In this debut memoir, a writer revisits his youth, traveling a difficult path to forgiveness for the damage suffered dealing with his mother’s mental illness.
In the spring of 1957, Lyons was 14 years old. His life in Downey, California, just outside Los Angeles, was good. And then his world crashed. His mother, Phyllis, had her first mental breakdown. Until that point, he recalls Phyllis as being vivacious and popular, with a gift for the dramatic. She had a passion for literature, and she helped found the Downey Community Players. Their house had been frequently filled with an intellectual, artistic crowd. But Phyllis would spend the next 17 years in and out of psychiatric hospitals: “My mother disappeared down her own well. Many rescue attempts were made, as she was brought to the surface, then slipped back down into her private abyss. Every time she was pulled up, there seemed to be less of her.” Lyons describes his life at ages 14 and 15—which makes up the bulk of the retrospective—in vividly detailed, present-tense prose, bringing readers through the minutiae of a period filled with adolescent angst, sadness, fears for his future, and anger at his parents (his mother for disappearing and his father for catering to her relentless needs). Although he never specifies a diagnosis, her illness was manifested in deep depression and immobilizing fears. She also had a very disturbing sexual obsession with the author. In his complex memoir, some of the most poignant stories are about the homing pigeons he bred and trained for about four years. Jumping back and forth in time, Lyons connects his early adult difficulties in romantic relationships to the fear of abandonment developed during those crucial teenage years. Now in his 70s, a devoted husband and father, he writes: “I have learned to embrace my loneliness—or rather to embrace the boy who grew up lonely, the boy who in some ways I will always be.” The author has found peace, but pain and a sense of great loss permeate these pages.
A thoughtful, moving account of watching a loved one gradually fade into a private world.