Normal

My dad joined a cult the year before I was hospitalized. The family was falling apart at the seams, my mom used to say over and over. She said it at least once every time she came to visit me. I wished that she wouldn’t, because, truthfully, our family had never been stitched together, mostly stapled, but even then it was more like whoever was up there putting families together had used a jammed stapler when they got to ours.

The cult, though, we never knew much about, but my dad had to move away to become a “fully-dedicated to God”, whatever that meant. For some reason, Utah comes to mind, but maybe I’m just projecting, it seems like a pretty cult-filled place. We didn’t, and still haven’t really, heard much from him, but it affected my grandma Bernie mostly.

She stopped praying after he left. It was the first Thanksgiving, about two months after, and we sat at grandma’s large wooden dining table. Plates set and food spread out down the middle of the table. Mom and I were already holding hands, ready to say grace. Noise at the other end of the table caught my attention. Grandma Bertie was already putting food on her plate, the corners of her mouth turned down in a deep frown.

“Mom,” my mom said, “We need to pray. What are you doing?”

“Eating,” she said without looking up. Her plate was full of turkey, potatoes, and stuffing already. Grandma Bertie glanced around the table and pointed at the gravy boat sat in front of me. I handed it to her.

“Mom!”

“Leave it be, Mary,” she snapped back, “Let’s just eat.”

I later learned that something about the sickening of my dad’s perception of God after he was absorbed into the cult had crushed her own faith. The loss of both her son and God had left her hollow.

Less than 8 months later, I would be hospitalized after an attempt. Grandma Bertie would be the one who found me since we’d moved in with her after my dad left. My mom couldn’t afford the rent payment of our old place without my dad’s help. And well, the state didn’t see joining a cult as a reason for him to send child support. They were still married after all. I’m not even sure my mom wanted a divorce, she just needed the money.

The hospital was about an hour drive from grandma’s house, so my mom only came to see me every other week, which aligned with her payday, and then she’d have enough gas money to make the drive. Grandma Bertie came every two days.

The week I behaved, they let me walk myself into the family lounge, where she would set at the same corner table every time. The other week, I’d have to be escorted out. Although, it’s not like I was itching to escape. The hospital, with its dingy tan walls and ugly stock photos hung precariously from the wall, was better than home, wherever that was, and listening to my grandma and mom fight for hours.

“Has your mom seen you like this?” she asked once. “No,” I said, “I know which weeks to behave.”

“Are you doing this on purpose, Mallory? Do you not want to get out of here?” she carried on, rubbing her hands over her face, “For God’s sake, why can’t you just be normal?”

The nurses cut our visit short that day.

I imagined a lot of what she said to me is the same things she wanted to tell my dad. Still, two days later, she brought a freshly baked loaf of banana nut bread and I didn’t mind so much. We ate it in silence, trying to forget what had been said.

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