Debilitating Mental Disorders
One Two Step Over the Crack. This was the first title I chose for this post. What does this imperative have to do with the poison prison?
There is a connection. But first – go back in memory with me. A long time ago. To the mid-1950s when I would walk to junior high in good weather and later walk to catch the bus to high school, eyes downcast enough to avoid the “crack,” i.e. the indentation in the cemented sidewalks in Salt Lake City that were laid out in squares.
For a time, I don’t remember how long, it became an annoying obsession: one two step over the crack, one two step over the crack. A voice in my head chanted the phrase again and again and again.
Then there was the refrain: step on a crack and you break your mother’s back. I knew this wasn’t true – or was it?
My young self didn’t know much about compulsions, but I did have a mild one. That self didn’t know much about mental illnesses either, but I witnessed my father’s “nervous breakdown” when I was ten years old.
My little sister and I huddled near the old coal stove in the living room, at the fireplace ledge, our father stooped beside us. His arms encircling us, he smoothed our hair and squeezed our shoulders, a strange look in his eyes like he was going to cry. What was wrong with Daddy, our very shy father who rarely physically touched us? Mama took him to a doctor for something called shock treatments. Diagnosis: convoluted depression, whatever that meant.
During this time period he and my mother received sometimes weekly letters from his youngest sister Laverne. Aunt Toots we called her, though I never knew why the nickname. Nor did I ever see her. I grew up in Utah; she never left Oregon, the state where she was born, where in her early twenties, about 1935, she was committed to a mental institution where she lived until modern medicine released her over four decades later. Continue reading