Laura M. Flynn
A thoughtful memoir of a difficult childhood, growing up as the middle of three sisters with a schizophrenic mother, this book reads like a novel. I finished it within 24 hours of picking it up which is pretty good for me these days. I was eager to find out what happens to Laura after he father leaves.
As in Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle, children are left to fend for themselves and even burdened with looking after a parent when they are much too young to be shouldered with such a task. The seven-year-old author would go shopping once or twice a week with her 10 year-old sister and struggle to find everything on their mother’s list. For political reasons, Del Monte was not allowed in the house so they had to search the shelves to find Hunt’s tomato paste. Living near Golden Gate Park in the 1960’s, people might at first think her mother was just a somewhat unconventional person. But as her madness becomes more evident, Laura escapes into a “safe space” she creates around herself.
Laura’s mother heard demons speaking to her, continually hoarded trash and then began burning things in the fireplace all night. The girls tried their best to hide the cluttered mess in the house from prying eyes. They hide under the bed and ate cereal and tried to stay out of Mother’s way.
“People talk about how fast life can go from good to bad. How on day you’re happy, everything is going fine, and then something happens. Someone dies or someone leaves. There’s an illness or an accident. Life as you know it slips away. But it can got the other way too. You can go from god-awful to pretty OK in a single day. That’s what happened to us, and it was just as jarring.”
― Laura M. Flynn, Swallow the Ocean: A Memoir
You’ll be captivated by the story she tells and how she got through it. As an adult, she has some regrets which she is very candid in sharing with us. I was left wondering how many people out there need psychiatric treatment but refuse to get help. Reading this story, I realized that even close family cannot always deal with this problem. I hope things are changing in the field of mental health and that as the stigma attached to mental illness lessens, that more people will accept help.
Born in San Francisco, she writes about the city and recently is involved in helping in Haiti. Visit her website for more info. http://lauramflynn.com/