Because sometimes we need it. I’ve got some big news coming up that I can’t talk about yet but in the meantime, please relax your mind with my boy Pierre Bennu’s masteful creation:
My name is Tara, and I have No Shame. I’m a child of a mother who has fought depression since I was young.
When I was less than a year old, my mom and her then husband were out here in Cali, living the life of the metropolitan urban fashionable couple. That is until her husband starting cheating on her with a white woman. My mom, devastated, took me and ran back home to Cleveland to the safety of my grandparents. My grandpa Larry didn’t take any mess and was literally the seam that held the family together. From the deep South, he was the one who taught his eight children to cook and clean. My grandmother, gorgeous and studious, was a college grad and a librarian who wasn’t so much for cooking. Her wardrobe though could knock any woman out in the neighborhood. My grandparents were VERY social and though sometimes couldn’t rub two pennies together, you’d never ever know it from looking at them.
My mother wasn’t doing that great at the crumbling of her marriage. When I look back on it, I am not sure I would be either at the age of 23. I think of me at 23 and the utter heartbreak I was going through and can’t imagine that heartbreak being the source of a marriage and having a kid at the same time. Things were so bad that my grandparents were “suggesting” that they take me while my mom got her head together. She was buckling. But apparently at that suggestion, she realized she needed to pull it together for me. I should have remembered this as an adult but this didn’t dawn on me until recently. When you pull yourself together for someone you’re responsible for, it’s not a cure for your blues. You’re just shoving it somewhere to deal for later.
We got an apartment, my mom got a job, I was going to kindergarten…life was great. Cleveland in the late 70s was great - I had multicultural friends, my mom had us dress up and take portraits together (we are both in denim with the flyest baby hair held down with Pre Con Gel). My grandpa was great. He’d pick me up from kindergarten in his old station wagon. He’d pay me to go to church (three bucks - two of which I gave to the collection plate) and I’d squeal with delight as he ushered folks who got the Holy Ghost and knocked his glasses across the church. My grandmother sat next to me and gave me half sticks of Spearmint gum. My aunt would braid my hair like Bo Derek. My uncles would let me write my name on the ceilings of their room with a lighter. My cousins and I collected enough pennies that we thought we’d go in on a nightclub together (to be fair, I couldn’t really possibly understand money and cost back then). My mom had a village of folks raising me. Then the unspeakable happened. Our seam got ripped from our family when my grandfather was murdered.
My mother, as the first born girl, was a daddy’s girl (much like I would be once my real dad came into the picture - let’s distinguish now that I don’t consider my blood father my REAL father), and when he was murdered, all that devastation from her marriage came rushing back to the surface (didn’t help that she just signed divorce papers and that her ex-husband was about to marry his mistress). My grandfather’s children could not handle his murder, especially since it was never solved. I remember my youngest uncle was watching me when he got the call. I remember blood curdling tears and chaos. I don’t even remember my mother being around. Everyone is just like a cloud of grief that traveled around with me. I’ve written before about my grandfather’s funeral and how I got lost in at the funeral home, trapped in a room full of bodies in caskets. Somehow I found my way out and ran towards an aunt who assumed I was crying over my grandpa. That too but…funerals for me have been obstacles.
My mother was part of that first row of grieving family members. We were all loud and broken. I do remember she grabbed tightly to my hand. Her hands were tear soaked. She’s always had these thin water like tears that crystalized her face. They always silenced me. Soon after grandpa’s passing, my mom met my real dad on a double date. He was from Detroit and came up to visit her a few times. She fell HARD in love with him. He was tall, protective, hard working, handsome and best of all, he loved me. I remember him picking me up from kindergarten once and I was so excited I ran and called him “Daddy” for the first time. He hugged me tight and laughed. We were inseparable from that point on. My mom couldn’t be more pleased, even through her blues.
Ordinarily the story ends there. We all live happily ever after under one roof and become like the Cosbys. Except life is way more complicated. My mom and dad would never live under the same roof, even after she moved us to Detroit to be closer to him. I don’t profess to know the ends and outs of their relationship (I only know her side because, well, she wasn’t afraid to ask me for advice even at the age of 10). My dad wasn’t that kind of person. The only thing he would ever say about my mom is that she had the worst luck. He said that when I was a rebellious angry teenager, threatening to leave the house after one of our massive fights we would have regularly. I insisted it wasn’t her luck. It was her. My mom’s depression crumbled her in every aspect except for making sure I had a roof over my head, my acne was worked on, my homework was done (she was strict), that I didn’t get pregnant and that I didn’t mess around with my education.
But when it came to her, she just kept dreaming. Most of my childhood memories of her include her working and taking the bus home (we never had a car - she wanted one but I think her blues just couldn’t let her figure out how), of her sitting in the dark on Sundays listening to old sad Motown songs on WJLB in Detroit and indulging in substances that would let her forget (I’ll that at that). I was an only child and had an active imagination so I can and always will be able to entertain myself without much help from other people at all. She was happiest when my dad came and got us for brunch, dinner, a movie or a drive. She was saddest when she realized they probably weren’t going to ever get married. I resented her for putting her heart on her sleeve over and over again, begging him, questioning him. I wish I didn’t but I just wanted her to be Superwoman. I wanted her to be strong and independent in every area of her life. She was trying to raise me to be that way but there some days that she literally would be there but not there.
When college came, I couldn’t wait to leave. Two grown women under one roof was torture for the both of us. She wouldn’t admit it but it was wearing her thin and I could be so independent and cold sometimes that her image of us being besties I’m sure was difficult to keep up. When the chance to go to New York came, I jumped on it even though I’d miss my parents (and even though my dad was bribing me with a car to stay). Later, after I had lived in NY for about five years, my dad told me they just knew in their hearts I wouldn’t last a month. But they forgot who they raised. Or maybe they didn’t realize who they raised. My first week at college, my mom called and asked me to do something I didn’t want to do (when I was living under her roof, I would be forced to do what she asked but this was my freedom) and she literally had a melt down. My roommates could hear how loud she was over the phone. I cried for the first time in my life over an argument we had. It was hard for me to do but I knew I had to say no to her because sometimes her requests were bad for her (I won’t say what they were but they had to do with my dad and her desperation to get him back since their break up). When we hung up, I knew that she was in her room, crying like when my grandpa died. And that broke my heart. But I am not the type of person to relent once I think I’ve done the best for both of us. It’s a trait some forget that I have.
I didn’t realize that my move away from home would make my mother’s depression worsen. When I was home, she was upholding the bargain she made with herself to try and keep it together for me. But I wasn’t there anymore and so I am sure the blues floodgates just opened and poured out. She tried to figure out the best way for us to communicate but I was so defensive and so was she. I was so angry about her not being what I expected and she was angry at me for not being the same. I wanted her to suddenly go back to school, get her degree, travel the world, turn into Auntie Mame and call it a day. She wanted me to call her everyday and talk about everything and nothing like she did with her sisters. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted less. It took years for us both to come to some sort of resolve. We’re still not there. I’m not as close as most are there to their moms yet I’m closer than most are to their moms, if that makes any sense. I have recently realized that she is a bit different than I imagined as she is for more independent than I thought. She totally doesn’t need to talk to me everyday but she would do it happily. She’s actually just as well being alone with her thoughts. But this is recent, like in the last 7 years, since my dad died. We both changed when that happened. Even though they weren’t together, her love for him never ever died.And almost six months after his death, my elegant grandmother died too (my mom had moved back to Cleveland to help take care of her…she’s still there).
Recently we made some headway as my mom wouldn’t ever go to a shrink. The whole point of me telling this story as a child of a parent with depression is that this is how our people have dealt with these issues for ages. No doctor, no therapy, no discussion…we just work around it. It’s like a Toni Morrison novel - so dense and thick, so many types of blues floating around these simple things we say to each other that are actually so complex. My mom and I discovered that she has probably been depressed since her father died. Her way of coping is exploring religion and I pray that helps her. My way was to go to a therapist a few times. Along the way I got into a couple of relationships with men who showed signs of depression - one of those relationships very serious but it took its toll on me. I realized I was finding people to save like I felt like I was doing with my mom. Being around depression is hard. It’s isolating, frustrating and a roller coaster ride of other -ing emotions. You never quite feel like you see the whole person for who they are, like they have the blue fog over them. And if you come from that person as I came from my mother, well, it’s a whole other tricky trip because you are the closest and yet so far away.
Lately this thing about keeping our blues to ourselves has become a disease that eats us all alive inside and it’s coming to the surface. As we lose loved ones who are buckling under the weight of all of this, it’s important to talk about these blues. This is the first time I’ve told my story about my mother because I never knew how to begin and I thank Bassey Ikpe for giving me an intro to doing so. I really hope one day my mom gets to find her intro and can tell her own story.
In support of the Siwe project, please visit www.thesiweproject.org to read other stories and share yours if you have one. If you’re on twitter, check out @thesiweproject with the #NoShame hashtag. Silence is really deadly.