The Forgotten Ones
I caught a glimpse of my mother staring out the den window. She held her violin loosely under her chin, and the bow dangled from her fingertips. Her jaw was slack, her eyes locked on something in the trees beyond me. I knew that haunted expression. I froze.
I swallowed hard as her eyes shifted to me. The violin fell from her chin, and I could see her bottom lip trembling.
I should have been used to that reaction from her when she saw me during an episode. It happened every time. But I wasn’t.
I flew into the house as fast as my feet would carry me. The screen door crashed behind me as I came to a halt outside the den. My mother clutched fistfuls of her blonde hair, garbled words spilling from her lips.
“I have to. I have to go out there,” she said. “He’s waiting for me.”
She stood in the semi-darkness, mumbling, the only other sound the hum of the ceiling fan. I clung to the doorjamb as I watched my grandmother approach carefully. She placed her hands on my mother’s shoulders, and on contact my mother’s body stopped quaking. Gram crooned, rocking her back and forth, as she pulled her into her arms and led her away from the window.
My stomach tightened, and I backed away to leave them alone. If she saw me again, who knew what would happen.
I cringed as the floor creaked beneath me, and she jerked her head in my direction. Her eyes widened when she saw me, and the shaking began again. Breaking away from my grandmother, she stumbled backward toward the window. She raked her fingers down her face and hair as she moaned. “Liam…” Tears streamed down her cheeks, causing thick strands of hair to stick to her face.
I entered the room slowly, desperate not to step on another squeaky floorboard. Her green eyes burned into mine, and I locked my eyes on hers. No matter how many times she fought my attempts to soothe her, I had to keep trying. She was my mom.
I reached for her shoulders. “Mom,” I whispered. “It’s just me.”
She flinched. I knew she recognized me. I’d never met my father, but under my mattress I hid the only scrap I could find with his image on it. The picture—a strip of them actually—was taken before I was born in a photo booth in Ireland. I looked just like him. Considering how she often spoke his name when she was like this, my gut told me that she saw my father in me.
She writhed as I touched her and clawed at my hands. Gurgling sounds came from somewhere deep in her throat, but I knew she was still saying my father’s name. I placed my hands gently over hers, my gaze steady, as though approaching a wounded animal. I took deep, soothing breaths the way Gram had taught me.
I could feel the weight of Gram’s stare, watching as I got closer than ever to my mother actually letting me comfort her. I focused on my mom, ignoring the panic rising in my chest.
“Shh..you’re okay,” I said. “You’re okay.” I repeated it over and over, softly, until her breathing became even, more normal. It felt like hours, but the tension in her fingers loosened eventually as she stopped trying to resist me.
My grandmother walked out of the room as I continued to make shushing sounds, the panic in my mother’s eyes fading. I couldn’t see it, but I knew Gram was probably smiling, at least a little.
I exhaled and led my mother to the couch. The same woman who had just been in the throes of a schizophrenic episode was now completely unresponsive as she sat.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Gram standing just outside the doorway. I released my mother’s hands—she’d stay that way for a while, and there was nothing any of us could do—and got up to follow Gram down the hallway to the kitchen. The air wafted toward me as she moved, smelling like oranges and cloves—familiar and comforting.
I opened the refrigerator, snagged a bottle of water, and slouched down at the kitchen table. I tried to smile as I unscrewed the cap, but inside I was struggling with the gratification of being able to bring my mother down from her episode versus the pang of guilt for being the one who caused her condition in the first place. Before I was born, she’d been a bright, happy college student. Her spiral into schizophrenia didn’t start until I showed up.
She had met my father during her last year of college. She had traveled to Ireland for her final semester to study music at Trinity College in Dublin. She’d been fine when she left, I’m told, but when she came back she was
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