This is a real story. Author Lori Schafer never had a normal childhood, whatever that is. The husbands in her mother’s life left little impression on Lori, except John, who lasted about eight years. Her mom struggled to support Lori and her older sister April on waitressing wages and bad feet. April had children young, used drugs, and left home early so is only a passing character who is never capable of coming to rescue Lori.
In this series of episodes, a mix of stories and essays that weave between the past and present, adult Lori reflects on the circumstances of her impoverished life and her mother’s descent into an undiagnosed mental illness, probably a form of schizophrenia. In her teens, Lori is psychologically and physically abused by her mother, and only through good luck, plotting, and good friends, manages to run away after graduation and being accepted into U California Berkeley. Hers is a strong story of struggle.
Throughout and by the title we know that Lori only learns of her mother’s death long after it happened and after a decades long separation. Like Lori, we get to ponder whether the mother ever got mental health care. We never know what happened to April and her boys. We never know whether the middle sister Sandra, mentioned in her obituary was real or a figment of a delusion.
More than anything, Lori wanted a mom who loved her authentically and wasn’t paranoid. She is brave in inviting the reader in.
There are two versions of this book. Apparently this later version adds information and perspective. The appendices include early versions almost fictional tellings of several traumatic incidents in which Lori tells her story somewhat differently, but even the retelling and inclusion of the earlier versions is brave as it shows the trials of healing. If a reader is interested in the impact of delusional behavior and mental illness on families, this is a good contribution.