Skeletons in the walls
The night my mother went crazy I was thirteen years old
The night my mother went crazy I was thirteen years old.
Throughout my childhood, she had been my womb, my world, my queen, my playmate, my only friend. Her love had kept me shackled; chains made of velvet and silk, yes, but still chains. She had kept me under a bell jar, like the miniature statues of saints and Madonnas that decorate Italian homes.
The night my mother went crazy is not something that happened out of the blue: she'd probably been mad all along, but my father and I both chose not to see it. My father was selfishly complacent, unwilling to acknowledge his un-macho powerlessness in the face of something of such magnitude. And I could not see it because my mother had made herself the center of my life, veiled the entire world for me, tinted it in surreal colors of her own making that I believed to be perfectly normal.
I believed it was normal to have a mother so jealous and possessive that she managed to break all my tentative friendships at elementary school by calling my classmates' mothers on the phone to insult them.
I believed it was normal for a mother to share a bedroom with her daughter and exile her husband away to another room.
I believed it was normal for a girl my age to spend so much time with her mother that it is a miracle that the symbiosis between us she yearned for did not take place, and I managed to keep my mind and body separate and distinct from hers.
The night my mother went crazy happened like this: all of a sudden she woke up screaming, ranting and raving, and my father could not calm her down and had to call the emergency number and a doctor came and gave her a tranquilizer shot, pronounced her mad and said she needed to be hospitalized in a clinic for at least a month. So my father stayed with her in the clinic, and I moved in with his unmarried brother and sister who shared a large apartment in downtown Naples.
During that month, I had to suffer the stern and bigoted ways of my bigoted spinster aunt who forced me to say grace at the table, sat me down to my homework as soon as I came home from school every day, fulminated me with her gaze if I uttered what she regarded as a swear word.
My parents had never given a damn about these things! My mother suffocated me with her attentions; my father had very little tenderness toward me; neither had ever bothered to tell me what to do, what needed to be done, what I ought to do, what was better for me to do.
And yet, during that month I also experienced freedom for the first time.
The simple freedom to exist as a separate entity from my mother; the simple freedom to sleep in a room by myself rather than with her. Things that other girls my age had obtained as part of the normal process of growing up, and did not even call freedom.
The night my mother went crazy, I do not remember much about her ranting and raving, but one of her utterances has stuck with me—a piece of symbolism so obvious that in a work of fiction it would probably be struck out by some rigorous editor as blatantly banal. But, in real life, is it not the most obvious that hurts us more?
She was screaming that there were skeletons hidden in the walls of our apartment.
Back then, I thought she was afraid of them; but she went on living in that apartment, even after my father's death, for some thirty-six more years, always cursing the "machines in the house" that made her life hell yet always refusing to leave. She'd grown attached to those skeletons: to her past, her sad and perhaps abusive childhood, the dark matter of her life she did not want to remember but had exorcised by burying it into the walls, like the cat in the Edgar Allan Poe story.
And like the cat, they went on screeching into the night driving her more and more insane; driving her to them, to their world of shadows and darkness until she went out of the house no more and the walls became her own tomb, her final womb.