Michael R Lewis and his wife Vicki, who have lived in Dallas for more than a half century, have four children and eight grandchildren. Mike and his younger brother, Randy, were raised give a day’s work for a day’s pay, never back down from a fight or hit a woman, and stay true to your word. His career as an entrepreneur, management consultant, and senior executive has extended across industries from oil exploration and health insurance to construction and software. He retired in 2010, regularly contributes articles on subjects from parenting to economics, and is currently writing his first non-fiction book on business success. He blogs at LewsClues: http://www.lewsclues.com/
Dear Shelley, Michael, Shannon, and Amanda,
“You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.” Whether the plaintive cry of an abused child or the heart-felt explanation of contrite mother, the lyrics of the 1944 Mills Brothers song encapsulate and epitomize the complex relationship of loving abuse. My mother, a victim herself, fought a life-long battle with bipolar disorder, cycling through periods of prescription drug addiction, suicide attempts, hospitalizations, and shock treatments. No one has ever loved or hurt me more than her.
Living with a manic-depressive is akin to being with someone who carries an unlit stick of dynamite in one hand and a flaming match in the other – you never know when or why the fuse will be lit and all hell will follow. Without warning, a slap, a pinch sharp enough to break the skin, or a whipping with whatever serviceable belt, switch, spoon or spatula was nearby would descend from on high, too quick to evade, too heavy to blunt. In the best times, her rage was directed to others who she thought had bullied or slighted me in some manner; she was an avenging angel willing to take on any size foe, man or woman, teacher or policeman, on my behalf.
Sometimes, though, she would cower in her nightgown for days on end, hiding from life in a darkened bedroom, unable to toss off the sadness and guilt that covered her as completely as the bed sheets. My father, working two jobs to pay the hospital and doctor bills, was often gone, leaving me to feed and care for my younger brother of five years. My last task before going to bed each night during those periods was to check that my mother was sleeping, her cigarette extinguished, and any prescription drugs hidden away.
I was a lucky child, however, blessed with two parents who loved me and my brother deeply. I learned at an early age that actions don’t necessarily reflect feelings, that people can be driven by demons they simply can’t control, no matter how much they want to change. I learned to live in the here and now, looking to the future, not the past. I learned everyone has good days and bad days, that most people try to do the right thing, but often fail, and that promises are rarely inviolate or eternal. Most of all, I learned to never give up, that sunshine invariably follows the darkest nights and that each morning is an opportunity to be a better husband, father, and friend than the day before.
My mother loved me, sometimes with a depth almost too much for her to bear. She wasn’t perfect, but neither am I. She has been gone fifteen years and I pray every night that she finally found the peace that eluded her in this life.