Image by Shoeib Abolhassani

Parental Paradigm

CW: parental mental health crisis, hospitalization intake process

Her terror is my terror; I cannot break the two apart.

        "This is supposed to be good for anxiety." I unscrew the top and drop some into a lukewarm glass of water at her feet. The herb-infused brandy branches out, slowly planting tendrils in the clear water and turning it a murky brown.
        "I take medication," she says. "This won't help if that doesn't."
        "I know," I reply, fighting hopelessness, "but just try it."
        She takes a sip as her eyes dart around the room, taking in everything and nothing. Her knees are to her chest and her bed is to her left but she's huddled on the floor.
        "Are you okay?" I ask, wishing I could run out of the room, down the street and dissolve into the blinding sun.
        Trembling, she attempts a smile.
        "She's fine," a voice explodes from the bed.
        I raise my head above the off-white sheets to see my father, watching football.
        "Why don't you just let her answer?" My voice is tight.
        "Because she always does this. She's fine." His eyes lock to the television.
        A hand grips my arm. Her eyes are wide and her chest movements showcase her heart rate.
        "I need to go to the hospital." The words seem to tumble out. I look back at my father.
        "So take her then.”
        I turn to my mother.

        "Let's go."
        The keys to her car materialize in my hand. I shrink as I get behind the wheel of a car so enormous and red it could pass for a fire engine. My mom sits next to me, knees still clutched to her chest as if she's trying to keep herself together.
        She talks. Her words jump around, never fully finishing a sentence. I do my best to let her know I understand, even though I do not.
        "It's too much," she says. "It's just too much."
        I clutch the steering wheel as our roles switch and I deliver my mom to safety.
        When we arrive at the ER they take us to a special room. There's nothing there besides a bed, a chair and a few knobs on the wall. It is white and it is empty. Psychiatric emergency, I think. My mother sits on the edge of the bed, methodically picking the skin off her fingers, dropping bits of her DNA on the clean floor. I look away and think about my dad. He's always been cold but this felt different.
        "Why didn't dad drive you?" I ask.
        My mom smiles a weird smile, "It's okay, he's just stressed."
        A month earlier I had been at this same hospital, holding my sleeping boyfriend's hand at one in the morning as he breathed through a nebulizer. But I guess that's just young love for you.
        The doctor arrives and the room feels emptier. As my mom speaks her troubles aloud I watch her become devastatingly human. The ground tilts slightly under my feet.
        "Well, what do you want?" The doctor is impatient.
        She straightens up. "I want to be hospitalized.”
        My skin becomes a magnet. Something is pulling me apart.
        "There is some room at McLean, but in order for you to be eligible we'll have to transport you there ourselves." The doctor shuffles some papers. "I'll get an ambulance ready."
        When we’re alone again I ask, “Are you sure this is what you want?" I can feel the heat of my father's anger when I come home without her.
        "I can't live like this," she says, her empty eyes piercing mine.
        I put my arm around her. I think of all the times I needed her love and she left me crying.
        "Will you meet me there?" I remember the times I was afraid to leave her side as a child.
        "Of course," I say, and I lose her to the maze of hospital hallways.
        I look down at my hands, my own flesh, our shared mitochondria, and I wonder if there's any way to escape this fate. If there is, I have to find it.
        I sign papers like field trip slips to admit my mother to McLean hospital for an unspecified amount of time. I can taste freedom and I can taste grief. They mix in my mouth, their flavors indistinguishable.

JAINA CIPRIANO is a Boston based artist communicating with the world through photography, film and installation. Her works explore the emotional toll of religious and romantic entrapment.