Thursday, May 17, 2012

5-16-12 Pictures of Tommy - a memoirist’s blog #17

(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. . . )


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.

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