There have been very few times in my life that I felt completely alone, even though I spent so much time in my childhood, as a Navy brat, in a new home and new school. Boredom was frequently a companion to be conquered in those days, but the feeling of stark abandonment, the overwhelming feeling that I was all alone in the world, so far has only visited me on three occasions – the day I started college at North Texas State University, the day we moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, and the day I flew to Tulsa to try to rescue my suicidal father.
My overwhelming loneliness on my first day at North Texas State had to do more, I think, with cutting the cord to my mother and my past than to actually arriving at a new place, a place I had never before even visited. The previous weeks had been filled with upheaval. When my mother and I lived in Longview, Texas, we were used going solo without my dad since he had transferred to three Texas cities before we even moved to Longview to join him. Then he transferred to three more. We had lived in Longview for two years, but since I was leaving home for college, my mother decided to go back to Tulsa where she had made so many lifelong friends and felt so comfortable. What I didn’t know was she was divorcing my father and would be living on her own for the first time in twenty years. I knew my father was already back in Tulsa, working for the county health department there, but I didn’t know he was already living with another women, just waiting for the divorce to go through so he could marry for the second time.
Why my parents made all these plans and never told me, I just don’t understand. When my mother told me on our trip back to Tulsa that she and Daddy were getting a divorce, I burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably for the entire journey. Of course, it was the best move she could possibly make after 20 years of living with such an explosive, unpredictable man. In my heart I knew that. But it was a shock, and I was hurt that all these plans had been made without my knowledge. It was a punch in the gut. I immediately began to question whether I should move 350 miles away from my mother, as I had planned, and I offered to stay with her and go to college in Tulsa. But she insisted that I follow through with my plans.
So when my parents drove me from Tulsa to Denton, Texas, unloaded my stuff, and drove away to Longview to pick up their final divorce papers, I sat on my bare mattress in my bare room in my bare dorm in despair. I had met nobody on this campus, including my two roommates who hadn’t yet arrived. I had never felt so lonely, so friendless and abandoned. Where did I go from here? But when I crossed the threshold of that dorm room, I was crossing over into another life, merging into the pod that is a college campus – swarming with like-minded, same-age men and women with similar goals and dreams. There was more fun to be had than ever before – and FREEDOM. This is what I had longed for, so why did I have misgivings, wondering if I had made a gigantic mistake. Of course, by the end of the day, I had met Gladys, who would become my lifelong best friend, my new roommates, and within a few weeks, the man I would eventually marry. That scary hour of two represented an abrupt transition from childhood to adulthood. I realized the cord had to be cut. It was time to grow up.
When we moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, I felt like I was reluctantly leaving behind a cocoon that had kept me safe and warm. When Chandler told me he had to take a post as comptroller of a branch company in Wichita Falls for five years or so in order to move up in his parent company when we returned to the Dallas area, my heart sank. We had lived in our dream home for five years in a neighborhood I loved. I had been a school counselor for five years and planned on moving up from middle school to high school the next year. My mother and stepdad had moved from Salt Lake City the Dallas area to be near us and had proven to be a support system I had yearned for before they settled here. My best friend lived across town, and my church was nearby. Our third child was due. We had laid down roots unlike any I had ever known. I had left my nomad life behind and never wanted to return. So while Chandler was excited for this opportunity, the thought of pulling up my tenuous roots in Irving, Texas,to move to a redneck town in the middle of nowhere, giving up our home and friends, sent me into a downward spin. The fact that it was only a couple hours drive from Irving gave me little solace. Might as well be on Mars. Chandler had to relocate several weeks before our actual move because my doctor didn’t want me to move, and I sure didn’t want to find a new obstetrician just weeks before Chad’s birth. So he left me behind while I took care of two little girls, slowly packed, waddled around in misery, and bombarded him with a litany of complaints when he returned home on Friday night. He couldn’t get out of there fast enough to return to Wichita Falls on Sunday night. Then Chad was born, our beautiful little boy, and our routine continued until he was old enough to make the move.
The day I left for good, with tiny Chad in tow, we stayed at a hotel because the movers wouldn’t arrive till the next day. Mom had the girls and planned to bring them in a few days, and Chandler was out of town on a business trip. We had bought a house that needed a boatload of cosmetic renovation, having been neglected for years. But it was very large, had a great layout and a pool, and we were young and able-bodied. Our plan was to spend a year or so fixing it up, and then sell it at a large profit after the five years or so that we would live there.
The morning I was to meet the movers, it was raining buckets. “How appropriate,” I thought. I hated to even leave the hotel in such a downpour, but I bundled up my newborn, with all his baby stuff, and a couple of suitcases, and headed for the house to wait for the movers. The morning was busy with the movers unloading a houseful of belongings and tending to the needs of a baby, so I didn’t have time to think. But late in the afternoon, after the movers had left, and Chad was down for his long nap, I sat on the couch, looking at all the boxes and the falling rain, and felt an overwhelming sense of desolation and loneliness. A year long depression set in that day and didn’t lift until we moved back home, unexpectedly, 11 months later. During that time, it was all I could do to care for three kids, and try to work on the house. Sometimes I felt a little like a robot – just going through the motions. All I wanted to do was sleep, and I still feel guilty that after I brought Adrienne home from preschool, I parked her in front of the TV and put Chad down so I could drift away for a little while. All the painting and wallpapering we did was actually a kind of therapy. It was mindless. I made a few friends while we were there, but I never really felt at home. I felt as if I was standing with my hands resting on a vast glass wall, and on the other side were all the people going about their day. Though I was calling to them, I was invisible. It wasn't until we moved back to the Dallas area that I breathed again and happily crawled back into that comfortable cocoon.
Finally, the last time I remember feeling totally helpless and alone was the day I arrived at my dad’s house in Tulsa, praying I could keep him from committing suicide.
It was 1984, and we had moved back from Wichita Falls into our new home in Grand Prairie. Daddy had called me a couple of times, telling me that he was very depressed and thinking of going into the hospital. A couple of weeks later I visited him there, but his doctor had tried several different meds, and my dad just wasn’t climbing out of his fog. I questioned the staff allowing him to drink coffee all day, loaded with sugar, since one of his problems was his inability to sleep, but I figured they knew what they were doing. Not long after my visit, he called and said he was being dismissed from the hospital because his insurance was running out. What the hell? That’s criminal! He sounded desperate – at the end of his rope. I begged him to just hang tight and immediately booked a flight for the next day.
When I arrived, my heart dropped. He had lost weight, and his skin just looked gray. Even his gait was different – stooped over and shuffling. I had never seen my dad like this, probably because my mother had shielded me from his depressions in the past, when the Navy had immediately hospitalized him when he became suicidal. All he could do was sit in a chair and hold his head in his hands, repeating that he didn’t think he would ever see daylight again. He was behaving like a small, terrified child. I panicked. What did I think I was going to do? Wave my magic wand? At the time, he was wifeless and girlfriendless; he had long before divorced his second wife and broken off the relationship that had destroyed his marriage, and he had no friends who knew how to help him. He had previously, in desperation, been to Kansas to visit his brother whose solution was to pray, but God was out to lunch apparently, because all their prayers had been for naught. I felt beyond desperate. Here I was with my father’s life in my hands, and I didn’t have a clue where to turn.
The next morning, I took him back to the doctor who had dismissed them, who reaffirmed that they had done all they could do – that nothing seemed to work. I had labelled my dad's illness as “manic depression,” deciding after extensive research that my dad fit the bill. But when I brought up that possibility to this doctor, he dismissed my amateur diagnosis. All the rest of the day, I dragged my dad to every clinic in the phone book, but we were turned away from each one. When I crawled into bed that night, overwhelmed and discouraged, I could no longer hold back my tears. The only solution I could come up with was to take him back home with me. At first, he refused, but when I explained that I had three young kids to take care of, he relented. I called my minister the next morning, he gave me the name of a psychiatrist in Irving he had heard was good, and I made an appointment for the next day. I couldn’t get out of that festering house fast enough.
Maybe those prayers were answered, because Dr. Stuart was a genius. After only a couple of hours, he diagnosed my father as bipolar and prescribed a medication that he said not many doctors used because of its dietary restrictions. Daddy had to go in every day the first week, and thereafter a couple of times a week. At first, my dad just sat around and watched TV in a kind of stupor, but I knew he was at his best he was when he was outside, working with his hands, so off we went to Home Depot, where I assigned him the task of building a playhouse for the kids. He seemed unsure that he could do it, but I insisted, and each day as he became more involved in the plans and construction, his mood lifted a little. When the playhouse was finished, he asked what else he could do, so I bought some paint, and he began to paint the bedrooms. After five weeks, he was almost his old self again, so Dr. Stuart contacted a colleague in Tulsa to continue his treatment, made his last appointment in Irving for the next week, and then dismissed him. We had planned a spring break family vacation before that last appointment, so, feeling confident he was so much better, we left before that last appointment, he painted the Amber’s room, and then he headed back home.
He was doing great. He had been prescribed Lithium to control the manic swings, and was back to his old self – cracking jokes and laughing. He had even met a new love interest, whose name was Ruth, and soon (way too soon), we were going back to Tulsa to attend his third wedding. His coworkers that attended the wedding personally thanked me for saving my dad’s life. Said he was a new man…and he was. I didn’t know it, but he had tossed the lithium, and the depression medicine was doing its job, lifting him right up into another mania.
I was blindsided when he called me several months later, right before my birthday in December, I thought to wish me a happy birthday. But his purpose was to tell me what a sorry, good-for-nothing person I was. I “never” came to see him, “never” invited him here, and when he did come here, I was busy doing other things. He brought up a Christmas visit a few years before when the kids and I were decorating our tree and didn’t pay enough homage to him. He said the only reason I had put him up in my home for six weeks was so he could do chores around my house. He finished his tirade by telling me that he would send the kids gifts for Christmas, but I was not to expect anything from him. The “conversation” ended when I had heard all I could bear and hung up on him. Rose called me soon after and told me he had not meant it, but I simply replied that I didn’t want to see him again unless he was sitting next to me on the psychiatrist’s couch.
Of course I knew he was manic. Of course I knew he was drinking. But his words had cut me to the core. I had done everything I could think of to drag him out of that black hole, and not only had he thrown away all the good that had been accomplished during that time, he had nothing but disdain for me. The nasty vitriol he had once hurled at my mother, was now reserved for me. That was a turning point in our relationship. I realized then that I could not save my father from himself. It was the end of my enabling him to be an asshole and hoping he would change. He apologized some months later, after he had plunged into the inevitable depression that was bound to follow his mania, and after Ruth had left him when she discovered he was not the barrel of laughs she’d married, but I was done trying to please him, even though I knew he was ill. I just couldn't save him from himself.