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Adrian Blevins: My Mother’s First Husband

My mother’s first husband, who was the first mentally ill person I ever met, rents storage spaces all over D.C. He saves in crate after carton after crate: paper towel tubes, his son’s second grade science projects and college term papers, broken air conditioners, hammers, screwdrivers, curtain rods, weights, spatulas, pots and pans, old cans of paint, drills, sandwich bags, magazines and books and paper clips, window panes and big, long rolls of pink insulation and leather gloves and half-empty cans of shoe polish and arm chairs and tube tops and baby aspirin and vinyl records as well as the files of the court records (as well as their Xeroxes) of what was said before the judge between him and my mother more than forty years ago. When I saw him a couple of years ago, he was standing in my sister’s dining room organizing boxes of National Geographic, which he’d bought an estate sale and had now given to my sister and her husband. My sister was cooking dinner while talking on the cordless and thereby (and very cleverly) not paying any attention to him. He said I looked like my mother and that he’d always loved my mother no matter that the marriage didn’t work out and that my grandmother had always liked him and that she was such a beautiful thing, my mother, and wasn’t I the sister that said some awful thing to him on the telephone? Because who was I to tell him what kind of father to be? What was I? Crazy?

Maybe so, I thought, though I couldn’t remember anything I’d ever said to him on the phone.

What I did remember was the day my sister said she wasn’t coming home to live with him. She was sixteen at the time—full-grown, to my mind, and old enough. Her stories were that he wouldn’t let her go anywhere, kept a washing machine unplugged in the middle of his kitchen, ranted about her grades and her weight and her friends and their parents, and made her and his wife and very young son tie stakes in the yard every four inches so as to sow in a more orderly fashion the grass seed that never did get sown. They were standing in the hallway upstairs in my parents’ house and my mother was pacing, smoking cigarettes one right after the next and saying that no, she wasn’t going to send Lynn back this time, Lynn was going to stay with us. I remember watching the story develop from the doorframe of my room. I almost remember the desire to make popcorn, because it was better than any movie you could name. I mean, it was better than any boy-fight at school and beat the hippies singing and my parents’ late-night laughing and Laugh-In and bra-burning and Ms. magazine. Maybe my urge to spy originated in this precise moment of real-life human drama: this stand-off between my mother and father and her weird-assed first husband, with the girl/woman between them all like contraband. Because you have to admit it’s interesting .

Only nobody had a gun. My father’s an art historian, painter, and the youngest brother of three sisters and so he wouldn’t even know how to spell HUNT for the spelling bee that he would under no circumstances attend, but if he had owned a gun, during this moment he would have been polishing it or cleaning it or loading it, because that’s how tense things were—the whole hallway was like a drum or canvas or a fitted cotton sheet with four hearts smoking in the center. I can’t remember the exact words any person spoke, but I do remember getting the distinct impression that taboos were being broken. Black Panthers were frenching the Daughters of the American Revolution in that hallway—people were kissing zebras, were slicing their own tongues with razor blades and sodomizing vacuum cleaners. They were stringing themselves up to the light fixtures with embroidery thread and singing Christmas carols, were making flower arrangements with copper pipes and steering automobiles with their feet and wearing strapless dresses into Canadian snowstorms and serving white wine with roast beef. This is because, it suddenly occurs to me, that you can distinguish the crazy from the merely eccentric in this additional way: with crazy people you end up making a lot more concessions—you say X likes Y and so I guess he’s going to get it, because to tell you the God’s honest truth I can’t take another moment right now of the ranting and the raving and the weeping and the pouting and the drinking and the screaming. People in association with lunatics seem more often than not to give the lunatics what they want—they lie and capitulate and accede and relent until they really don’t mind watching baseball twelve hours a day, as they tell their friends on the telephone—they like digging in the backyard by moonlight and sleeping in a bed with coupons and magazines and Barbie doll legs.

My mother was not married to my sister’s father for very long—she had already left him by the time she was nineteen—and does not in any case choose to talk about him. Once by way of an excuse she told me that living with him gave her a headache that put her in the hospital, and now I think of this headache—which the doctors could neither diagnose nor cure nor dull with morphine—as my mother’s will rising up to save her—my mother’s will stomping its size eight Southern foot on the brain’s tiny blood vessels in order to get her attention so she’d finally assemble the courage to pack her bags and her Nova and her little baby girl and drive back home to Virginia where she would live a much better life than the one she’d started, by accident and mistake and mislaid longing, to live with my sister’s father. And here it was happening again in the long wallpapered hallway where I watched on gleefully from my antique doorframe: my mother’s will was rising like cream, like spring, like stormy ocean waves, and given the size of it— given how very ample her no was—all you could say was that it was a beautiful sight, indeed. Because the daughter would not be coming home, Mister-man, and you could scream and weep and threaten lawyers and courtrooms and murder all the live long day for all Mama cared, because Mama did not.

Once out of what is apparently a compulsion to study mental illness I took a group of students (all women, as I was teaching at the time at an all-women’s college) to eat lunch at a local homeless shelter. I suppose they thought I was offering them an experience they would not choose for themselves so as to help them see the world for what it really was. I suppose I told whatever supervisors I would have had—the department chair or the dean—that I was trying to encourage my writers to give what they could to their communities—to serve others, you know, and care (to use the far-too-empty expression) about the less fortunate. But because I don’t really believe we can buy ourselves the least bit into the heaven that I do not believe in or appreciate the piousness that too often leads people to donate their used coats to the poor, I’m certain my real motives were far less charitable.

After the sixteen of us walked though what can only be described as the lounge of the shelter (our shoulders slumped, our heads lowered) the director asked my students to sit down at long, light-brown fold-out tables. They were to each choose a seat between the men already gathered there. And so, one at a time, the young women sat, looking up at me every few minutes from their too-open eyes as one man said motherfucker and another drew circles on his arm with a steak knife and another touched a young woman’s red hair with his finger or his fork. The men smelled like vinegar and rotten olives; two or three bare light bulbs flickered from the simple fixture in the ceiling; the room was hushed, as though someone was about to pray.

Surely this isn’t so, the girls’ eyes said to me. Surely this isn’t true.

I remember I leaned against the doorframe (always the doorframe) of that meager, meager kitchen and watched my students pick at their food and stiffen and fuss lightly with their hair and stick a finger or two between their bracelets and their wrists. I remember I crossed my arms; maybe I took a sip of the sweet tea that one of the homeless men had given me and maybe I just held it there in the dim, yellow light while I waited for the beat to return to my heart. Maybe I nodded it’s true, it’s true, and maybe I didn’t. If I didn’t, I’m sorry.

Because it is true: we are mad, it is true. And spies as well, through and through.

copyright 2015 Adrian Blevins

60 comments on “Adrian Blevins: My Mother’s First Husband

  1. James B. Olcott
    April 23, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Bernard Olcott Story and commented:
    Absolutely right-on description as to how people accommodate the crazy.

    Like

  2. James B. Olcott
    April 23, 2015

    “with crazy people you end up making a lot more concessions—you say X likes Y and so I guess he’s going to get it, because to tell you the God’s honest truth I can’t take another moment right now of the ranting and the raving and the weeping and the pouting and the drinking and the screaming. People in association with lunatics seem more often than not to give the lunatics what they want—they lie and capitulate and accede and relent until they really don’t mind watching baseball twelve hours a day, as they tell their friends on the telephone—they like digging in the backyard by moonlight and sleeping in a bed with coupons and magazines and Barbie doll legs.”

    This is probably the most powerful expression I have read about how people accommodate the crazy. I certainly saw a lot of this in dealing with my own Dad (which had the unintended consequence of providing me with lots of fodder for my own family-oriented blog).

    Keep the faith and the dream shall never die — that the non-crazy’s eyes may be opened to the lunacy that surrounds us.

    Absolutely killer stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ceciliamjennings
    April 23, 2015

    I love your writing! This is an excellent piece. Thank you for the post and the very good read.

    Like

  4. Excellent read! Enjoyed it!

    Like

  5. vgabow
    April 22, 2015

    Beautifully written!

    Like

  6. bilalahmed7
    April 21, 2015

    Reblogged this on bilalahmed7.

    Like

  7. Kemi
    April 21, 2015

    Intriguing writiing style – borders on poetic.

    Like

  8. superwomanseven
    April 20, 2015

    You have a wonderful writing style that adds to the beautiful piece you just wrote. Mental illness is frustrating and confusing – we are all mad to some degree.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. asheebye
    April 20, 2015

    This post was very witty!

    Like

  10. Prince Chidzvondo
    April 20, 2015

    excellent post!!!

    Like

  11. codingcadet
    April 20, 2015

    I don’t get it??

    Like

  12. Human Relationships
    April 20, 2015

    Reblogged this on Human Relationships and commented:
    My Mother’s First Husband

    Like

  13. Crissy Dean
    April 20, 2015

    Thanks for sharing..

    Liked by 1 person

  14. M.Q. Benson
    April 19, 2015

    I can relate my life was similar growing up with my mom. Now as an adult my relationship with my mom is very strained.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. mustaphabarki2014
    April 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on Engineer Marine Skipper.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. volumeguide2
    April 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on A Part of the Garden and commented:
    It’s in your past, but pray for those that’s beginning.

    Like

  17. zwimqn
    April 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on zwimqn.

    Like

  18. zwimqn
    April 19, 2015

    I like the post thanx Adrian nice job 😇

    Liked by 1 person

  19. 9jarloaded
    April 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on My Blog.

    Like

  20. readerjames
    April 19, 2015

    This is brilliant. Thank you for sharing this, my grandma had a mental illness (Alzheimer’s) sadly passed away 2 months ago. It was horrible to see someone deteriorate mentally; the person you knew wasn’t there anymore. Great post, thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. mizzyxclusive
    April 19, 2015

    Love to read more

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Nneka
    April 18, 2015

    Very beautiful story👌

    Liked by 3 people

  23. malkit24
    April 18, 2015

    Reblogged this on Malkit Bharj.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. bollywooddot
    April 18, 2015

    Reblogged this on Amitabh Bachchan The Shahenshah.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. fanoun
    April 18, 2015

    مرحباا

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Adrian Blevins
    April 18, 2015

    Thanks everybody for all the wonderful comments. I really appreaciate them.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. anbao85888
    April 18, 2015

    !!!

    Liked by 2 people

  28. anbao85888
    April 18, 2015

    !!!

    Liked by 2 people

  29. underthebluebird54
    April 18, 2015

    Beautiful work. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. iDikko
    April 18, 2015

    Nice work!

    Liked by 2 people

  31. ibohnd
    April 18, 2015

    Reblogged this on i691.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. hulathecat
    April 18, 2015

    Wow.. He is a horder?

    Liked by 2 people

  33. onlineindia77
    April 18, 2015

    Reblogged this on onlineindia77.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. olivierd001
    April 18, 2015

    Reblogged this on olivierd001.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. lexiesnana
    April 18, 2015

    This is one I am glad I didn’t miss. Had many stepfathers and made me think

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Thank you for sharing how common mental illness is in our world and how we need to do the best we can to do more research and help each person suffering from this illness. Melody

    Liked by 5 people

  37. djnixofficials
    April 18, 2015

    Reblogged this on djnixofficials's Blog and commented:
    Nice post

    Liked by 1 person

  38. thetavernthoughts
    April 18, 2015

    Very well written “walking along side the mentally….”

    Liked by 2 people

  39. thetavernthoughts
    April 18, 2015

    Reminds me of my certain incidents in my life

    Liked by 1 person

  40. manojbohora
    April 18, 2015

    Great

    Liked by 1 person

  41. saltsmanbecky1
    April 18, 2015

    Wow so descriptive…it vividly paints “the odd normal”. The confusion to those who walk alongside the mental ill, until they can’t . I often felt like I was watching life, then pulled into this giant Omnimax. It was scenes that made no sense. And,, i couldn’t comprehend the rules. You really did an amazing job with this one!

    Liked by 2 people

  42. Deb Villines
    April 18, 2015

    Sounds Like you had it rough growing up, my parents were fighting alot as well, my 2nd step mother anyways, its along story. I wish you well, in all your endeavors.

    Liked by 3 people

  43. intunity20
    April 18, 2015

    Good read Adrian, very colourful indeed.
    On mental illness, i can only see it escalating as technological interaction continues to become more and more interesting than human interaction virtually from childbirth. I think most mental illness stems from a lack of attention from those we crave attention from.

    Liked by 2 people

  44. Atul Shukla
    April 18, 2015

    Well published .

    Liked by 3 people

  45. lalawhoopsy23
    April 18, 2015

    Loved it. Make time for mine

    Liked by 2 people

  46. Eli Hitler Razcon
    April 17, 2015

    Mentally people are very common in America, specifically the degenerates.

    Liked by 2 people

  47. whitetekk
    April 17, 2015

    This brought back odd memories of my parents fighting.
    I thought you would like this… I once visited a friend in a psychiatric hospital. Would you believe all the patients where sat as if they were the only sane people in the room.

    Liked by 2 people

  48. susansmithadvice
    April 17, 2015

    Fantastic post, take a look at mine about abuse, I hope mine adds to yours.

    Liked by 3 people

  49. Julie
    April 13, 2015

    Great post Adrian… thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

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This entry was posted on April 9, 2015 by in Humor and Satire, Personal Essays, Poetry and tagged , , , .

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