Love cures people – both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it. Anonymous
Dave and I became friends while working together for five years for the State of California before I resigned to attend graduate school. Then we re-discovered each other when I was divorcing in 1980 after graduate school and dated for a year and a half before breaking up under the pressures of my single parenting and Dave’s entrance into night law school. During our year and a half of dating, I made sure not to count on him or let him have much say in my struggling little family. We spent four years apart, both of us trying out other relationships, until I read Jared’s scrawled message on a piece of torn newspaper, “Dave called.”
It was 1986. I’d never expected to see Dave again, though Jared and Chad hadn’t forgotten the camping trips, the movies, and the dinners we’d shared before. Every time I drove over I-5 and passed his Northgate freeway exit, I wondered where and how he was, but I kept in mind his “rolling stone” reputation. Dave had never married or had children, and none of his friends expected he ever would. The chances that he’d stick with me and my kids reeling from one challenge to the next looked little to none.
Still, I was excited to return Dave’s call. My stomach sank when he told me, “I’m relocating to Southern California to be closer to my aging parents and to start an international law practice. I wanted to tell you good-by.”
We met for lunch at our favorite Whole Earth Restaurant. I made sure to look my best in my brown fuzzy dress with the blue silk sash. Dave showed up in his usual crisp dress shirt, slacks and polished loafers. I’d always liked that he’d been a good dresser.
While I barely nibbled on my vegetarian lunch, Dave and I reviewed all we’d gone through since our break-up. I felt we’d both grown. Perhaps we might be ready for a healthy relationship based on mutual maturity and trust. Certainly, the attraction, the chemistry we’d always had still sizzled between us.
The next few months, while we renewed our dating relationship, Dave continued to make plans to move. Well, if this is all I get, I told myself, I’m just going to enjoy it. Chad and Jared were happy to see Dave again. My family problems continued though. Jared wasn’t doing better in the private school I’d enrolled him in. Neither Jared nor I understood the Scientology terminology they used. Chad continued to earn independent high school credits, but most of the day he was free to follow whatever undesirable opportunities presented themselves.
With my burn-out from a crisis caseload at work, continuing ex-husband conflict, and lack of extended family support, my challenges seemed never-ending — poor grades, discouraging teachers, principals who predicted the worst, indications of drug use, bad examples from my kids’ friends with even worse problems. I dropped a hint to Dave. “Maybe it would be better to get them out of Sacramento.”
Not long after, Dave took my hands in his. “I think we should all move down to Southern California, if you want to go.”
“Yes, we’ll come. Yes.” I folded into his arms, ruffling his soft hair.
Dave’s decision to take on my complicated family baggage was honed on the gritty stone of his disengaged family of origin that inspired his massive caretaking efforts. My great good fortune is that he turned those efforts on me, his pixie, as he fondly described me.
I learned Dave had grown up in a family of six, none of whom got the attention, support, and nurturing they needed. He wanted more connections with his nieces and nephew and siblings, but his now deceased parents set a family pattern of detachment that continued through the generations. He was cheated out of so many family connections.
His childhood, like mine, led him to adopt caregiving as a survival mode. Dave became an expert at supporting people in pain and I gave him plenty of opportunities to practice his craft.
He told me he saw no reason to bring more children into the world; certainly not his own. He inherited mine; a complicated brood indeed. Chad, the incipient outlaw who pulled Metallica and Iron Maiden muscle shirts over his slim, tall frame, wrapped leather, silver-studded bracelets around his wrist, and dyed his thick long hair a brassy, gorgeous gold. Chad’s high school principal predicted a future for him of life in prison.
Jared’s withdrawn, uncommunicative behavior made him hard to reach. No one yet understood that he had a serious brain disorder.
I packed up my brood and joined Dave in our little Los Angeles apartment. He’d stocked the fridge with a quart of milk, a small jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, one package of frozen vegetables, and a box of fish sticks. Gazing at my ravenous teenagers, I returned his warm hug and wondered if he had any idea what he’d gotten himself into.
The palm trees swayed in the ocean breeze in West LA, providing a soothing atmosphere, but Jared soon bombed out of his new school, resulting in calls from truancy officers, police, reports from Jared himself saying, “I wanted to buy marijuana from him, but he held a gun to my head.” Finally, Jared’s therapist recommended we send him to a residential treatment facility in Utah run by Mormons.
“He can’t run away from there,” the therapist assured us. “Not like residential in LA. He’d just hop on a bus here.”
Jared, looking eager for a change, got on the plane and spent a year in rural Utah, where his excitement soon changed to disappointment. Still, he seemed to be improving, or at least safe. Meantime, Dave and I made a Thanksgiving trip in 1987 to Las Vegas, where we got married in the coral-colored room in The Chapel of Love. After a visit home for Christmas, Jared went back to his previous high school. The school psychologist called me at work.
“Your son has schizophrenia. He’s been hearing voices for years.”
Schizophrenia – a neurobiological/psychological disorder usually characterized by auditory hallucinations, inability to separate reality from delusions, confusion, lack of motivation, inability to follow goal-oriented action or to experience pleasure, social withdrawal, inattention, apathy, and more. These symptoms fit Jared. No wonder he hadn’t done well for years and what were his voices telling him?
I closed my office door, roiled with shock. At least we had a diagnosis. I remembered how five-year-old Jared had shown me a little book he’d drawn one day, and I recalled puzzling at his words that seemed so profound. “Mom, sometimes I think life is a book and God is reading it to me.” I also recalled how young Jared would suddenly burst out with piercing screams. What inner noises had he been trying to drown out?
Jared and I began weekly visits to Neuropsychiatric Institute of LA and anti-psychotic drugs he hated. There were psychiatric hospitalizations, six months at Camarillo State Hospital, board and care, home management, and enormous bills. Everything had to be prioritized around Jared’s needs. Jared’s seventh- grade teacher had described him as “an advanced self-taught artist,” but three years later, he required heavy duty medications to quiet the voices in his head. His illness took all our energy and most of our money.
Dave, my endlessly supportive husband, and I have endured fourteen years of chronic crisis since Jared’s diagnosis. Only recently has Jared become cooperative and medically compliant, allowing us to begin to focus on our other goals.
Dave, the “rolling stone,” the one who never wanted kids, stuck with me and his two stepsons. He put aside his dreams of international law practice, shared his earnings and inheritance for Jared’s care, joined in special education and private school meetings, and participated in multitudes of problems that arose with lack of services, unavailable hospital beds, out-of- home placements, and drastically inadequate insurance coverage. He didn’t turn away from Jared’s pain or mine.
We’d had a plan for months to visit Kauai, but Jared seemed too sick to go. On the phone, I made desperate calls to the LA County Mental Health Crisis Team, begging for help to get Jared into the hospital. Dave was soothing Jared by helping him bake brownies. The chocolate aroma filled our apartment in the middle of our night’s crisis, but the Crisis Team feared Jared was dangerous and wouldn’t come. The Police Department said he wasn’t dangerous, so they wouldn’t come either. In the morning, Dave and I concluded it couldn’t be any worse in Hawaii, so we dragged ourselves and Jared to the airport and boarded the Delta Flight. Dave and I had Scotch for breakfast and Jared stretched out across three seats and slept the whole way. When we returned, Jared’s teacher said he wanted to send all his students to Hawaii. Jared was so much better.
Dave, the heart and spiritual seeker, the one who read Buddhist sutras on love and compassion and had received so little love himself growing up, stayed with me. We recognized our mutual childhood hungers for love and nurturing. We saw each other’s maturity and wisdom struggling to emerge. We struggled to offer it to each other. Somehow, we held onto each other and held together onto something bigger than ourselves, believing love could hold it all together if we didn’t give up.
Dave proved himself to be the “world’s best stepfather” With his assistance, Chad, my rebellious teenager, turned from larceny to a legal, hard-working lifestyle. Chad referred to Dave as “a great stepfather.” Jared, whose brain disease drained us emotionally and financially, became compliant and largely stable. When people asked if Dave had any children of his own, I only-half joked that “a Higher Power, probably a female one, cursed Dave and gave him mine.” As the years have gone by, my sons have become Dave’s family, too. They love and respect Dave.
There were times we barely made it. Dave tried the soft approach with both boys, and when that didn’t work, he tried the strong “male” one. He and Jared got into a shoving match in our narrow apartment hall. Dave threatened Chad, saying nobody would care about him if Chad didn’t show he cared about us. When Jared stole Dave’s silver dollar coin collection to fund marijuana, he apologized. Dave forgave him. Chad started to help more, and Jared became more respectful.
In 1995, we relocated to Northern California, badly in need of financial security. Dave returned to his state job as a governmental program analyst and ultimately, an attorney. I closed my Southern California private psychotherapy practice and got employed at Kaiser Permanente Out-Patient Psychiatry Department as a psychiatric therapist. We bought a modest home in Davis and turned it into a cozy nest.
Chad married his girlfriend, Tonya, and they had our beloved granddaughter, Terra Linda. After they divorced, Chad and his new lady partner, Marcia, became the primary parents for Terra. I learned that Marcia was a first/birth mother who’d lost her daughter to adoption, too. “Marcia grew up in Texas. Her father was crazy, too,” Chad told me.
“I was only fifteen, when I gave up my baby,” Marcia told me. “Back then, I just thought it was a problem I had to get rid of, but now I wish I could find her.”
One more connection to adoption. I felt my long-ago experience was sticking to me and my family.
6. Bad Girls
And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more. Erica Jong
For four months since talking to Cathy, I’ve felt lashed to a powder keg of dynamite that may injure me if it blows up and may hurt even more if it doesn’t. Heavy ropes of hope, fear, and longing chafe and tie me in knots. I try to keep up with my demanding job, family, and friends, while thoughts of my upcoming planned visit to Gladney grip me. I obsess walking up the Kaiser Psychiatry Department halls to collect my psychotherapy patients. At home, I fight to stay focused on Dave while he talks about work and we prepare dinner. In phone calls with Chad or Jared, I try to concentrate on their news. Questions race through my mind like monkeys leaping from one branch to the next in a dark forest.
Will Cathy find my son?
Will he want my letter?
Will he like it?
Will he answer?
Is he even still alive!?
Back then, the sign read: The Edna Gladney Home for Unwed Mothers. That June 1964, I’d trudged up the hot concrete steps and tugged open the heavy door. Like the name, the building looked old-fashioned. Ornate trim dressed the upper story and the broad front girth and wide windows leant an imposing quality. The massive feeling that the building exuded seemed appropriate for the weighty secret I carried into it.
Back then, Gladney hid us mothers, really girls. “Bad girls;” that’s what we were. “She’s gone and gotten herself pregnant.” That’s how people talked about us then, as if it didn’t take a boy at all. The father of my baby didn’t have to sign any papers, didn’t have to consent. Gladney didn’t even ask his name. He was irrelevant. I gave away our son without a word from him, except to encourage me toward adoption. Adoption was Gladney’s solution, too; the only one for the shame our whole culture tarred us with then.
Now I’ll be meeting Cathy after visiting with my father and my brother, Steve. Even phoning Cathy felt like time travel back to a place it would be safer to avoid. What if my search proves as harrowing as my experience thirty-six years ago?
7. Freshman Year
The only source of knowledge is experience. Albert Einstein
When I began at East Texas State College as a freshman, I suddenly felt released from the unrelenting farm duties during my high school years, like a prisoner who’s paroled, not fully free of the justice system but not behind bars either. Like a prisoner who has been over-controlled by harsh guards, I was ready to rebel from my mother’s over-protectiveness and especially from the grim atmosphere created by my father.
Dating boys my mother would have called “wild,” drinking beer they hid under blankets at loud football games and letting them touch me under those blankets seemed so exciting. I loved going out with a tall, dark-haired Phi Delta Theta fraternity boy and getting drunk on Everclear punch at his fraternity parties. I became the favored girlfriend of a sandy-haired, popular tennis player on campus. I relished the camaraderie with the other cloistered girls in our dorm when the housemothers ordered us to stay in our rooms and bolted the dormitory door, warning us against the hormone-crazed college boys outside intent on a panty raid. We peeked out our upper-story window at the clusters of laughing, bellowing boys and wished we could throw our pink, lace-trimmed panties out to them.
If my school friends from elementary and high school had seen me as the insecure goody-goody misfit I felt myself to be, my new college friends offered me a fresh start. That was the year I started to have fun for the first time. I loved being roommates with Ellen.
Ellen, slim with pale freckled skin and short red hair, was fun, friendly, and unabashedly sexual with her broad-chested West Texas boyfriend. I visited her home and practiced the ‘barnyard dance’ she taught me.
“You scrape first your left and then your right foot across the floor while you imagine sweeping cow patties out of the way,” she explained, while her boyfriend, Dan, offered us swigs from the pint of Johnny Walker he kept tucked into his right back pocket.
I envied Ellen’s good fortune in coming from the “wet” part of Texas where we could sneak a beer during the rodeo events that preceded the dance. The ice-cold beer seemed to cut through the congestion of white dust thrown up by the horses’ heels as their slim riders chased after steers in the ring. The cattle tossed their heads, eyes bulging, trying to escape the riders’ coiled, spinning ropes thrown over their heads.
“Billy Bob Murphy riding Apollo,” blared the voice of the loudspeaker. “Three seconds and that steer is down!”
I was repressed, naïve, chronically anxious, quiet, studious, and gullible. Ellen was uninhibited and loved country music. Ellen told me about her sexual encounters with Dan and how to prevent pregnancy by douching with a Coke bottle filled with water. I wanted to be more like her. She seemed more interested in getting her M.R.S. degree than in worrying about the grades my mother wrote were important.
It was Ellen I wanted to be close to. In truth, I had a crush on her. She and I visited nearby small lakes, laying out our bright-colored towels on dry, gravel beaches. We had marathon study sessions, made possible by the “diet pills” the doctors gave out freely then. We compared notes on how little we’d eaten during these all-night stints and how flat our stomachs were as a result, then dashed to classes and filled in test answers with jumpy fingers and dry eyes.
On Sundays, we slept in and awoke ravenous at 4 p.m. Bed hair plastered to our heads, we’d take off to the Plantation Restaurant and gorge ourselves on platters of hot fried chicken, small ceramic bowls of canned green beans, corn niblets, and piles of mashed potatoes. We buttered the white rolls till they dripped yellow down our light, open-necked blouses.
Afterwards, we’d succumb again to our teenage bodies’ cravings for sleep. Lying in our bunk beds, me on the lower and Ellen on the higher, night fell listening to the wails of George Jones’ plaintive voice singing “She Thinks I Still Care.”
My senior year of high school, our Howe Methodist Youth Fellowship group had made an epic trip to New York and Washington, D.C.
“Can I go?” I asked my mother, imagining my father’s angry refusal to spend money. A few days later, my mother returned with good news. I could join my church group for the trip.
I flew in a jumbo jet for the first time, gazing down from the plane window awestruck at the lights of New York City stretching endlessly under the plane’s wing. We visited Chinatown, the United Nations, and then the Russian Embassy in New York. We took the train to Washington, DC and visited the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the White House.
That year, Lyndon Johnson from our great state of Texas was Vice-President under President John Kennedy. Vice-President Johnson invited our church group to his impressive office. I stared at his craggy face, his bushy eyebrows over intense eyes. I had heard rumors about this powerful older man. “Let’s line up for a picture before we leave,” one of our leaders instructed. Johnson looked over to where I stood at the end of the front row.
“I want to stand next to that pretty one,” he said, placing himself at my side as the camera clicked.
I discovered next fall it wasn’t only Lyndon Johnson who thought I was pretty. Popular college boys who wanted to do more than stand by me asked me out. I finally grasped the latent power I had in my prettiness and burgeoning sexuality. Maybe I felt worthless inside, but they didn’t know it. I needed to be wanted. My mother’s letters exhorted me to preserve my virtue. “No good man will marry you if you’re not a virgin,” she warned me.
In the dorm, girls debated when to “go all the way.” Many already had. We heard boys would make vulgar jokes about popping their girlfriends’ “cherries.” That freshman year, I let an insistent cowboy convince me to go all the way. Intimations of the illicit activities my mother counselled me against were mounting. I was discovering that they felt good. Still, after that, my freshman year, I limited my boyfriends to deep tongue kisses and heavy petting.
8. Back Home
In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. Charles Dickens
At the foot of the escalator in the baggage claim area at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport stands Steve, my brother, as tanned, slim, and muscular as he’d been when he was twenty. He seems the happiest I’ve ever seen him. He looks good wearing the jeans and plaid shirt he must have thrown on before dashing to his pick-up to come get Jared and me. With his thatch of blond hair and eye-catching features, everyone says he looks like Robert Redford. As Jared and I begin descending the airport escalator, Steve lifts his hand in a casual wave. I take a deep breath and pray the week will go well, or, at least not end up a catastrophe.
I know Steve has weathered a lot of disappointments. He’d wanted for a long time to return to farming. He’d gotten a degree in Accounting at North Texas State, but office work never suited Steve. Selling real estate in Denver had left him frustrated and dissatisfied. Now estranged from his former girlfriend and cut out of her son’s life, I’m happy Steve can be back on the farm. “I couldn’t come back to Texas until Daddy was too weak to get out into the pastures with me,” he’d told me.
Steve turns off the farm-to-market road toward the house my father built and we grew up in. I glance toward the tumbling down old building on the corner that used to be the Cassidy Store. Before we were the first family in the area to get our own Philco television, we went to Cassidy’s and sat on sweet-smelling hay bales to watch their black and white TV. Gathering with local men in overalls and work boots, their wives in house dresses and their excited children running around barefoot, thrilled me. I was sorry when my father brought home the big box and set up our own solitary 20-inch television.
Looking back, perhaps my father splurged on that revolutionary new device intending to please us kids. It sure made us happy those Saturday mornings spent lying prone on the carpet with our faces cupped in our hands to watch Lassie and Sky King.
As Steve drives the last mile on White Mound Road, I remember how the school bus used to drop us off at the Cassidy corner, then continue on its route. As we walked home, I’d searched the ditches for crimson and orange Indian Paintbrush, Bluebonnets, and Goldenrod wildflowers to clutch in my fist and take home to my precious mother. She’d put them in a mason jar of water, then hand me an ice-cold bottle of my favorite Hire’s Root Beer. I’d force my tense jaw to open and let the sweet liquid ripple relief down my throat. I liked school, but many of my classmates jeered at my good grades and resented my Teacher’s Pet status. I wished the teacher wouldn’t put me in charge whenever she left the classroom. Once, I joined the other kids jumping out of our seats and chattering in a wild group. Mrs. Morton opened the door and remonstrated me. “Linda, I’m surprised at you!” I slunk back to my seat, my brief foray into childish hijinks squelched.
Approaching our house, I glance towards Steve and see his jaw tighten. Even with the cheerful jazz playing on the Sirius channel, seeing my father’s John Deere tractor in the field causes a familiar dread to overwhelm me. I wonder if Steve feels the same.
My father is in his eighties now. Daddy recently spent a couple of weeks in the hospital after trying to castrate a bull calf in the field and being thrown violently to the ground. He lay in the pasture till help arrived. The doctor must have gotten fed up enough with Daddy’s constant orders to have put him on an anti-depressant. Now Daddy sounds a little more docile, at least on the phone.
We pull up the gravel driveway to a cacophony of barking from Steve’s German Shepherd and large white Great Pyrenees. “Hello-o-o,” Daddy’s gruff voice greets us as we drag suitcases up the concrete steps.
The metal porch door bangs our arrival. My father’s pink face is still smooth above the rosy triangle below his throat where the sun had outlined the V-neck of his shirts during those stifling days bouncing on the tractor seat.
My father leans over the washing machine that sits at the boundary of the kitchen and the living room. He points the TV remote toward the now 40-inch RCA television blaring a football game. Avoiding eye contact, he directs his eyes to the game, clicking the remote from one station to the next.
“What’s Chad up to?” Daddy asks. “How’s Terra?”
“Terra’s doing well,” I tell him, “growing up fast.”
“That girl’s smart,” he pronounces.
He doesn’t ask about me. I don’t volunteer. Once, when I told him I’d been hired for my first master’s level social work job, he’d blurted, “Why would they hire you?”
Daddy turns his attention to the football game. “Get Jared something to eat!” he orders. The subtle softening in his voice signals he is as close as he ever comes to joking. “That boy looks hungry!” He smiles a rare mischievous smile and points at Jared, who flashes a smile back.
It seems whenever I walk past Daddy sprawling in his electric recliner in the living room, he barks orders. “Linda, get me the newspaper.” “Take this dish.” “Ah, run the dishwasher.” “Warm up this coffee.” “Did you get me some bread?” He’s never smiling. I hold back my irritation, not wanting to make any waves, trying to maintain the peace with him and my brother.
Growing up, Daddy was always impatient. “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” and “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” my father shouted. Like a garden hose stuck on “jet,” his orders were a continual stream of pressure. Every night I dreaded his clomping onto the porch, throwing his raggedy straw hat and leather work gloves onto the clothes dryer, and tramping into the kitchen in his bib overalls. I watched my mother’s face tighten and knew she felt the same, both of us searching for clues to forecast Daddy’s mood by paying attention to his scowl, how tightly drawn were his eyebrows, how grim the line of his mouth.
One night, when I was four or five, I forgot to pay attention. My Crayolas and coloring book were spread out on the maple kitchen table where I perched on bare knees in the chair, coloring. My father’s beefy hand swept across the table with no warning, scattering the wax crayons onto the linoleum floor. My mother, in front of the stove, stood frozen until Daddy stomped past. “Get down and pick them up,” she spoke, her voice low and cautious.
Not long after, I found my mother standing at the yellow Formica counter dusting flour and patting out soft biscuit dough. “Mama, why is Daddy so mean?” I asked.
I still can see the concern etched in her face. She paused, wiping her hands across her apron. “Because he’s sick,” she replied, her eyes trained on mine.
Jared and I inch through the six-day visit. One night I walk barefoot into the kitchen and almost step on a scorpion whose waxy translucent body and curled tail are almost invisible on the beige linoleum. Another time my father surprises me as I bring him dinner, raising his hand and clasping mine, squeezing it in a wordless gesture of affection.
Steve hurries in and out to the fields to look after crops and cattle. One day he drives me to the pasture. His pick-up jounces and bounces over the uneven hillocks. Round green patches dot the grass where cattle urinated. Steve jumps out to open the barbed wire gate that confines his huge shaggy bull whose clipped horns stick straight out over big ears from which dangle yellow tags. The bull and I stare at each other until I feel my bladder about to give out.
“Sorry, Steve, but I really need to go pee!”
“Go ahead. He won’t hurt you.”
I’m not so sure. I climb down from the high seat and circle to the other side of the pick-up, while Steve keeps watch.
“How much do bulls cost, Steve?” I ask as we leave.
“Too much,” he says, “Three to five thousand isn’t uncommon.” He lowers his head, twists it to the side, and raises it again. I remember I’ve watched him make this neck motion for thirty-seven years, ever since he smashed face-first into the steering wheel, driving Mama in the accident that killed her.
What does my brother think about out here all day alone?
 Dina Cagliostro, Ph.D., “Schizophrenia Symptoms and Diagnosis,” Psycom, Accessed 2/19/19, https://www.psycom.net/schizophrenia