Mom heaved a huge sigh, causing the connection between us to crackle in my ear. “Baby, I wish you weren’t so far away, where I can’t help you or be near to you when you need me.”
My mom was mentally unstable.
Not in the "ha ha, your mom is so cray cray" kind of way, but in the way she was one hundred percent convinced that, twenty years ago, an honest-to-God angel had visited her in the middle of the night and gotten her pregnant with me.
A diagnosed schizophrenic, she'd been doing okay the last couple of years because she’d stuck to her medical regimen, but all those years before then had been rough, sometimes scary, and always exhausting.
It didn’t help that Mom had been young when she'd gotten pregnant, barely seventeen, and in the small town I'd grown up in, people hadn’t been kind to young, unwed mothers. And the community sure as hell hadn’t been understanding of her mental illness, either.
“Mom, I really need to go,” I said into my phone, glancing over as the door to the dorm room sprung opened. Erin Fore sashayed in, practically glowing from her morning run along the New River Valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She preferred to do her runs outside even though we had a fitness center in our residence hall. I preferred to lollygag on an elliptical machine. Screw the hard, running-outside crap—that required effort.
“I really wish you’d come back home. You’re all the way across the world,” she said.
I fought the urge to sigh. This was hard for Mom. I kept telling myself that. “It’s not 'all the way across the world.' You’re in Missouri. I’m in Virginia. It’s not that far, Mom.”
Erin’s dark brown eyes caught mine and sympathy filled her gaze. We’d been roomies for the last three semesters, almost two years. She knew all about my mom troubles, and she totally understood why I was majoring in psychology. Because of my mom’s illness, I was fascinated with how the human brain worked—and all the things that could go wrong with it. Growing up dealing with mental illness had given me a unique perspective on the ripple effects on other family members. I wanted to help those with the illness, and I also wanted to help those who were caregivers.
But it was more than that. Maybe if I understood how the mind worked, I'd be able to avoid the same fate as my mother.
“I’d feel better if you just came home,” she continued as if I hadn’t even spoken. “There are good colleges here. When you left after this summer, it was hard, Josephine. I want you home. Things aren’t right.”
I froze as I was sliding my flats on my feet, halfway bent over with long strands of light brown hair hanging in my face. I stared at my hair, seeing the almost-white streaks mingling with the more normal color. I hadn’t put those blonde streaks there. They’d formed when I was in middle school.
Mom had said they were my angel father’s grace showing up. That sounded cool, but they more than likely had formed from spending my summers outside by the lake. For some reason, they'd never faded, and since I kind of liked them, I never dyed my hair.
Guilt roiled in my stomach, and I thought the same thing I’d thought every day since I'd left for college. I shouldn’t have left her. But the town had been slowly killing me. I'd had to get away, I had to live, and my grandparents had supported that need. They wanted me to have a normal life, so much so that they had saved every red penny to send me to school, to get me away from the bigotry and the soul-consuming responsibility of being my mom’s daughter.