By Krista Bean
Copyright 2012 Krista Bean
Cover Photo: © Satori13 | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
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My mother took her own life when I was seventeen years old. She had been mentally unbalanced for years, degenerating to the point where my father was forced to employ multiple nurses to care for her. He even installed them in upstairs bedrooms rather than the servants’ quarters, so they could be on hand at any hour. At the time of the tragedy, I had only been home for a few weeks after graduating from North Haven Finishing School. I spoke French, was proficient on both the piano and the flute, and could rival anyone in the fine art of charming conversation. These most essential feminine accomplishments were enhanced by the fact that I had grown into quite a pretty young lady. But my girlish mirth was extinguished when I arrived home to find my mother swimming in a haze of perpetual dementia.
I was dismayed, but not wholly surprised at her state. In my childhood, she became susceptible to bouts of hysteria. I would awaken in the middle of the night to her shrieks and sobs, which carried down our cavernous hallways like the voices of angry spirits. The first time I heard this commotion (I could not have been more than five years old) it chilled me to my core because my mother was always so dignified during the day. She would glide around the house with her enormous hoop skirts swishing this way and that, her porcelain face and delicate shoulders perched atop a waist she still managed to pull in to twenty-two inches. She commandeered her household with an unshakable dignity, ordering the servants about and playing hostess to our continual stream of guests. She was stern and aloof, and she intimidated me – as much with her composure as with her insanity. Of course word of her mental predicament never entered dignified, daytime conversation; her fits were dealt with at night, and willfully forgotten as the sun came up. Not three or four years passed, however, before my mother’s erratic behavior began disrupting her social schedule. She became paranoid and withdrawn, and more and more often we were obliged to make excuses on her behalf.