(Right now, I’m focusing on my memoirist work that I’ll call, simply, “Pictures of Tommy” -- all about my psychotic brother and his legacy. If so inclined, please share, and tell me what you think. . . )
COMMISERANTS/COMMISERATI - part 1
I’m heartened by hearing from others who have mentally ill brothers. I just met author Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, whose memoir, Girls of Tender Age, was partly about her deceased, autistic brother, Tyler. Referred to as “Rain Man” in the book by some people in a hospital that cared for him, this guy had a very limited life, socially. Back then, in the fifties (Tyler was a good 10-15 years older than my brother, Tom), if you were that strange, you were considered “retarded” -- strange because autistic Tyler Tirone was an idiot savant and could read big books about WWII at the age of 8. . .
He was kept out of school, stayed at home, slept all day, and had a lot of quirks, among them the inability to stand noises like dogs barking or people crying. In so many ways, he was a lot worse off than my brother, Tom. Of course, they had entirely different issues/devils. . . and medications too, of course.
Reading M-A Tirone Smith’s book made me relieved that our family’s problems with Tom arose in the late nineteen sixties; at least it didn’t seem like such a benighted time. Sure, there was still stigma aplenty and my parents suffered a lot because they couldn’t tell others about their wacko son (it just wasn’t done). Still. It could have been worse, all right.
Fifteen years or so ago, I was visiting my West Coast Aunt and Uncle (mom’s brother, Jim, and his wife, Kathy). They lived in Bellevue, Washington -- a suburb for the Boeing families who moved there in the early ‘60’s, like them. We were sitting up late, in the kitchen, after a nice gathering of the cousins and a sing-along with guitars in the living room. We’ve always been a musical family. In fact, one of the Vonderlinns sang with the Trapp Family Singers. . .
Aunt Kathy said how sad it was that my mom couldn’t tell her family about the hard times with Tommy. She’s a proud woman. . . how could she admit failure?
I remember reading something in mom’s room one time, a letter from a doctor saying something about a “seductive mother” that I didn’t understand. Her bedroom was a total mess, a jumble of clutter & papers all over the place, not at all a restful place. . . but how my eyes lit on that paper, I’ll never know. It just chilled me to the bone to read it. Poor mom, what a double burden, being blamed for her behavior AND for her son’s chemical imbalance. . . poor mom.