of endearment. Now that I’m a little older it’s just accurate.
Ma built her relationship with her children on fear instead of love or loyalty. Kids grow up. Stop being afraid. What’s left after that is: nothing.
My sister is now employing the same tactic with her own son, lacks the foresight to understand that what will be left of her relationship with him will soon be: nothing. My family denies the responsibility of telling the kid’s totally-not-crazy father, my sister’s ex, what my nephew’s home life is actually like. History repeats itself.
Recently I was driving home from work. I’d just received an update about Crazy Ma’s and my sister’s latest bullshit. I was fuming, white-knuckled at the steering wheel, eyes brimming with hot, bitter tears. I’d chewed the inside of my mouth so that it felt like raw hamburger meat against my tongue, left a metallic aftertaste.
And I kept being pissed when I just missed a green light, let out this stupid Johnson-County-bitch grunt at the world in general for not allowing me to reach my home about 30 seconds faster than I now would. I lit another cigarette.
A little boy and a woman caught my eye, bumping around the clear bus stop gazebo at the street corner farthest from me. I couldn’t see exactly what was happening for a second—the boy, probably about 4, was holding a metal pole and hitting the back side of the pavilion with it. Every so often the woman would gently put her hand over his and bump the pole around for him.
As they made their way around the side of the pavilion, he held his other hand in front of his face, palm-out, like a mime. His eyes were closed. He inched forward, wagging the walking stick in front of him, his outstretched palm and stick contacting the edge of the pavilion simultaneously. He walked around the structure instead of crashing into it. The woman recognized the achievement with applause.
They bonked around that way for a minute or so, turned the corner. I, mesmerized, snapped out of it only when the fellow in the truck behind me honked angrily at my not going at a green light—outraged that he, too, may now be home 30 seconds later.
I arrived home soon thereafter, chewed on what I’d just seen, a sight at once sad and somehow sweet. And I got to thinking about Crazy Ma and bipolar disorder and chronic depression and schizophrenia, got to thinking about my sister and bipolar disorder and PTSD and depression and desperation. Two women who never chose to be born with a condition or conditions, but just seem to have them anyway. Two women who will never change if nothing changes.
I called my nephew’s dad and told him everything.