I’ve never been to a psychiatrist before. I’ve seen plenty of therapists and psychologists, but never a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is more serious, like a psychiatrist will have the power to draw the deepest truths from the core of my being, truths I’m not sure I want to think about.
Using a psychiatrist is the only way I will communicate with them, however – my psychiatrist to their psychiatrist. It feels like the only safe way of talking with my family. I didn’t know if they will follow through, but by God I’m certainly going to come through on my part of the bargain.
She comes highly recommended by my friend Lee. He says she specializes in cases like mine. That means she’ll be able to tell just how nuts I really am. Maybe she’ll diagnose me as multiple personality, or schizophrenic, or one of those other conditions I need to spell check.
I’m really in much better shape than I was a year ago. Now I can sleep through the night.
I can sleep four or five hours a stretch now. That’s so much better than the twelve-minute wolf naps I survived on for eight months. Jeff thinks that’s when I started acting crazy. I would sit in the corner of the TV room with a knife, afraid to move until he got home. Now most of the nightmares have stopped and Jeff feels like he can leave me home alone with the kids again.
When I get to her office in downtown Edmonton, Dr. Adams, the psychiatrist seems okay.
I tell her my story. I’ve told it before. Not just to Jeff but to some of the womyn in my womyn’s group and to Mehri, the psychologist and Jane, the community counsellor. This time, I tell the story differently. This time, I want a solution to one particular problem: how to get my mother to speak to me. I’m not mad at her. It was him. I don’t want anything to do with him. I don’t understand how she can stay with him. But I still want my mom.
I wonder if mom got the card I wrote. Maybe mom has written back and the letter is waiting at her doctor’s office.
The appointment is postponed. Dr. Adams is sick. I’ll have to wait another week to find out.
The kids are in bed but I’m sure they hear us yelling. Especially Jules. He’s almost 10 and, although he never says anything, he must hear our fights. This time, I’ve had it. “You go to Fort McMurray and when you get back I want you to find your own place” I yell through my tears. “I hate you, you bastard.”
“Fine” he yells back. “Perfect!”
It’s 8:00 PM and he storms out the door and hops into his truck for the five-hour drive. I hate him and yet I worry over the fact that he’s leaving so late for such a long drive by himself. I reel and buck as I feel the slippery slope pulling me down, down, down into a big, black hole. Thank God I’ve got that shrink appointment tomorrow. I wonder what the hell she’s going to write down this time.
The phone rings and it’s my brother, Mike. “I’m calling to give you the phone number for mom’s doctor,” he says. How did my brother get involved in this? “She’s really sick and we’re not sure she is going to make it,” he says.
It’s now 8:30 p.m. and the doctor is in Toronto. By some miracle, the doctor picks up the phone. “Hello, this is Kathryn Molloy,” I say, “I’m Shirley Hagerman’s daughter and my brother Michael has told me I should call.”
There’s a pause and then the doctor says, “I suggest you get on the next airplane to Toronto and come straight to the hospital if you want to see your mother alive.” I'm stunned, but mumble, "Of course, I'll make arrangements right away".
Does my sister know? Mom hasn’t spoken to her in two years either and everyone in the family hates her because she "told" first. I doubt anyone has bothered to let her know our mother is dying. I call. She doesn’t know anything. We decide I should fly to Ottawa and we will drive to Toronto together. At least we’ll have each other.
My mother is going to die and she hasn’t spoken to me in two years. Jeff is gone and besides I hate him. I’m not calling him. I can’t take the kids with me. I don’t have the money, and I can’t cope with looking after them. My sister in--law comes over. She is an angel. She packs my bags and hugs me every five minutes, as I sit in shock.
God, I hate Jeff right now.
The flight seems to take a hundred hours and it costs a ridiculous amount of money. But an Air Canada representative offers this morbid reassurance: “Don’t worry, if your mother dies, we’ll reduce the price.”
I can’t even begin to decide how I feel about that.
I arrive in Ottawa sometime between dusk and dawn. My sister is waiting with the car, ready to drive to Toronto. She hates driving in the dark so I take the wheel. Besides, she is a pansy driver and we need to speed. And speed we do. I cruise at 120 km per hour and blast it up to 140 every 15 minutes or so, depending on how intense the conversation is with my sister. As we hit the outskirts of Toronto in record time, I hear sirens.
“Shit. How long is this going to take?” I say, slamming my hand against the wheel.
I wonder if the cops will give a discount if mom dies.
“Excuse me m’am, do you have any idea what speed you were going?”
“Our mother is in Scarborough Centenary Hospital. I flew all night from Edmonton to Ottawa, where I picked up my sister to drive here. She’s dying and we need to get there.”
“C’mon,” the policeman says.
Unbelievably, we get a police escort to the hospital instead of a ticket. No questions asked. Not even any verification of the information.
We arrive at the hospital and head straight to intensive care. A nurse arrives and we begin explaining who we are. “Your mother is on life support,” she says. “She is conscious but unable to speak. Do you understand what is going on?”
Instead of answering her, my sister turns to me and says, “ mom hates me, but not you. Why don’t you go in on your own?” The nurse seems alarmed by our conversation. She asks for my name. She says she will be back in a minute.
Eons pass before the nurse comes back. We pace the hallway and talk about nothing but it doesn't matter because at least we have each other. I'm just starting to get really antsy when the door opens and the nurse says, “I’m sorry, your mother does not want to see you.” She searches my face for a reaction, or maybe she’s searching for the reason why a mother would say that about her own daughter at a time like this. I can see a soft sympathy in her eyes.
“My mother doesn’t want to see me?” I repeat this over in my head and then someone knocks my legs out from under my body and I fall to the ground.
It’s dawn when I come around. I can’t believe it was less than 12 hours ago when I was yelling at Jeff and telling him to get out.
My sister and I wander aimlessly through the halls of the hospital. The smell of antiseptic cleaner makes me sick. My sister wants to eat. I don’t even want water. I want to fall back into my black hole. Oblivion would be better than having to think about my mother’s rejection.
A couple of hours later, I phone my mother-in-law. Jeff’s mother lives a few miles from the hospital. I hate Jeff and I hate his mother even more.
“The last place I want to go is to that self-centered alcoholic bitch’s house,” I tell my sister, and yet I drive the few blocks to her house, knowing full well that I want something from Jeff’s mother. I want her to take away this ache inside. I want her be a mother to me.
The house reeks of butts and beer. She’s not really comforting, but at least she’s trying. My sister and I mull over ideas on what to do next.
“Couldn’t you just let sleeping dogs lie?” my family had asked back then. They wished I would just shut up.
I smoke and drain down cup after cup of black coffee. My mouth tastes like foul-flavoured cotton. I need a plan.
We will get her a lovely nightgown. We’ll buy some hand and foot cream, pick up a tube of lipstick. And we will make a Word Board. This is my sister’s idea. She believes that if I speak only using the word board and mom, who has a tube down her throat and cannot speak, also uses the word board, then we will be on fairly even ground. It will be like an olive branch. We dream up the words for the board:
“I love you. It doesn’t matter. I’m so angry. I hurt. I hate you. Hold me. Rub my feet. Get out. Stay. I’m sorry. I love you.”
The phone rings. My mother-in-law says it’s for me. It’s a social worker from the hospital. The nurse at intensive care has reported the situation and feels some intervention is required. I can’t believe I’m telling my life story over the phone to a woman I’ve never met. I talk about how the sexual abuse started when I was just a baby and continued until I was sixteen-years-old. I tell her about the physical abuse, the mental abuse and malnourishment. She is sympathetic and wants to help. I tell her about the word board, the nightgown, the lipstick. She recommends we come back to the hospital immediately and meet with her and the doctor.
We rush the few blocks back to the hospital and when we get there we find mom has declined. Her system started fighting the life support and they gave her a drug that paralyses the body. She can’t blink, twitch, or give any sign of consciousness, although the doctors assure us she can hear everything we say and feel our touch. The word board is useless. I’m crushed. How will I communicate with mom?
We are directed to the family waiting room by today's ICU nurse. I’m sure there will be family there and that means a confrontation. My stomach knots up into a tight ball. I’m convinced my mother’s decline in the night is directly due to my trying to see her. It’s my entirely my fault, they’re sure to tell me.
As I walk in the room, I see Marie, my eldest sister. She is so beautiful. She looks up from her book, smiles and says, “There’s my baby girl”. I have not seen Marie in seventeen years and that had only been for a moment. Before that, it had been nine years. I’m stunned by her gentle, sweet features and I hope it’s true what everyone says, that I look like her. She is twenty years older than me and yet I love everything about her style. She springs to her feet and in a millisecond I’m in her arms. She is telling me how beautiful I am and how glad she is to see me.
It’s several moments before I notice he is in the room and my heart sinks. How can I deal with him?
“Hi dad,” I say. His six-foot-two-inch frame looks frail and sad.
Marie steps aside and he hugs me. He’s aged. He’s seventy now. I haven’t seen him in six years. Yes, it was six years ago he promised to tell. He promised me he would tell mom everything and say it wasn’t my fault.
Two of my brothers are in the room. Kelly and Paul are the brothers who are closest in age to me. In theory, these are the ones I should feel the most connected to. They don’t want to hug me, but they do anyway. It’s still morning and they are both drunk.
Nobody but Marie says hello to Sandra. I feel sick to my stomach.
We sit in silence waiting for who knows what. Marie strokes my hand and my hair as only the oldest sister can do. I can’t believe she has book number three of the Jane Aual series on her lap and I have book number two in my bag. How could we have been so estranged for so long and yet be so connected? I love her smell and her hands are beautiful and tender.
My stomach hurts and my mouth tastes sour. I reach for a pack of Tic Tacs and pop one in my mouth. My taste for peppermint comes from dad. He always had a stick of gum for us when we were kids. I look at him and say, “Killer mint dad?” A smile creeps across my face.
His eyes widen. “No thanks,” he mumbles.
The air in the room stinks of ugly history.
I can’t breathe.
Just when I’m sure I will faint from heat, exhaustion and stress, Marie stands up and says, “It’s time the three sisters had lunch together.”
This is truly a first. Due to our wide age gaps, Marie is 53, Sandra is 41 and I’m 33, we have never had anytime together alone as sisters. Of course there are other reasons for it, too. I’m convinced I can hear my father’s heart beating wildly as we leave the room.
All of us order the same thing for lunch. I can’t eat. I can barely manage water and green mint Tic Tacs. The taste of mint in my mouth somehow frees the words. I go first with the graphic stories of sexual abuse. I haven’t forgotten a thing all the way back to the age of two. And as the youngest of the girls, how is it that I was the one to finally tell?
And tell I did. Not only did I tell mom, the boys, the cousins, aunts and uncles, but I told the story in prison cells, at rallies, on the radio talk shows. I’m even in a movie! I wouldn’t shut–up. I was so loud about the story my parents had to sell the family home and move to a new town. Interestingly, enough, they built their dream house on Catherine Street (too bad about the spelling).
Marie was devastated. She too had been abused, but dad had gone away to war and it stopped. When he came back, he never moved back into the house with Marie and her mom.
Sandra had a different father, and mom had lost custody of her when she was very young. There were weekend visits. Weekends of abuse that went on until she turned eighteen and left home.
But dad and I had done such a great job of keeping the secret. Nobody knew it had happened to me. But Marie didn’t trust him. She had made him promise. “Do what you want to me,” she told him, “but don’t touch my baby sister.”
A night of shiftless dreams and staggered bouts of tears passes slowly. Morning finally comes and by nine a.m. the entire family is meeting with the doctor.
“We have finally realized why your mother/ wife is ill. The tests have come back and we can confirm she has Legionnaires Disease, a rare form of incurable pneumonia. She will die. If we keep her on life support she may live another one to fourteen days. She had a living will and has asked not be kept alive through any means of mechanical support. You must, as a family make a decision of what you want to do. “
The doctors leave. There is only one possible decision we can make, to honour her wishes. She will come off life support. My father calls the doctors back. They agree it is a good decision but inform us that the paralyzing drug must exit her system before unhooking the machines, otherwise its considered euthanasia. This may take a few hours.
A mercy killing, I think. The pain and suffering of a life of lies, the cheating and the boozing was more than my mother’s tender soul could manage. The illness was the ticket off the train ride she’d gotten onto with him.
It’s been two days since Jeff left for Fort McMurray. I still haven’t spoken to him. And I haven’t eaten anything but Tic Tacs. I feel so alone. My soul aches for my mother, for love. I want to be held, I want the deep moan in my body to pass through my soul forever like the ending of a dark song.
The doctors ask if anyone would like to spend some time with my mother. Marie pipes up and says “Kathryn needs some time with her.” Sandra gives me an encouraging nudge and hands me the beautiful nightgown we bought along with the lipstick and creams. My dad looks small and green, like he wants to throw up. His weakness gives me strength, the strength to move.
I’m guided into the intensive care. I can see her through the glass walls. There are machines and tubes and panels of flashing lights around her. I’m struck by how old my mother looks. It’s just her and me. I strip off the green hospital gown and carefully slip on the beautiful gown my sister and I bought. I need to cut it in places to fit around the tubes. I begin talking.
“Mom,” I say, “it’s a beautiful spring day. The daffodils are in bloom and the sun is shining. Do you feel the warmth of the sun? I love you mom. I want you to know how much I love you mom.”
I begin brushing her hair and caressing her face, talking all the while about my children and my life in Edmonton. I put lipstick on her and begin massaging her hands. They are motionless in mine but warm with life. I remember what the doctor said about her being able to feel our touch. I massage her legs and slather cream on her feet, careful to manoeuvre around the tubes and needles even in her feet. I tell her how beautiful she is and over and over I tell her how much I love her. I am grateful for my time alone with her. I crave some acknowledgment of her love.
The chaplain enters the room and asks if there is anything I need. I go to the chapel.
Once there, I’m allowed to set up the room how I like. I ask for an altar and three chairs. I have no idea what I’m doing. I feel driven.
The chaplain returns and asks if one of the chairs is for her. I say yes. She sits and then asks if one of the chairs is for me. I sit and she asks if the other chair is for my mother. I cry. The chaplain invites my mother’s spirit to join us. I move the empty chair to face me and invite my mother to sit in it. I tell her all the reasons why I love her and why I’m sorry she is so hurt by the story of my abuse. I assure her I don’t think it’s her fault and there is nothing she could have done to change it. When I’m done, the chaplain asks if she can invite my mother’s spirit to move through my body and tell me all the things she has been waiting to tell me. I feel her presence enter my body and her words of love and sorrow stream from my mouth.
The pastor leaves us alone and I am rocked by the love of my mother, but within ten minutes, I have an urgent sense of panic and run from the chapel back to her hospital room. I arrive breathless yet hear the doctor telling Sandra that there will be no need to unhook the life support. She will die within one to two hours. I have to get into the room. I need to be close to mom. Why is he there? I don’t want to be near him. But there is no place near mom except right beside him.
I rush to her side and grab her hand. “Mom, I’m here,” I say. The flashing lights of the machines immediately fade and the heart monitor moves to a flat line. She was waiting for me, waiting to die. Her spirit passes through me and I crumble to the chaplains rhythmic recital of the Lord’s Prayer.
When I go home to Jeff, I don’t hate him anymore.
Weeks pass alongside my grief.
I lose weight. I smoke. I cope.
My kids and Jeff are tender and caring.
As the tension unwinds, I realize that truth is a container that holds many things at once: tenderness, mercy, and tragedy. When it came time to get off the train ride that my father had us on, my mother got one ticket and I got another. Living with him surely killed her, but I’m safe and whole, and surprisingly healthy. My ticket was infinitely better than hers.
Jeff is not my dad.
Part II: “Molloy recounts her decision to turn her father into the police, after her mother’s death. Coming soon to the Vancouver Observer