Sometime in college, I remember I had to read O’Neil’s “A Long Day’s Journey into Night.” Or is that the title of a novel by Celine, “A Day’s Long Journey into Night.” I don’t remember but the play was about O’Neil’s family, and they were one screwed up bunch, and I can remember the afternoon I read it. It was spring, and pretty warm, and I was lying out on the grass, and when I was done with that play I could have just stuck my face in the grass and started eating dirt, because that play flat out depressed me.
While they had more money and a lot more style, O’Neil’s family reminded me of my own, though my father was a teetotaler, but I guess I mostly was fascinated by the behavior of O’Neil’s mother and mine. I don’t remember, but I think O’Neil’s mother was a dope head or ether addict—No, wait, TS Eliot’s wife was a ether head–; but she was in and out, you know, there and not there—inconsistent—one of the worst things that can happen to a child. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.
I would come in from school and just stand there by the front door. Listening. If I didn’t hear anything that meant the old lady was taking one of her afternoon naps. And believe you me, I did not WANT TO WAKE HER UP! If you did, you had no idea what sort of crap you might walk into. My mother wasn’t an addict, but she was screwed up. But she didn’t think so. Yea, she was sick maybe; she was a hypochondriac and once had 3 of the 4 signs of a fatal pituitary ailment, the last one being open and suppurating sores upon the body.
So after years of messing with the union health plan, she finally got an appointment with the absolute best brain guy in the whole damn county. A neurologist maybe, or an endocrinologist. All of her files were shipped to him. He came into the office, slapped the massive pile of paper work down on the desk, said, lady, you need to see a psychiatrist.
When the old lady told me what happened, I was spitefully gleeful, like I hadn’t been saying that for lord knows how long; and I could have gone into a fucking told you so, except that all the color had gone out of her face and there were two bright red spots on her cheeks. I thought maybe she was going to have a heart attack. But I did suggest maybe she should see a shrink, but she said she just wanted a pill, some sort of pill to help her stop hurting, and then she started into bawling.
Honestly, I didn’t get it. I mean if you take a pill for it; it’s something wrong with your brain and not wrong with you? How do you separate your brain from you and still be you. So as far as she was concerned she had a physical complaint; there was nothing wrong with her, even though the physical complaint was in her mind. I still don’t get it. Or maybe she really didn’t care whether it was mental or physical—all she wanted was a pill.