Bloody Knees

At seven, my mom enrolled me into the Junior Campfire Girls. It was cruel of her I thought. She knew I had crippling social anxiety, but that was exactly why she did it.

By now, the honeymoon period of moving into the big fancy house with the view in Granada Hills had worn away. Sooner than later, we were going to lose it anyway. We couldn’t afford it on my dad’s salary. I don’t know what they were thinking.

While the money was running out, my parents’ fighting was revving up again. Things got volatile and Mom was having more manic episodes than ever before. She was now fighting with my brother, Mike, too, who was beginning to take my father’s side of the arguments. But Dad was brainwashing Mike on Sundays. They’d sit parked inside of his Dodge Dart in front of the house for hours. Soon enough, Mike started to disrespect her, calling her crazy, and calling her names. It only made her obsessed with winning back his love – a sick game that was very upsetting to watch.

It was around this time when my dad quit smoking. This meant everyone else had to quit smoking too. He put a lot of pressure on Mom. And my brother always hated the smell of smoke, so Mom made many attempts to quit. But I’ll never forget when she made Mike hide her cigarettes from her. It was a bad idea. When the hour struck and her cravings came into hyper focus, Mike wouldn’t tell her where they were. That was when I saw her first psychotic break. She completely flipped out and broke everything in the house – every dish, every glass and even destroyed her own meaningful possessions – bowling trophies, secretarial plaques. She even took a steak knife to her favorite painting: a piece she had for many years and kept over the fireplace of a Spanish dancer. Now it was cut into shreds.

It seemed she really lost it when she began to tear apart the couch cushions thinking cigarettes were stashed somewhere inside. She even tried cutting through the sofa with knives while screaming things that didn’t even make sense. She made absurd noises, like she was having a stroke. I remember pleading with Mike to just give her a fucking cigarette to make it all stop, but he wouldn’t.

When Dad came home and walked in on the scene, he didn’t have much time to beat the shit out of my brother. He only had time to snap my mom out of her state, and so he threw her into the pool. It worked. She just stood there in the shallow end, quietly crying and watching her nightgown float above the water, surrounding her like a baby blue cloud. After we wrapped her in a big towel, she seemed to finally calm down. She seemed exhausted actually. By then, she certainly deserved a cigarette, so after she got into a dry nightgown, I sat with her on the ripped up couch and rubbed her feet as she silently smoked in front of the TV. She took some days off work after that.

But shortly after this, Mike pretended to run away. Really, he was just hiding in the closet of his bedroom. For days he did this. He was ditching school too and my parents were worried sick. It was awful. Although, we knew he was coming back into the house in the mornings when no one was home. He left definite signs. Mom picked me up from school after her morning shifts; we’d come back to the house around lunch time and see the tornado-like evidence. He’d been systematically trashing the house in a similar fashion as Mom would during her manic episodes, only he was leaving quaint little notes all over the place, like “Fuck you, Mom,” and “I hate you forever!” He’d leave them on the mirror of the medicine cabinet in lipstick, on the back of a card taped to the sink in the kitchen, or wherever he thought she might show up. She’d come home to this and wonder where the hell he was and why he hated her so much. It got to be too much for her.

Finally, one day while I was at my Campfire Girls meeting, the lady who supervised it told me I needed to go home in a hurry after receiving a phone call. She said my mom was going to the hospital. In a panic, I ran up the hill to my house as fast as I could, so fast, in fact, that I lost my footing and fell onto the hot Valley sidewalk, right smack on my bare knees. I was wearing my stupid Campfire Girls uniform. I skinned both knees pretty good and opened them bloody. I got up and kept running up to my house and cried about the unknown. I didn’t understand exactly what was happening or why she was going to the hospital – or if I would be too late by the time I got there. I was so freaked out, I just ran as fast as I could.

When I got to the pathway of our fancy mid-century house, I whimpered, “Mommy Mommy!” And there she was, standing at the door. I could see her through the screen. But as I went towards her with blood dripping down my legs, all she saw was a four-foot problem. One that made crying noises. I could see the panic on her face while she turned the other way and ran to the back of the house. She slammed her bedroom door and barricaded herself, completely unable to deal with the situation.

I guess Mike’s little stunt was over, because there he was with worried tears in his eyes, leading me by the hand into the bathroom. He propped me up onto the sink, and tried to console me, explaining what was going on. That’s when he cleaned my knees by squirting a whole bottle of Bactine on them. He placed Snoopy band-aids all over the cuts and told me that Mom was going away to the mental hospital for a while. We didn’t know for how long, but she was going to get fixed there. She would come home and be all better. But all I heard was that Mom was leaving. I didn’t care that my knees were burning. I didn’t care about the Snoopy band-aids. I didn’t care about anything.

Shortly after that, my dad hired some guy from Downtown to babysit us during the day. I don’t know if Dad knew him from work or if he found him off the street, but he was a total bum – a hippie type, always drunk and passed out by noon. Mike and I would ditch school and hide out in the kitchen pantry until he nodded off. No one ever knew what we were up to. But I guess for all intents and purposes, he was a better guardian than my mom was at the time.