The Day My Mother Ran Away From Home

I often see on articles about chronic anxiety that sufferers frequently fear “going crazy.” I always shake my head a bit, because for me it’s such a legitimate concern. My mother is mentally ill. My middle sister has a personality disorder, and my oldest sister is following in my mom’s footsteps. I wish I could dismiss my paranoia over an eventual mental break as a common anxiety symptom.

As often is the case, my mother had a horrific, traumatic upbringing. All the things that shouldn’t happen to a child, happened to her and her siblings. According to psychologists, childhood trauma could be a cause of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. So there ya go, mom never had much hope for a normal life.

I don’t have any memories of my mom before I was 5 or so. My eldest sister has no memories of me during that timeframe either, and she’s nine years older than me. We’ve deduced that I must have lived with my father. Then, when I was five, mom married a dentist. I remember leaving my dad’s and when we pulled into the driveway asking my mother if we’d moved. I can’t imagine not noticing the moving process, so this must have been the transition when I moved in with my mom. Mom seemed normal enough to me at this time. She was a housewife, she cooked dinners and had a closet full of fancy dresses and heels for me to play dress up in. She and the dentist took vacations in Vegas twice a year. To me, she was just a regular middle class stay at home mom. But I was terrified of her. I distinctly remember being in the bathtub at that house and not wanting to wash my hair, so she slapped me hard across the face. There was never a time when I didn’t see my mother as a fierce individual. Regardless, she didn’t seem mentally unstable.

When I was nine, she divorced the dentist and we moved into a duplex, just me and her. My oldest sister was married, and the other lived with her dad. Mom stopped cooking, but that didn’t seem odd since she was working again. The only thing that stuck out was that in the winter she’d go to bed immediately after work, while summer meant midnight runs to a diner for coffee and pie. Still, nothing struck me as particularly “off” about my mother.

It was my dad’s death that sent mom over the edge. He died in December, and soon my mother, who rarely did more than boil pasta for dinner, had covered every available surface in our house with from-scratch baked goods. Mom’s boyfriend and I both thought she was just distracting herself by trying to make the holidays nice. But by the following summer mom had gained an enormous amount of weight and was soon diagnosed with BiPolar Disorder. Instead of getting better, though, she got worse. She started going out to clubs and blatantly cheating on her boyfriend, who eventually moved out. She started dating a businessman from Germany and would make me translate their (embarrassing) emails. Then she dated the (married) owner of a Mexican restaurant. He offered to take me on vacation to Mexico with his wife and kids, and one of his employees raped me when mom took me out drinking with them. Nothing about this was normal anymore. I was fourteen, mom was 40. And she just kept getting worse. She stopped coming home after going out, and I never knew which man she was with. She’d go straight to work the next day, so I never really knew where she was or when she was coming back. When I’d complain that we didn’t have food at home, she’d send me into the grocery store with her debit card. She couldn’t even pretend to care enough to actually do the shopping. Soon, I had a boyfriend with a car so she just got me my own card. Less responsibility for her, I suppose. But she was being terribly irresponsible with money. She had a good job managing a retail store. Even my survivors benefits on top of her salary didn’t help her overspending. Her ex was still paying our rent, so I honestly don’t know where her money was going. One day she took me to the store on a shopping spree with her credit cards because she was going to file bankruptcy. I never did find out how far in the hole she was.

All through this, mom was still being treated for bipolar. She saw her psychiatrist regularly and took handfuls of pills each day, constantly trying to find the right dosages and combinations. None of the pills ever seemed to help for long.

As I finished out high school, mom was doing ok. Her ex lived at the opposite end of the hall from us, and they were dating exclusively again. But she got bored, as she always did, and started cheating on him with a man ten years her junior. Soon, she moved out of our apartment, stopped helping me pay for my massage school program, and eventually fired me from the job I worked for her. We rarely talked after that, although she did show up for my wedding. She even cried. But she still never called me or made any effort to be in my life.

When I got pregnant with my first child, she wasn’t excited. She mocked my name choices and made it explicitly clear that she would not be available when I went into labor. She even went so far as to remind that that she’d “done all that” for my sisters.

A couple years later, I was trying to get away from my husband and she offered to let me work for her again. Out of sheer desperation, I agreed. Having not had much of a relationship with her for five years or so, I had no idea how bad she’d gotten. She and her husband were gambling constantly. She did nothing at work. I’d catch her in her office just starting at the wall. Once, she vanished for three days to go hook up with a high school crush she reconnected with on Facebook. We worked at a weigh loss center and she stole supplements. She didn’t bat an eye when I pointed out that my sister, who also worked with us, was stealing cash. When the company hired a supervisor to find out why they were losing so much money, mom threw a temper tantrum and quit. She immediately filed for Social Security Disability based on her bipolar disorder. When I also quit that job, out of a combination of embarrassment and coercion by my husband, she called the police and claimed G was holding me hostage. She tried to use the cops to gain entry into my apartment to take my daughter. It suddenly dawned on me that my mom was actually crazy.

We didn’t speak for months, but I felt guilty not telling her when she had another grandchild on the way, so I sent her a text. Her reply was “Oh. Well I’m in Florida.”

I didn’t expect to hear from her when she returned from visiting her childhood friend in Palm Beach, but I did. It was completely out of character, but she insisted on putting everything I would need for my son on layaway. I told her that it wasn’t necessary and I would buy a little at a time until my due date. She insisted. She said she was doing well financially. She’d gotten her disability benefits and was also buying gold cheap online and selling it. Plus, she’d gotten an under-the-table job at a We Buy Gold place at the mall. She admitted that sometimes when the jewelry was not up to the resale standards of her boss, she’d buy the piece personally and cash it in at one of the places that would just melt it down. She said it wasn’t a problem, since her boss didn’t want those pieces anyway. But soon she was calling me to come cash in her gold for her. She said she was embarrassed going in more than once a day, because people would think she was poor and desperate. And she’d always give me a few bucks for helping her out. I was just grateful to get away from G for a few hours.

It never once dawned on me that mom was sending me in because the gold was stolen. Nor did I consider that as she handed me cash she was neglecting to pay for the layaway of baby things.

Two weeks before my due date, I got a call from my sister saying that mom had written a five page suicide note and then taken off to Florida. As I struggled to process this, it dawned on me to ask about the layaway. My sister thought I was dense. “Oh, she hasn’t paid for that in weeks.” I couldn’t breathe. But why, I asked, why not tell me to pay it with the money she was giving me? Why not tell me to pay it myself, or go buy what I needed? Why? I called my mother to beg her to explain it to me, but she screamed at me that I was being selfish. That I didn’t care about her depression and I only wanted money and material things from her. I reminded her that I never wanted the layaway and she’d assured me that I could count on it. She hung up on me.

She eventually returned, but told me she was madly in love with a man there and would be settling her situation with her husband and moving to Florida for good. She never did. She tried again, unsuccessfully, to gain possession of my daughter by filing a false report with child services. She had no interest in my son. The case worker told me to file harassment charges against my mother. I wrote her a cease & desist letter instead.

The last time I saw her, she’d decided that she never really was bipolar to begin with. She declared herself ADHD and popped Adderall like candy. I don’t know what ridiculous physician was prescribing it to her, but I’m certain that it wasn’t the solution for her mental health. When I confronted her about her mental state, she alternately declared that she wished she’d died instead of my dad, and stated that she’d just never loved me or felt close to me like she did my sisters. I now know that she has all of the signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She will never not be cruel to me.

It took years for my sister to finally tell me the truth about when mom ran away. Mom had written the note and fled, not out of depression, but because her boss had finally realized that she’d stolen over ten thousand dollars from him. When she’d returned months later, it was because her husband had paid off her debts so that she would come back. In typical mom fashion, she was pissed about leaving her Florida boyfriend behind, despite what her husband had done for her.

The last report I got about my mom, from my eldest sister, was that my mom had deteriorated even more. She was broke, living in a house without running water, and an impending shut-off notice for the other utilities. She didn’t have a car. I messaged my mom asking if she needed help. She made it clear that my help wasn’t welcome. Shortly after that, my sister called in a panic saying that our other sister was trying to murder our mom. She said mom was terrified.

It turned out to be a hoax.

There are still people in my life who tell me to talk to my mother. Who remind me that I only get one mom.

Every word of this story is a blade in my heart. My mother has been in steady decline for nearly 20 years now. She is almost 57 years old.

Last year, my eldest sister turned 40. I have watched a repeat of my life play out for my teenaged niece, as she watches her mother spiral out of control. There is no deeper fear in my heart than following this trend. This is why, when I want to give up, give in, run away, escape the torment of my own mind, I keep fighting. I fight for me, for my niece, for my daughters. This will not be our legacy.