A memoir recollects the pain of growing up with a mentally ill mother.
When Schoonover (Divorce Made Simple: The Ultimate Guide by a Former Family Judge, 2017) was only 4 years old, her mother picked out a dress for her daughter to wear to her funeral. Then she swallowed a bottle of pills in an attempt at suicide. Larry, the author’s 13-year-old brother, borrowed a neighbor’s car and drove their mom to the hospital, narrowly saving her life. Schoonover spent the next two years living with her grandmother while her mother was institutionalized; when she returned, her mother was as emotionally erratic as before. She vacillated wildly between seemingly sane and dangerously paranoid and often believed she was the vulnerable target of imminent murder. The author sensitively captures the chaos that haunted her home life: “Mom had good months and not so good months. Our lives were like train cars tied together on a roller coaster.” Meanwhile, Schoonover’s father remained emotionally aloof at best and at worst, could be bitterly cruel, selfish, and prone to ungovernable outbursts of anger. The author felt unloved at home and lived in constant fear of embarrassment at school and in the neighborhood, with that anxiety the source of considerable alienation and loneliness. Larry found his escape by enlisting in the Army and was sent to Vietnam; the author discovered solace in her nascent Christian faith and scholastic achievement. Despite her father’s furious protestations, she went to college, became a lawyer, and started her own practice, eventually becoming a circuit court judge. Schoonover’s harrowing remembrance is unflinching, remarkable for a level of candor that demands courage. Her spare but moving prose tenderly portrays the terror and isolation she weathered as a child. Yet this is not a scornful lament but rather an inspiriting account of personal triumph; the author writes affectingly about the love and sympathy she still has for her mother. This brief memoir is untainted by cloying self-pity and full of wise counsel for others who have suffered similarly.
An affecting look at childhood trauma.