Although I forfeited visiting my mom at Chowchilla, her friend Bob made the drive. It took him ten hours to get there. When he arrived she was on suicide watch, which meant Bob wasn’t allowed to see her. The logic of this was absurd. Isolation would only increase despair. The second time Bob made the trek he was denied visitation rights yet again. This time the prison was on lock down. He called me expressing extreme frustration.
“Boy, did you make the right decision,” he said. I listened to him vent and for the first time acknowledge that taking care of oneself wasn’t necessarily an act of selfishness. “I spent all that time and energy and couldn’t even see her! Cards and letters will have to be enough.”
I never knew if cards and letters were enough. My experience had been that nothing was ever enough. All I knew was that my inability to fill the void within my mother had left me with one as well.
Before mom transferred to Chowchilla, she spent two weeks in the local jail. Bob and I visited her there together. He couldn’t admit that she had a drinking problem. He just thought it was unfortunate she had been pulled over while under the influence. Yet sensing her depression, he brought photographs with him to cheer her up during our visit. The pictures were of dolls she owned. At her most neurotic, she drove them around in the back seat of her car and talked to them as if they were real.
When mom faced us through the glass, I saw depression plastered all over her face. “Isn’t it terrible?” she kept repeating over and over again, staring at me hard, as if I could fix it. I wasn’t even certain she knew it was me. I felt I could have been anyone. When Bob pulled out the photos, I was astonished to see my mom’s face suddenly brighten. It was wildly and instantaneously transformed. “My babies. Lisa, see my babies. Bob brought me my babies.” And then she proceeded to name them all, cooing and gooing at the pictures. I felt like I was in a Fellini film.“What about me?! I’m your baby!” I wanted to scream. “I’m your baby! WHAT ABOUT ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I wanted nothing more than to be her baby and for her to coo and goo at me. Instead she was becoming my child.