Jared Steinberg (pen name I.J. Steinberg) is a New England-born multimedia writer whose love of prose and poetry is matched only by his love for deep-dish pizza and Pokémon. Jared is a student of the beats and has read everything from Kerouac to Ginsberg.
On the Spectrum
I never thought I would have one. Most people assume I don’t have one because when they look at me they see a mouth that never shuts and a smile that can either creep you out or invite you into the embrace of an awkward friend hug but then we laugh about it so it’s completely fine and…. sorry I lost my train of thought. Oh right! I never thought I had a mental disorder. I knew my mom had one and I knew I hated her for it. I can’t tell you why I never saw past her drooping eyes and forced smile. I can tell you why I thought she was faking it and why I can’t say I’m sorry to her even though I want to.
I want to for example say that my mom is and always has been a strong person. I can’t though. Even if she kicked an excitable dog’s knees out just to free my hand from its skin-pinching collar, she wasn’t strong. Even if she cradled my airy eight year old head all the while promising me that carbs weren’t that great and that I didn’t need to have fifteen Oreos in my lunch like the other non-diabetic kids, she wasn’t strong. Even when she created a game where all I had to do to win was take the biggest breath I could while those retro fitted ‘healthcare’ needles pierced my skin and then try not to look as I dug them out of my finger tips. If I won the game I got a back scratch and a lullaby. But no she still wasn’t strong. She wasn’t strong enough to tell me why she was still with Dad during the time in which I hated him. Or why she could scream and still be fine the next day, as she still smelled faintly of queso and black beans. It was Mexican night when he decided to throw food at her. I can’t tell you if the police sirens brought me comfort or panic or melancholy or anger. I can tell you that as Mom was being questioned all I could see was Dad’s head poking through the back of the cop’s car seat, and I wanted him back.
I remember when we got Dad back Mom was quietly happy so long as her former friend Sally, the one who called the police in the first place, wasn’t there. For a while Dad was fine. He had those little orange bottles again, bottles that I could never open and were told to never touch. They made him better Mom told me. They make him accept the truth she told me. She still would fight with him though, especially when Bush was in the Oval Office. Dad hated that man, and I hated him too. I told all my friends I hated him because he was stupid. They asked me what I meant by that. I always told them it was what my dad said and he was right about everything. Mom would agree but that mutual disgust didn’t erase their debt during that time, so our red barn of a manor was always held to the torch. So they fought about money, they fought a lot and by some miracle that they would stop long enough for me to bring a friend over I would pull Mom aside with all the strength my arms could bear and tell her to just agree with Dad. I had her to agree with what ever he said. Or if that didn’t work just say it was her period or say she has been a little depressed lately and lost her own orange bottle. I didn’t know what period meant but I knew it made Dad nod his head and bow out before the yelling got too loud. I knew depression meant that Mom got sad but to me it was a coward’s excuse, and it worked.
I can’t tell you if I actually hurt Mom by pulling her to the side. I can’t tell you how good it felt to grip someone’s skin so hard and pull them to your level just to get what you want. I remember how weak she felt when I was telling her to make an excuse out of something she couldn’t help. Her orange bottle was a fancy maraca to me and everything else was just something I could use to get her and Dad to stop fighting. I didn’t want any fighting.
Later on I saw Mom as a different kind of weak, one who didn’t have enough willpower to overcome the very thing I once asked her to exploit. She would mope and cry all because of this thing I thought she could fight. She would swing back and overload my friends and guests with sickly sweet smiles and shaky handshakes whenever she had the chance. At this point she was looking to score happiness. She was a serotonin junkie and my friends and I were her unwilling dealers. Nothing gave her more happiness than I did apparently so she would call me, batter me, restrict and guilt me into whatever she wanted me to do. She didn’t know she was doing it, that’s the kicker. She would say things like “it would mean a lot to me if you,” and then launch into a daily schedule of activities none of which I ever wanted to do. She would show us around the city of New Haven Connecticut, taking her eyes off the road to point and smile wildly as if she had just scored the biggest high of her life. My friends and I would always call her out and she would tell us to relax and have a good time with her. Still, it was never too bad though, until she asked me to turn against Dad and ask him to apologize for throwing a stack of bills at her face. I was there watching the whole thing when Dad threw a flurry of bleach white paper reeking of mailroom glue right into Mom’s chest. I can’t tell you what he said to her when he did that. I can’t say why I still sided with Dad. I must’ve have thought she was manipulating him, that I could simply talk to her later, get her to stop, and Dad would be happy again.
I hated Mom for doing that and I thought she did it all the time. She always apologized for manipulating and said she didn’t mean to. That she was just depressed. I hated that too. I can’t tell you that my Mother was strong because she wasn’t. I can’t tell you my Mother was making excuses because she wasn’t. I can’t tell you how much it hurt when I finally got my non-corrupted clarity and saw just how strong she was.
I made my mother cry talking about suicide being a coward’s way out and saying she should ignore the pain of depression. I sat in my cozy little side of the spectrum and judged. I judged my mother as manipulative, depressed, and weak. I judged my dad as aggressive, scary, and right. I can’t say that I ever really judged myself though. I can’t say if I’d like the ruling. I can tell you that I never bothered to understand my mental familial burden. I can tell you about how much anxiety I have over the thought of needing my own orange bottle. Maybe Mom, Dad, and I can fiddle with them together.