Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's like Standing Naked in Public

I have decided to peel off my skin.  What follows is a small excerpt from my current project, still in draft mode. . . but I'm throwing it out there while I finish my next blog.  Here goes:

“Why the hell would you do that?” Jack’s voice cracked as it went up an octave in shock.  Syd smiled, she figured her brother would react this way to her news that she was moving back to Michigan and living their old home.  Jack was five years younger than Syd and in their youth had been an entire generation behind.  When Syd was into her teen years, experimenting with alcohol, spending weekends uptown shopping with girls and sneaking boys in the basement, Jack was still a little boy.  His attention was on cartoons, super heroes and sports.  His big sister was an irritation he had to endure.  And, he reacted by withdrawing, hiding, and creating a cadre of imaginary frineds for which he was often found speaking to when alone in his room, or sitting in the fourth floor dormer.  It wasn’t a behavior Sydney took particular notice of, chalking it all up to his being a creepy little brother.   But when she left for college, the teutonic plates of her family shifted.  Her mother always said the energy was realigning, but what was really happening was, she was now slowly going crazy.  
It began with her paintings.  Her subject matter moved from botanicals to free forms that look like moving amebas  on the canvas.  Sometimes her work involved specific images embedded into the free forms and sometimes it seemed, to Jack, to look like big blobs of paint.  She increasingly withdrew, spending large amounts of time, closed up in the studio their father had made for her in the basement.  Even that had been tolerable, but then she started talking to herself, asking Jack if he, too, saw the people around her.  He said didn’t and had to force his father to see what was happening, beg him to do something to help his mom.  His father, ever the pragmatist, had her committed.  A normal person would have been mortified to be placed in a mental hospital, but their mother seemed to relish the place.  She made friends with the patients, taking them under her wing, giving art lessons and thriving.  When their father retired, he wanted to move the family to Florida, but their mother refused to leave Michigan, refused to leave the hospital even, so he quietly paid the bills each month and she quietly lived out her days in the omni room of the Oakland County mental health facility named for the street it was located; a private hospital tucked away on Lone Pine Road near the Cranbrook Institute and Kirk-in-the-Hills.  Syd visited her mom at Lone Pine every few months, usually staying in a nearby hotel, and was always relieved that her mother’s state remained constant.  She was happy.  She was living in an elevated reality of happiness, art and love, in a place that allowed her to do so.  It wasn’t often that she bothered to ask about her husband, how he was or even where, although Syd had told her many times that dad was living on Longboat Key in Florida.  Her mother did inquire about Jack and often lamented his lack of communication.  She seemed to believe he was still 12, still a little boy and asked if Syd might bring him on her next visit.  No matter how gently Syd reminded her mother that Jack was in Florida, he was 23 and unable to make a visit, her mother seemed to tune it out, recalling instead Jack at 12, playing basketball in the driveway, little league ball and skateboarding.  He was perpetually 12, the age he had been when she started to see people, hear voices, and paint violence.  Syd had thought the paintings were grotesque.  Flowers had been her mother’s subject for years, but gradually her flowers began to take on human form, faces in the petals, fingers in the leaves.  The flowers were twisted on their stems as if slowly, painfully turned until just before snapping.  Blood dripped from the twisted, pained, stems and spurted from the petals, resembling tears.  Disturbing.  They were disturbing paintings her mother had, according to her father and brother, become obsessed with painting--variations of the same theme, the human qualities becoming more pronounced with each new piece of work.  Syd had only seen the work sporadically, when she came home from college on breaks and even then, while she recognized that her mother was slipping into a deranged alter world, she chose to ignore it, chalking it up to creative whim.    Her father had driven to East Lansing to deliver his plan in person.  He was retiring, he was moving to Florida, Jack would finish school there and their mother was being admitted to Lone Pine.  He was matter-of-fact, but calming and careful in his delivery so, somehow, this seemed like the best thing for everyone.  Syd knew her mom was in bad shape, but it was going to be alright, her father said so. 

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