I left Fr. Jack's office that day in September fully re-energized. I had a plan; I had the support of my friends; and I had the firm conviction that God was with me. Now I finally needed to do the hardest thing of all: confront my family about my mom's sickness.
Getting a Tape Recorder
As I said before, the key to convincing my mom that she had a problem was getting my dad on my side; I needed help and needed it desperately. The problem, however, was that my dad is an introvert. He avoids confrontation at all costs; I could count on one hand how many times I've seen my dad actually lose his temper. How, then, could I hope to convince someone who was this layed back? I took Father's suggestion to heart and resolved to shock my dad to my point of view using a tape recorder. How could he deny there was a problem with the auditory evidence I planned to present him?
Thankfully, though I couldn't drive myself to the mall, my friend Jamie could. We took a quick spin to the local mall in between Cross Country and marching band practice and appropriated an incredibly old-looking and largish one that remained within my somewhat limited budget. Jamie, saint that she is, even lent money towards the Anthony-needs-dinner fund that night.
Armed with my tape recorder, I bunkered down and settled in until my mom's next episode. I quickly figured out something that many people have always warned me about: waiting is the most frustrating thing imaginable. I felt impotent, helpless to do anything further until my family was forced to descend down again into "that place of excrement" one more time. I even felt the urge to deliberately provoke a confrontation with my mom, hoping to speed up the process. (Fortunately, I was dissuaded from this course of action by a wise friend.) I felt incredibly torn: should I pray for an episode to occur? Should I try to start one myself? Finally, I reminded myself not to worry about things not under my control; I couldn't alter my mom's brain chemistry. Doing what had always helped me in the past, I finally resolved to just settle down and stop worrying. An opportunity would present itself without my interference.
Just when the wait seemed to be getting unbearable, my mom erupted. As usual, a little irritant caused a tornado. I said a quick prayer, than ran upstairs to shove the recorder in my pocket, hoping to put the outburst to some use. I refused to go through another night like the one that this was shaping up to be. Luckily, I got a good 15 minutes of coverage, enough to hopefully convince my dad to wake up and smell the rottenness in my house.
Unfortunately, when I waylaid a friend to ask for a review of the recording, we discovered a slight problem: the voices on the tape were unintelligible. Because the recorder was hidden in my pocket, the only thing that could be heard was the rustling of the fabric against the microphone. As much as I had hoped to bring this whole matter to a close, I had to wait yet again.
A Time and a Place
As the days dragged on interminably, I began to despair of ever getting the recording I needed. The first failure seemed to be just the latest in a long series of delays and obfuscations determined to stall my progress indefinitely. I again went back to that old debate: should I provoke a confrontation or wait for one to appear "naturally?" Why couldn't this whole mess just be over so that I could live my life in peace?
Well, "ask and ye shall receive" and God, as usual, didn't disappoint. My mom, on a slow buildup for several days, chose one night to explode. My dad, the typical source of her wrath, was berated mercilessly while my siblings tried their best to ignore the outbursts. I, however, not willing to miss a chance, ran upstairs and got the tape recorder. Recorder-in-backpack, I positioned myself so that the mic could pick up the ensuing battle.
As the tape player was recording, I experienced one of those "WHAM!" moments that had been so frequently plaguing me. It seemed as if the walls were closing in, and I was being trapped away from my emotions. I couldn't feel anything; it seemed as if the world was behind a translucent glass wall, too far away to care much about. I didn't even feel despair, for I knew that, logically, this outburst was helping the overall plan. Instead, I just felt empty.
Fortunately, my friends got me through this crisis. Every person I talked to that night was so helpful, allowing me to pour myself out and rid myself of the cloud of darkness that seemed to be hovering over my night. As I reflect back on those three-and-a-half hours of Hell, I am reminded once again of the coccoon of love that my friends surround me with at all times.
The Sounding Board
The next day was not only chock-full of school-related activities, it was also one that marked a turning point in my continuing quest. I found Jamie that morning and she agreed to hear the tape of last night's events and give me an evaluation. Strangely enough, she also had a gut feeling the night before that something was wrong and offered up a quick prayer for my family. Apparently, Someone was watching out for me during that night of seemingly endless dark.
After the seemingly endless progression of classes and practice schedules, Jamie and I finally maneuvered our schedules so that we ended up in the same car. After circling my small town for awhile looking for a secluded spot, we settled for the empty parking lot across the street from the abandoned supermarket. I fuddled with the tape as I somewhat nervously gave the background on this particular episode.
Actual sounds speak louder than any verbal description I could give, and when I finally found the spot on the tape the effect on my friend was enormous. As it progressed, she seemed to huddle back into her chair, and her eyes went wide in shock. When I finally reached the point where the screaming stopped, Jamie's ashen face told me more than the following words did: whatever lingering doubts she had about this whole situation were swept away. She described the sensation as if she was being slapped across the face. She removed any doubt from my mind that I was on a wild goose chase. Now the only thing left to do was the culmination of these two months of suspense and terror: actually confronting my dad.
An Unexpected Plot Twist
After the meeting with Jamie on Wednesday, I figured that the best time to talk to my dad would be on Saturday; I would be working with him all day and would have ample time for an aside. Every day till then was hopelessly cluttered with marching band practices and school activities. So I had only to wait, and my world would change forever.
When I woke up Saturday to the early-autumn sunlight streaming through my bedroom window, I felt at peace. Every other momentous day in this long ordeal left me with severe nervousness and anxiety attacks. That day I felt prepared, ready to finally face the end of my journey and ready to take what came with my newfound stoicism. Let the future come; I would be ready to face it when it did.
The morning passed by quickly, the normal Saturday activities passed in a blur, as I waited for the appropriate time to strike. After several hours of this, I finally found myself alone with my dad at his desk. I summoned my strength, muttered a quick supplication to the Blessed Virgin, and said the words that I had been waiting to say for untold years, "Dad, I need to talk to you. It's important." My dad, perhaps realizing through my body language my absolute seriousness, went into "panic mode." He ushered me into our car in a matter of minutes and sat there, waiting for me to tell him what was going on. At this point, I had gotten the spilling-my-guts routine down to a science. I told him everything, excluding only the names of several key players. He listened, and then, surprisingly, interrupted me while I tried to play the tape, saying, "Anthony, your mom has clinical depression. She was diagnosed last month by the doctor and she's on medication to treat it. Me and your mom are trying hard to make everything better. I'm trying to work with her, she's trying to control her temper, and it's starting to work."
Needless to say, my jaw dropped completely open and I was reduced to looking like a fish. What the hell?! WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?! All of my plans, all of the work, all of the nights of lost sleep, wiped out in a five-minute conversation with my dad. My entire world had just turned topsy-turvy, and I was left totally bewildered.
As I digested the conversation with my dad, I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The thing I had been agonizing over, the thing that I had spent countless hours trying to help solve, was finally being dealt with. Far from rejecting the need for help, my mom had actually gone to the doctor because she felt wrong somehow. The intricate plans and complicated machinations to bring about change were brought to naught; God had answered my prayers in His own way and in His own time.
So was all of my planning for nothing? Looking back, I honestly don't think so. One thing that this experience taught me is that no action is useless. While I may not have solved my mom's problem myself, I gained so much in the process of trying to help her. I met new people and forged wonderfully strong friendships that helped me get through this ordeal. I discovered the inner strength that I possess to dare to upset the status quo, even at the risk of changing my life forever.
Most importantly of all, I learned to put myself in the Hands of God. Some things are beyond human control, and I firmly believe that the best thing to do is to surrender yourself to the infinite grace of God, trusting that God will pull through. He may act through other people and in my case, answered the prayer about my mom in ways I couldn't possibly imagine.
Since the events of this summer ended my family has ended a new phase of existence. The medication combined with a general will by all parties to help out has turned my mom's life around. I won't pretend that things are perfect; they're not. My mom still has episodes, but their frequency and intensity is constantly diminishing. The entire atmosphere of my house has done a 180 and completely reversed: hours of fighting are being replaced by days spent in the sun enjoying life. Quite simply, the loving support of my friends, the help of my mom's doctor, the spiritual guidance of Fr. Jack, and the infinite Power of God to repair what seems irrevocably damaged have turned my family around. Thank you all.