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.Chapter 20.Crossing the Demilitarized ZoneTHE SUMMER AFTER DAD moved out, I spent a month at Camp Birch Ridge.I’d been going to the small camp in the Kittatinny Mountains of northern New Jersey since I was eight.I loved having other kids to play with all day long, and fell into the familiarity of camp routine with deep pleasure, relieved of responsibility by the structured activities.Twice a day we swam in the lake.In the morning there were lessons, in the afternoon free swim.I was proud that by my sixth year at camp I’d advanced to training as a junior lifesaver.I swam a crisp crawl as Paddles, the swimming instructor, yelled directions over a megaphone for a practice rescue of a drowning camper.During archery, I stood with legs apart, bowstring drawn back, my focus keenly narrowed to sight along the arrow.All else fell away as I felt the power of letting the arrow fly, listening to the sharp whap as it landed somewhere near the bull’s-eye of the target.I even took an odd comfort in the dreaded inspections of our quarters, the check for neatly made hospital corners on our cots and clothes folded in our trunks.Every morning, we stood at attention as the flag was unfurled and raised, then in the evening lowered and folded.At dinner, I ate with great gusto camp meals repeated from the same recipes each year, with ice-cold milk doled out by counselors in half-glass refills.And at night around the campfire, there was the group camaraderie as we sang together, flames sparking the dark.That summer, I brought my guitar.I had learned quite a few songs from the class on public television.During free period, I perched on my cot in my unit’s canvas tent, strumming and singing.Other girls joined me, sitting on the opposite cot.I felt almost giddy being at the center of their attention, leading them in song.WHILE I WAS GOING ABOUT my days canoeing and making lanyards, back in Millstone, Mr.Fredrickson noticed that Mom’s car had not moved in the driveway for two days.He went to check on her.I will never know how it was that my mother was still alive, two days after swallowing rat poison.Was there blood, shit, vomit? Was her skin ashen? Did they pump her stomach again, like with the sleeping pills?Some things are beyond bearing, and so sink from consciousness, leaving no memory.When my month at camp ended, my father picked me up.Years later, he reminded me how, on the drive home, he told me Mom had attempted suicide again, that she was in a mental hospital again, but I have blocked that moment out.Dad moved back into the house while Mom was in the hospital, but I can recall none of those first weeks of eighth grade when I lived with Dad.What I do remember is this: I kept my focus elsewhere—on school, narrowing my anxiety to worries about getting my homework done.I coveted straight A’s.This was my mother’s fourth suicide attempt by every lethal means she could think of: the rifle, the river, the pills, and now the rat poison.Hard as she tried, Mom always lived, and the whole possibility of her actually dying seemed unreal to me.I have one cloudy memory of going to visit Mom: There was the buzz of the locked door as Dad and I were admitted to the maximum-security ward, the walk down a long, empty green hall that went on forever and ever, and the smell of Lysol.No memory of my mother, her smell, her embrace; no remembrance of the greeting or the parting.YEARS LATER, MY FATHER told me his part of the story.After the ambulance took my mother to the emergency room, someone called him at work to come to the hospital.When he got there, Gloria was on a gurney in the hall, making incoherent sounds, grunts and groans.Her sister, Rita, was with her, and she stepped toward Abe, blocking him from going close to Gloria.Rita said to him, “Glor wants a divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty!”Dad glared at her, “Whose cruelty? Mine or hers?!”Gloria was now moaning, “Ah, ah, ahhhhhhh!”“Okay, okay,” Dad said, “I’ll agree to it.” He turned and left.Several days later, the hospital called him to come get Gloria and deliver her to the county mental hospital.He was, after all, still the husband, separated or not.As he drove, she sat glumly next to him in the passenger seat.There’s a gap in my memory: Was I out playing with a friend the day that my grandparents drove up with my mother? Or did I greet her as she stepped from my grandparents’ Oldsmobile, and wrap my arms around her? She’d been gone over two months.The adults were having a meeting in the living room, and if I was home, they must have sent me out of earshot.My father listened while Mom’s parents made a proposal: Move back for good, Abe, and raise Karen.My mother had been staying at my grandparents’ since her discharge, but they didn’t want her to keep living with them—I imagine her despair was too great for them.Gloria would be committed to a mental hospital or a halfway house.While my mother was being discussed, she sat mute and unprotesting, as if resigned to a life locked away.My father told me he got mad at her parents and said, “If you do this, it will be the end of Gloria!” He made a counterproposal: Let Gloria move back, and Karen will be with her and look after her, and I will move away again.And that is what they did.AT NIGHT MY VIGILANCE returned as easily as turning on a radio to a pretuned channel.I was programmed to startle awake to any sounds of my mother stumbling down the hall on her bathroom forays.But during the day, my interests were elsewhere; I was swept up in eighth grade, homework, piano practice, playing guitar, and riding my bike the several miles to my new best friend Theresa’s house.Theresa had long, dirty-blond hair that she chewed on, a tall, chunky body, and a great smile.Best of all, she was very bright and like I did, loved art.We had animated conversations about books and artists we liked, and ideas we were batting around in our heads.Barbie and I had drifted apart, our friendship lost to her obsession with her looks and with dating boys.So it was amazing to find another girl who was intellectual.We talked about all kinds of things—except, of course, my mother’s depression and what it was like for me to live alone with her.Theresa lived in a small cottage with her many siblings and both parents.Because her house was crammed with people, to get privacy we would walk out into the empty fields near her house, or along the railroad tracks.Immersed in conversation, under the big sky, with clouds scudding overhead, I would feel big and expansive, my body vibrating with energy.I had never felt such freedom and joy in sharing my thoughts with another girl.NOT LONG AFTER MOM came home, she heard about a doctor who practiced alternative medicine.He kept wacky hours, seeing patients at his office in Trenton from midnight to six in the morning [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]