Loretta clung to my Ma who did nothing to ease her severe separation anxiety whenever she left the house. We teased her without mercy as kids will do, so along with my parents she understandably holds us also partially to blame for her psychological condition when talking to her psychiatrists as they worked together to heal her particularly wounded inner child.
When it came time to go to school, she’d often have a meltdown. We’d just get her out the door to start the walk to whatever school we were now attending, and she’d stop and clutch the first chain link fence we’d pass and resume her bawling and crying for Ma. Usually it was Diane that would succeed in prying her almost bleeding fingers from the fence then we’d all turn around and walk her back home. Ma would yell at us every time, and refuse to write us a note since we’d of course by now be late and turn us around at the door. Loretta would then be instructed to lie down with a face cloth while my mother made her toast and tea, just as she would do for herself whenever she was having an anxiety attack.
And since Ma was a professional neurotic herself, over the years she used Loretta’s vulnerability to try to mold her into her likeness–a helpless victim of everything and everyone. It was no wonder Loretta began having her own regular fainting spells followed by her lying down on the couch with a damp wash cloth plastered to her forehead. This became a common sight, and Ma would close the window shade, just like she did whenever she herself was having a “nervous attack” telling Loretta, “just lie still, like I do, and you’ll get your mind back soon.” She only made things worse for Loretta with her inexhaustible example of helplessness and laughable home remedies.
Ma was already on valium and some other drugs, as she had been for years. It wouldn’t be long before she had Loretta joining her pill parade. Poor Loretta went on to spend most of her waking hours in a semi-sedated state due to so many medications, and found herself shuffling between group homes. She visited twice a week with her psychiatrist, who had most recently diagnosed her most with Dissociative Identity Disorder and was helping her to uncover her repressed memories about the time Dad “almost got her,” and countless other traumas for which she couldn’t be faulted for blaming my mother for making her feel unprotected.
Once, during that brief stay with Ma between moves, Loretta reported that one of her thirty-five or so alternate personalities, I think she said it was “Bob,” tried to convince her to walk down the hall at three in the morning to suffocate my mother with a pillow. However, she later explained, that she somehow snapped out of it because as she started to walk, trancelike, towards my mother’s bedroom, she was woken up by her “core” personality. After she told some of us the story, we of course joked with her about messing with Bob’s plan. She moved out the next week saying her psychiatrist said she had to do so because her relationship with my mother was “toxic.” Imagine that. Brilliant diagnosis Doctor Obvious.
Many years earlier I had gotten a phone call from my father while I was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, when Loretta was about twenty-one years old and had not yet fallen all the way into the unfortunate abyss into which she later would. Dad was ranting about Loretta’s imminent marriage to someone whom he referred to as a “nigger drug addict.” Prior to my joining the Air Force, my household status with my parents, while always a little higher than my sisters’, was that of just another of their rank and file parasitical offspring. Now I was some sort of authoritative figure in the family.
What I didn’t know was that after I left, I was now being portrayed by my parents back home as the one and only shining hope of the family. The prodigal son, indeed the “good one” all of the others should look up to and admire and only imagine they could ever be! In their world, my graduating high school and starting a military profession and earning a real pay check was nothing short of laying a golden egg. They had by now acknowledged that I had brains, but even more important, I was earning money. I could clearly fix everything with my mind and my pay stub.
My parents took to saying things like, “Wait until Michael hears about this!” or “Michael will straighten you out when he gets home!” whenever one of my siblings might find themselves in some sort of trouble. My father would show off a picture of me skinny in my uniform to the guys at work, and was especially relentless to my brother David in his constant unfair criticisms and comparisons to me which drove David crazy, as it would anyone, and inspired him to be the first to call me “Mighty Mike.” So this phone call to Fort Meade was just another spotlight in the Gotham City sky calling for the Boudreau Bat Man.
“Calm down, Dad,” I said, listening to his tirade and wondering, yet again, what he expected me to do about this latest “crisis.” “She’s an adult and free to make her own choices.”
“Yeah, well call her and tell her she’s full of shit,” he demanded. I could tell by his lisp that he wasn’t wearing his dentures and could picture the spittle flying from the corners of his mouth.
“No, I’m not going to do anything, Dad. It’s none of my business so just please leave me out of it!”
“Yeah, well fuck you too,” he said and hung up on me. We didn’t speak again for almost two years during a long distance call from Germany. I didn’t care. Like always, he only called or wrote when he wanted something from me. The only letters directed to Mighty Mike from him while he was alive and I was in the military, starting in boot camp, were sent to ask for money to help pay his bills and put “food on the table.” He’d send me one of his utility bills that were a couple of months overdue with a chicken scratch note on it in pencil, begging me to pay it so “Ma wouldn’t freeze” or some such plea. These continued for years even after I’d gotten married. I’d just tear them up. Hell with you both, freeze was how I felt. I had my own family to feed.
In the meantime, Loretta had become pregnant twice, having two children in two years or so while her husband ran the streets and bars and struggled with drugs. Eventually, he ended up homeless and died a short few years later. It was then Loretta began a sad spiral into a world of psychiatrists, prescription drugs, group homes, and unrelenting feelings of loneliness while Diane helped raise her kids.
For whatever other reasons there may have been that had made things so difficult for Loretta, ultimately it was Ma and her haunting, whispering echo of the same message to her over and over that one’s life can only be lived as seen through the narrow, dark, lens of learned helplessness and emotional distress that was most detrimental. A message so persistently delivered to her, and to all of us, over so many years that it left each of us, in our own way, in a personal struggle to widen that aperture.
To realize just how much personal control we did have over what we had or could become. When I think about the paralyzing effect my mother had on Loretta’s emotional and social development and ultimately her happiness, I hear Kelly Clarkson’s voice, singing what could be the sound track of Loretta’s life, “Because of you….I am afraid.”
End of Chapter 4….