A house can look wonderful on the outside. Bright lights and all decorated for Christmas with a nativity creche on the front lawn. Santa putting his reindeer and sleigh through their paces. A well-manicured lawn. On Christmas Eve, the family loads up the SUV and takes off for Midnight Mass. There’s smiles on all five of the family members’ faces. I use the phrase “family members” liberally because there’s no better way to describe their relationships with one another.
You see, there’s terror in that house. One member of the family terrifies the others. It might be the father who beats his wife and kids. It might be that he is sexually abusing the daughter. It might be that he is an alcoholic or a drug user. Any word of protest from the others is going to mean a slap in the puss or something worse.
Or it might be a son or a daughter who has an abuse issue. They tried to commit suicide two or three times so they have to be watched constantly. Or they could just be destructive human beings.
Or it could mean that the mother has a mental illness that keeps the family off-kilter. She has whole months when things are just not right. She might be seeing hallucinations or she might go to bed and not be able to crawl out for some time.
Whatever it is, the outside of that house never betrays the chaos that is constant in that house. It is not a home. It’s more like a cave. The members of the family only tread outside when they absolutely have to. And they tread lightly.
Jake’s house was like that. It was his mother. Three times she had attempted suicide. Thank God they had caught her in time. The doctor called it an hormonal imbalance. He offered drugs but they made his mother lethargic. And they had side effects. The side effects, the family concluded, were worse than the disease.
One night it was Jake’s turn to stay home and watch his mother. He received a call from this girl he had wanted to date. They talked for an hour. When you’re on the phone with the girl you want to date, an hour can seem like five minutes. He finally hung up the phone.
“Mom,” he called.
He ran upstairs. No mom.
After searching the house, he went out into the back yard. No mom.
Where was she? Jake was frantic. He was beyond frantic. His dad would kill him for letting her out of his sight. He had let down his family. He had let down the world.
Jake decided that she couldn’t have gone far. But an hour is a long time and his mother could be quite aways gone.
Jake called his father. “Dad, Mom’s disappeared.”
His father dropped everything he was doing. And it was important what he was doing. He made excuses to the people in the meeting. He jumped in his car and headed home. Driving down one of the side roads, he saw his wife walking. He pulled up beside her, jumped out of the car and ran around to her.
“Jean, what are you doing?” His voice had panic in it.
“Decided?” he asked.
“Yes, I’ve decided that I am going to pack a suitcase, then go to the mountains and stay. And I am going to do it alone. You and the kids can’t come.”
“Don’t you see. That’s the only way any of us will ever be happy. I have to be alone. For years now, I have been destroying everyone I love.”
“No buts. I won’t commit suicide. I promise. This is the only way I can be well.” There were tears in her eyes. And there were tears in his. Because he knew she was right.
A month later, Jake, his two sisters and his father took Jean to the train station. There were hugs and kisses and goodbyes. Jean turned to Kevin, her husband, and said, “Take care of the kids. I love them so much. And don’t try to find me. You won’t be able to.”
“Are you sure?” Kevin asked, hoping against hope his wife would change her mind.
She didn’t. She took the train and waved goodbye as it began to move. Jake had never seen his mother smile. She had a huge smile on her face.