“She’s funny. She seems a little eccentric maybe, but really, I don’t think it’s that bad.”
I’m paraphrasing, but that is the gist of the comments I would hear when I finally would allow someone to come home and meet my mother. I’d prep them, by telling them that she was a paranoid schizophrenic, and was liable to say various inappropriate things and have some strange habits, but they’d always assure me that it was fine, they weren’t there to judge. I wasn’t afraid of their judgement at that point, since if I was letting them into the secret lair I had already figured that they were my friend, and could be trusted not to hold it against me. I was just preparing them for whatever unpredictable things they might encounter.
There was Life of the Party Mom, who would tell joke after joke, and would be the most vivacious woman you ever met who seemed to not have a stop button. There was Anxiety Mom, who would be smoking incessantly, complaining about what the neighbors were saying about her, and may take an instant dislike to someone. Depressed Mom didn’t speak a lot, and would sleep on the couch and cry about how my father must be guilty of coaching my brother and I to avoid her, and of promoting alienation of affection. Oh, there was Screeching Mom, a personal favorite, who would lash out at my father and accuse him of adultery, or yell and bang pots on the walls to let the neighbors know she was aware of their spying. But the one I was most afraid would come out when bringing the very rare boy home, was Inappropriate Seductress Mom. Yeah, that was fun, watching my mother say racy things to the guy I liked.
For the record, schizophrenia is misunderstood to be a split personality disease, and I’m not trying to further that trope by describing my Mom’s various unpleasant and uncomfortable moods with titles, like they are separate personalities. She absolutely had one integrated personality, but she was unable to tell reality from delusion, and that is the crux of the matter for the family of diseases that are under the umbrella of schizophrenia. Mom’s particular variety was the paranoid type, where she believed that a nebulous “they” were after her and my family. She developed a whole bunch of coping skills she believed would keep her and us safe from their threat, which were bizarre and sometimes extremely annoying to those around her. For example, she kept to a secret schedule of habits during the day, where she did things at the correct time or in the correct pattern. She used to count the number of steps taken from room to room, and if she found herself on a “bad” number before crossing the threshold into the next room, she would shuffle her feet until she was at a “good” number to continue. If you have ever seen Three Stooges movies, and see how one would stop abruptly and the other would smash right into their back, you would see how annoying it was to try to walk behind her into another room. The woman seriously needed brake lights.
Usually though, Mom was strangely able to pull herself together enough to be almost normal during these occasions when someone new would come over, since any visit was usually brief. I spent the entire time waiting for the other shoe to drop, but she usually just behaved a little over-excited to meet them, as if we kept her locked in a cage most of the time. Yes, there were some really cringe-worthy comments sometimes, and her constant smoking and stacked ashtray fascinated people, but nothing worse than you will see on the average sitcom these days. In the moment, it felt worse than it may have been in their eyes, now that I have made the comparison to tv shows. Just some lovable eccentric, they’d think. Yeah, right.
I think what really got me upset was that she was able to fake being normal for new people, but we had to deal with all kinds of unpleasant versions of Mom during the rest of the time. If she could make pleasant conversation when they were there, why did we have to listen to the litany of complaints the rest of the time? It was infuriating to see that she had some degree of control over her behavior when she wanted to, and we were stuck with the shitty stuff. It made it seem as if I was the world’s biggest exaggerator. There were some people who hung around long enough to see her run out of energy to be on her best behavior, and turn back into the person we lived with. It was almost perversely satisfying to see the light go on in a friend’s eyes when they finally REALLY met Mom. At least I could finally be vindicated, and they would see why I would warn them before coming into our dark, secret embarrassing hellhole, I mean home.