The Dark Side of Mildred’s Mountain series – Angel book 2 beginning with the POP! Goes Alaska letters – chapter 4
4. Migration North
All I remember of our trip north from Los Angeles was the Little Golden Book titled How to Tell Time that I held in my hands for the duration of or flight. All I see of my arrival at the log house is an expanse of hardwood flooring stretching ahead as I walked through the front door. At not quite six years old I was not very tall so the floor is closer to me than the ceiling is far over my head. The living room seemed very large with unexplored rooms ahead of me to the right and to the left.
Did I first walk across this room to stand in front of the black bear rug (as I have always called it in my memory) splayed across the far living room wall? Its dead gaping mouth full of great teeth, its wide staring glass eyes set to star at anyone who noticed? Two wide feet with smooth claws low enough on the wall I could run my fingers down them to their pointed killing ends.
Was everyone else so busy gliding around excitedly in this nearly empty house, in and out of rooms, opening and closing closet and cupboard doors that I could stand transfixed in front of this strange fierce beast, pushing my hands through its thick fur so that lines of black bristles stood up between my small fingers? I am quite certain the narrow pinking sheared edges of felt surrounding the bear was green. I have always seen it as green but it could have been some other color. But because I have always known that bear was there on the wall to greet me in our new house I felt a thrill of affirmation in the powers of my childhood memory to find it described within Mother’s letters.
Mother was terrified of bears. Log house photographs of its interior confirm that the rug was not allowed to stay on the wall very long. It had been left there by the landlady who had gone off to Africa with her husband just in time for Father to rent us her house. Where did the great rug go? Was it rolled up and carried by Father up the narrow ladder to be hidden above our heads in the attic? Did Father haul it out the front door, across the yard, into the cave of the canvas Jamesway hut to store it forever in forgotten darkness?
I am proud of my nearly-six year old self that I never forgot this bear who had appeared in my life long enough to imprint itself into my memory so that I alone of the Lloyd children have carried thoughts of its life along with its death around with me for 56 years now as an emblem of my childhood. Perhaps I was motivated to do so because I might have impressed as a young child that of all I knew about the world with my often raging hurtful mother in it only bears seemed to hold the power to scare her.
Through all the later years we lived on our mountain homestead it was the ring of Mother’s metal cow bell that defined the area around the house we were allowed to wander. We were never allowed to stray further than the sound of her bell could reach. Any time she chose to ring it we better have appeared before her eyes. In one piece. With no bear chasing us. Her plan worked. We all survived our childhood. Thanks or no thanks to Mother.
Our family moved into and out of this rented Eagle River log house several times as our Alaska life unwound into our future. Mother recorded her impressions of her trip north and of her new home in the first letter she wrote from the log house to her mother in Pasadena, California on Thursday, August 1, 1957. In the first part of her letter she began her writing by describing our trip north:
Dearest Mother (Charles and Carolyn) [her brother and his wife]
It’s really hard to believe I am actually in Alaska! I feel as if I were transported here on the Magic Carpet in Grandma’s stories she told when I was a little girl.
One of my primary motivations for publishing Mother’s and my own writings is to add what can be known about Mildred’s version of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) with psychosis to the body of documentation about this serious and devastating mental illness. Any future determination to change the name and/or the description of symptoms of BPD needs to take into account the reality of what it is like to live with this disorder and to live with someone who has it. This is a REAL mental illness with specific and unique parameters that must not be lost sight of because it might be uncomfortable or unpopular to know the range of truth about it. While “emotional dysregulation” is certainly one of the complications of this disorder, it is the permanent alterations in the way the BPD brain operates as it can create alternate realities within a very disturbed mind that demands that this disorder retain its own carefully distinguished psychiatric diagnostic category.
I am not exaggerating when I say that Mother lived in a crooked world of her imagination in which boundaries between fantasy and actual reality were fuzzy or entirely missing. Much of her world was formulated along the lines of fairy tales so that their words, imagery and storylines permeated how Mildred perceived reality and lived her life. In a recent telephone conversation I had with Joe Anne Vanover the first week of March 2013 (a woman you will meet shortly in Mildred’s early Alaska 1957 letters) I was reminded by this outsider to our family about the role that the fantastic played in Mother’s mind.
Mother had told Joe Anne that during the homesteading years when her life was “really” difficult she made the hardships more tolerable through pretending. Joe Anne told me, “Your mother described how when she built a fire to heat water beside the creek below your place to wash laundry she pretended she was an Indian princess.” In Mildred’s mind such pretending was not play. While the pretend actions were taking place they were REALLY happening in Mildred’s mind. This kind of pretending is a “step over the edge” into a blurred twilight world that Mother SEEMED to be able to walk into, through and out of again – but in many important cases REALLY did not.
Certainly her level of “pretending” I was the devil’s child replacement for her own bad self in hell happened through operation of a permanent and dangerous psychotic break that could have been recognized at the time it happened when I was born if anyone had known what they were looking at. Pretending she was an Indian princess with a feather in her hair washing clothes beside a tumbling Alaskan glacial mountain stream might not have harmed anyone, but the changes in her brain that gave structure to her pretending were not normal.
When my youngest child was four he used our old pale yellow metal kitchen stool laid sideways on the floor to sit inside as he pretended the round seat was a steering wheel. At his developmental stage my son WAS in his mind-world REALLY steering anything from a truck to a race car to a space craft during his play. He so enjoyed his imaginary games that he ignored my warning as his body grew larger that he was getting too big to fit safely inside the metal rungs between the stool legs any longer.
One final day he did squeeze himself inside the stool legs and could not get out. I couldn’t get him out, either. As our apartment walls rang with his terrified screams I sent his older sister racing to fetch our landlord who appeared with his hacksaw and crow bar to extricate my son who next graduated to building space ships out of Legos filled with loaves of Lego block bread to feed its invisible crew.
I have no reason to believe that Mother had been all right when she entered her developmental stage of imaginary play. She was not OK as she passed through this stage, and she was certainly already suffering mentally when it was time to leave this stage – because she never fully did.
When Mildred wrote of feeling transported to Alaska on a Magic Carpet she did know on one level that she had REALLY traveled in an airplane. “Feel” is the key suggestive word in her sentence because what Mildred felt to be real was real to her. If there ever was a conflict that required a choice be made between what felt real to her and what was actually real, her feeling reality always came out on top.
It never mattered to Mother what anyone else ever felt about anything; only Mildred’s feelings were real to her. What anyone else needed or wanted never mattered to her, either. Ultimately this was true because no other person actually existed in Mother’s mind. Everyone had a part to play as a figment of her imagination and as a projection of her feelings.
It is significant of Mildred’s thinking processes that although she glowingly describes her first airplane travel in this letter, from this point forward she claimed to be mortally afraid to travel again by air. I read her future statements of this fear as being forms of manipulative tactics used to support her demands to get what she wanted when she wanted it the way she wanted it. I do not believe that her future supposed fear of flying had anything to do with either fear or flying.
Airplane travel is certainly wonderful – I arrived in Anchorage at 10:45 yesterday morning – a half hour before scheduled, so Bill wasn’t there to greet us.
Really, Mom it was the most thrilling, exciting thing that has ever happened to me. The trip here was all worth it just to have flown! I could write you pages and pages just telling you about the flight but there’s so much I have to tell you. I am bursting with news.
First of all, Mom you must plan to visit us next summer and you must fly! There’s nothing to it and you don’t even need ‘a change of clothes’ – only your purse.
The children loved it, were as calm as could be. [At this time Sharon had just turned two, Cindy four, John seven, and I was nearly six.] I am still recovering. It was a thrill, but also quite terrifying to climb 20,000 feet. John‘s nose was pressed to the window every minute! (when he wasn’t sleeping). Oh Mom, I am so anxious now for you to experience all I have – I know you’d be a wonderful traveler. On the Northwest Orient Flight there were two Grandmothers coming up to see their daughters who had also migrated to Alaska….
The finesse of reading Mildred’s writings lies in noticing important words that contain information above and beyond any ordinary level of meaning. These words can slip by outside the range of the attention they merit, as could her phrase “migrated to Alaska.” Mildred just elevated her family’s move to the status of migration, a step even above immigration at the same time this concept was “normalized” in her mind because other people did it. Migration happens as a result of an innate function for species built that way. Mildred just made her decision to move north into an instinctive act that she had (obviously to her) been incapable of interfering with.
I also find this sentence to be very interesting: “I am so anxious now for you to experience all I have….” Up until this time over the 31 years of Mildred’s life there had been no separation in distance between her and her mother. There could be no kind of Star Trek Spock mind-meld through which Mildred could now share her new world with her mother. An entirely different kind of relationship had suddenly come into existence between my grandmother and her daughter which is exactly what Mildred had wanted so that her mother’s “interference” in her parenting could be stopped. What next? What now?
The children were wonderful and so good. The stewardess and all passengers remarked on what exceptionally good children they were and it was a long Flight.
We reached Los Angeles about 11:00 P.M. and plane left at 1:30 A.M. The man that checked my baggage offered to help me board the plane early. So at 1:15 I boarded and had a choice of seats. I was so excited and thrilled by then after watching all the planes take off I could hardly stand it. This plane proved quite rough, part of the trip, but I did enjoy it even though my stomach was ‘queasy’. Every time I felt sick, I’d breathe deeply and try to relax and soon it was easier riding again. The children slept until we landed in Seattle. But I was too excited and watched out the window all the way. Sometimes all I could see were stars and clouds – it was such a clear night! Other times I could see the lights of the world below it looked like a beautifully lit up Xmas tree.
We landed in Seattle after a twenty minute stop in Portland. From what I could see it’s a beautiful spot and when you come to visit us you could stop and visit there!
This statement, for as simple and innocuous as it might appear to be, is another example of the kinds of peepholes into the complexities of Mildred’s mind that appear within her writings. Because I have closely studied Mother’s expressions of herself in relation to other people I can detect the kind of undifferentiated thinking Mildred had. Why on earth would her mother want to stop and visit Portland simply based on her daughter’s passing observation from the inside of a plane that Portland looked to be “a beautiful spot” to Mildred?
Mildred was incapable of forming clear boundaries (borderlines) in her mind between her thoughts and the thoughts in the minds of other people. From Mildred’s strange mind-melded, joined-together, overlapping and invasively “possessive” (projecting) point of view what she observed, thought, felt, intended, etc. was OF COURSE the same thing that someone else would share in exactly the same way that she did herself. I suspect that this “you-is-me-is-me-is-you-is-we” mental reality that was certainly how Mother operated is probably a key aspect of Borderline Personality Disorder. It makes such a woman as Mildred was an extremely dangerous and damaging mother to her children who are never able to – because they are not allowed to – develop their own clear healthy mind-selves under the influence of such a mentally ill mind from the time of their birth.
My oldest grandson who just turned three had a very sad evening a few weeks ago. Earlier in the day he told his mother, “Mommy stay home.” She works fulltime and explained to her son that she would go to work and be home after his daddy picked him up at daycare and brought him back home at the end of the day. This message did not get through to my grandson’s super-attached-to-Mommy burgeoning mind. When he did not see his mother’s car parked in the garage as soon as the door opened he burst into heartbroken, inconsolable sobs.
His daddy could not begin to repair whatever rupture his young son was reacting to. Eventually after bringing the baby into the house he was able to get his bellowing son to come inside, as well. But it was not until Mommy got home, lovingly and care-fully took my grandson back out to the garage, put him into his car seat where the crying began and then took him out again to THEN enter the house that all was made well enough again the crying could stop.
What manner of trial was this for all concerned? After my daughter related the events to me I spent some time thinking about what had happened until the problem from my grandson’s point of view became clear. He was not being a tyrant. He had not thrown “a tantrum.” In his mind of course if he wanted/needed/wished for his mother to spend her day at home SHE WOULD! How could she not? Because my grandson has not yet fully differentiated himself from his mommy she is still he and he is still her in very significant ways. Once I understood this about the no-mommy-home little boy disaster I understood that my mother never differentiated from her mother – ever!
And why not? My first guess is that she had never safely and securely attached to her mother in the first place as my grandson has so fully done with my daughter. Because of the broken places inside of my mother that corresponded to the broken places in her attachment relationship with her mother, Mildred never got to join with her mother correctly so that she could later, through appropriate attachment-related processes, differentiate from her as my grandson is certain to do in his own time and in his own way with his mother.
One of Mother’s greatest difficulties related to her mental illness was that she could not separate her mind from anyone else’s, or even truly comprehend that other people even existed as self-agents separate from her with minds of their own. There is a very good chance that this problem came directly from her insecure attachment disorder created by her inadequate, traumatic early relationship interactions with her caregivers. Even if mind-melding is a “symptom” of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) its origins began long before Mildred even had verbal language abilities. This makes the insecure attachment disorder a primary problem in my thinking and the BPD a secondary one.
I also note that these same unrecognized patterns enabled Mildred to take over the mind and life of her husband, as well. It is for this reason that I highly recommend the book, Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking your life back when someone you care about has borderline personality disorder, by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger. When I was 53 I finally recognized that all that was wrong in my childhood came from this mental illness Mother had by reading the list of characteristics of this disorder that were included in the 1998 first edition of this book. This list has – I think most unfortunately – been removed from the second 2010 edition. I suggest that any reader of my writings who begins to catch a glimmer of recognition that patterns in Mildred are similar to those of an important person in their own life find a copy of this book and read it ASAP!
The wait from 5:25 to 7:30 in Seattle was long! I had to wake the children up at 4:45 A.M. and then wait two and a half hours in the airport but they were angels. They were grand and helped carry bundles and were just plain good sports. I am very proud of them.
We boarded the Northwest Orient plane at 7:15 A.M. It was a lot bigger and crowded (three seats in one row whereas the other had two). Much to my surprise they served breakfast and lunch no charge. It was hard for the children to eat on their lap but they loved it. Breakfast: Melon, toast, scrambled eggs and bacon, sweet roll and milk.
I couldn’t eat a bite and haven’t eaten a meal yet! I guess I’ll get my appetite back – my stomach quieted as soon as I landed in Anchorage.
The second plane was more like a bus and not as noisy as the first. The people were nice all the way and so helpful. Why even the PILOT in Seattle carried Sharon and my case clear up to the check-stand (up several flights of stairs) and saw me to the desk to check in for my next flight!
Once we safely arrived it was hard to believe we could be here. From 1:15 A.M. to 10:45 the next morning. Amazing!
Bill got our car and it’s very nice and roomy! He got paid yesterday. What luck! Our payments are $75 a month too and it will be rough. I am going to be watching every penny now.
It’s wonderful to be here and so good to be with Bill again. This morning when I woke up and realized where I was I was so happy to see Bill next to me – but it also hit me that I was far away from my family. I’ll miss you Mother, Charlie and Carolyn and the children – will write you often. Mother I know I’ll see you next summer.
The second half of this letter follows in the next chapter.
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