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It wasn’t until I started going to visit Dad during the summer that I realized maybe our life wasn’t so normal. Maybe the whispering townspeople were onto something.

It turned out that cleaning the outside windows of the house during a storm wasn’t the normal thing to do. Mom was convinced that using nature’s rain was the only way to truly get the windows clean, though. If I didn’t clean them well enough, she thought I didn’t love her.

So she panicked.

She started talking about voices in her head, claiming they were real. She started seeing things that weren’t there.

Denise later told me it was called schizoaffective disorder. I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded scary enough to make me worry.

Mom was put on medicines to help her troubled thoughts, and it worked for a long time. She wasn’t as afraid of things. She was my mom again—kind of. She smiled a lot less, but she said the voices were gone.

Then she stopped taking the pills because she thought she was better.

She wasn’t.

I also learned that it wasn’t normal to be a kid with no friends. When I was nine and Dad asked me if I had a birthday party that past year, I said yes. When he asked how many friends came, I said two. Mom and Denise. If I asked Mom if I could join a sports team, she thought I didn’t love her. She had these fixed beliefs that if I were to find friends, it would mean I’d betrayed her.

So she panicked.

She took her medicine again for a little while, until she thought she was better again.

She wasn’t.

The first time I forgot to say my prayers at night, she had a panic attack. She told me she was dying and it was because I didn’t tell God thank you. She told me God spoke with her and was angry and going to take it out on her because of my mistake. I remembered crying over her, begging her to breathe. Just breathe, Mama. I’d dialed 9-1-1 and when they came, she had already calmed down.

It was one of the first memories I had of her.

Just breathe, Mama.

* * *

“Mom, relax,” I sighed into the phone receiver as I sat on top of Dad’s rooftop. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to Mom because I could tell by the tone of her voice that she wasn’t completely with me. I heard her sounds, but it wasn’t really her. She was so far gone I wondered if she—my real mom—was ever going to come back.

“Don’t you miss me, Levi? Why won’t you come home?”

Because I don’t want to see you like this.

“You know I’m figuring things out with Dad,” I lied. “We’re getting pretty close,” I lied again.

Dad started drinking this afternoon, and he hadn’t really stopped. He received a call in his office earlier, and I guess it wasn’t the call he was expecting, because right after he hung up, he started drinking. I’d never seen him drunk before. He was currently pacing the backyard, muttering to himself with a beer in his hand, kicking around lawn chairs and anything else he could get close enough to. He was wasted off his ass.

I’d told him earlier that he probably shouldn’t have been drinking so much seeing as how he was getting chemotherapy the next day, but he told me to fuck off and mind my own business. I guessed I wasn’t getting those driving lessons he’d offered me anytime soon.

“Just come home,” Mom cried into the phone. “You aren’t being reasonable.”

“How’s Denise doing? Has she been by to see you?” I asked, changing the subject. I already knew the answer to my question. Denise called me earlier this week, telling me that she worried about Mom not taking her medicine. I could tell that she hadn’t been too, seeing how I’d been getting more and more late night calls from her. Denise wanted Mom to check into some mental health complex for a few weeks, but Mom wouldn’t. She believed she was fine. Sometimes I wondered if Mom would ever really get the help she needed. Denise said all we could do was pray—but I’d been praying for help since I was five, and nothing so far had changed.

“She’s still with that sleazeball Brian. Can you believe that? I don’t like him,” Mom said, snapping me from my thoughts.

Of course she didn’t. The only guy I’d ever known her to like was me.

“I don’t want to be here alone anymore, Levi,” she whispered, making me feel bad.

“Mom, have you been taking your medicine?”

“Those don’t work for me anymore. And now that you’re gone, I’m all alone. Did you know that? I’m all alone.”

My stomach tightened, and I pinched the bridge of my nose. Of course she wasn’t taking her medicine. “Don’t say things like that.”

“Why not?”

“Because they fucking piss me off, you know that.” Maybe. Maybe she knew that.

“Levi Myers, do not speak to me like that. You’re sounding more and more unlike yourself.”

You mean sane?

We talked about pointless things until I forced myself to tell her I had to hang up.


“Yes, Mom?”

“I love you till the end.”

I echoed her words, but then I felt bad because sometimes I wished the end would come sooner than later. Maybe I was unwell, too.

It wasn’t long until Dad stumbled back into the house and headed straight for the bathroom. He wretched so loud that I could hear him through the door, so I moved to his study and grabbed some of his nausea pills and a glass of water. When I reached the bathroom, the door was flung open and Dad’s head was leaned into the toilet, violently vomiting.

When he sat back against the closest wall, he wiped his mouth with tissue.