I was 14 years old and in 9th grade in a small town in the mountains of central Washington state. I woke up late for school the morning of Wednesday November 10, 1993. That is how the worst day of my life started. I missed the school bus, and so my mom said she’d take me to school. The alternator in the car was having problems and the car wouldn’t start. We tried to start the reliable pickup truck and it did not start for some reason, either. So for 2 hours we plugged in the car battery and let it charge up. I was two hours late to school, and my best friend got upset with me for not saying hi to her on my way in. I was flustered for being late and so we got in a fight which put a dark cloud on the rest of the school day. After school, my mother, who’d been acting strange lately, came to do a parent teacher conference because I was flunking a class. After that, she suggested that I go with her into town because we are going to have dinner with some of her friends from work. She invited my friend Robert along with us.
Here is where the fun really begins. The car my mom showed up in was not our car. It was a brand new car she was test driving, due to the alternator issues the other car was having. She said before we went to dinner we had a few things to take care of, like dropping the car off. “Town” meant Wenatchee, which was a 45 minute drive away. On the way to the car lot to drop off the car, my mom, who was completely in high spirits, announced nonchalantly that my grandmother died. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. My friend Robert in the front seat was even worried to hear the news. I asked how it happened. My mom said it was a heart attack. Then she added with an air of carefree that my step-dad had also died the same morning of a heart attack. I was completely speechless and stunned. My life had just taken a turn for the strange!
We arrived at the dealership and my mom wanted to buy the car. It turns out we were late bringing the car back, and the salesman was pressed for time, but wanted the sale so he went inside to get everything prepared. Another fellow came out, and my mom did not want to get out of the car. She handed him her credit card and didn’t want to sign papers as is customary. She finally got out of the car and took off her gold watch. She handed it to the salesman and said she’d give it to him to keep if he let her take the new car. He was flattered but didn’t want the watch, and they argued. Finally she agreed to go inside, and the second sales man handed me the watch when she wasn’t looking and asked if she was ok. I told him my step-dad and grandmother apparently just died today so she was probably in shock. He then felt really bad. A few moments later my mom came out with the keys to our car and said that we were taking back our car.
She said we were first going to JC Penney before dinner, where she was going to buy my friend Robert a haircut, and me a shampoo. I did not want a shampoo. I had no reason to get one. She insisted. So while I was getting shampoo’d and Robert was getting a haircut in the salon, my mom said she had something to do and disappeared. The lady washing my hair remarked my mom was acting really strange and I explained two members of my family had just died. She felt horrible for her then. When we were finished, my mom came back to get us. She was in brand new clothes. I asked her why she was wearing different clothes and she explained to me, as though it was completely normal, that she burned her old clothes, and that, in fact, she had burned all of my clothes and furniture at home as well. Then she offered to buy anything I wanted at the store. I was completely in shock and utterly confused as to why she’d burn our clothes and furniture, but she wouldn’t remark beyond that. finally, pressed for time, she urged me to make a decision on what I wanted from the store. I couldn’t make one so we just left.
Then we drove to Leavenworth to meet some of my mother’s friends for dinner. Leavenworth was another 30 minutes away from Wenatchee. It was late by this time, and the restaurant we pulled up outside of was closed. She said, “that’s ok we’ll go somewhere else for dinner.” I said to her, “But if we’re meeting your friends how will they know where we are if we were supposed to go to THIS restaurant?” As though I was stupid, she replied, “All my friends are psychic just like me. They will know where we are.” So that settled it. In we went to the Katzenjammer Kids restaurant, where my mom ordered a table for 12, and then promptly seated herself in the bar for a drink. Robert and I sat at the end of the 12-person table and ate salads, while waiting for these friends of my mom’s to show up. Of course no one showed up. The waitress came and spoke quietly to us and said she thought my mom was drunk and asked if we had a way of getting home. Robert was 16 and could drive so he said he could drive us back.
While waiting for my mom to pay the bill, I asked if we could take the car around the block. She said no, but said we could go wait in the car. While waiting for her in the car, I told Robert to take the car for a spin around the block. So we did, then the car got stuck down the street. It was the alternator again. We went to get my mom who was coming out of the restroom in the restaurant. She did not have her purse with her. I asked her what happened to it and she told me she left it in the restroom and would just get a new one. I sighed and went to retrieve her purse for her.
We found someone to jump the battery, and I helped my mother into the back seat of the car. She lay down and fell asleep. Robert drove us to my place. It was very late by this time but I was greatly concerned so I called the grocery store where my step-dad worked the graveyard shift to see if he was actually there, and he was. He told me he was fine, and didn’t know why my mom would tell me he’d died. So I called my grandma’s house where my aunt answered. She told me that my grandmother was fine. She had not died. My aunt told me to call my father. I called my dad, and he told me that my mom was bipolar and she must be having a manic episode. I didn’t know what bipolar was at the time.
Our clothes and furniture were fine. I put my mother to bed, fully clothed in her new clothes, and found she had just stashed her other clothing in the trunk of the car and not actually burned them. Robert slept on the floor that night, and I slept on the couch because I was too terrified to be alone. There had been warning signs that my mom was having an episode, but since I didn’t know what bipolar was, I just thought that she was being weird lately. For a few weeks before she’d been experimenting creatively with making doll furniture, pottery, necklaces, etc. and had turned the dining room table into a workshop. One night she had told me she was going to the store for cigarettes at midnight and wanted me to bring out my karakoe machine from my room to the living room so she could sing when she got back. She then borrowed $2 from me to get the cigarettes. In the morning, I found she had never used the karaoke machine. Just weird stuff like that had been occuring.
It turns out, I found out later, that my mom had been to an allergy doctor in town who wanted to find out why she was having allergic reactions. He took her off of her depakote altogether, and within the month she’d spiraled out of control. This was my first experience with bipolar.
What a day!