From Madness to Manhood: Growing Up A Little In Love With Death

I wrote about my early experiences visiting my father in the mental hospital. Our home attracted death like a magnet. The same year my father went to Camarillo, a close friend of the family shot himself. I remember going to the service, confused and afraid, but no one talked about why he died. Yet, everyone knew it was suicide. Later that year my closest friend, Woody, drowned in the river near our house. My mother was so glad I was alive, she couldn’t listen to my own grief or feelings of loss.

My mother was preoccupied with her own death. From the time I was born, I knew my mother was about to die. She talked about it all the time. “I just hope I’m around to see you off to high school,” she would tell me. Her voice was always light and breezy, but it chilled me to the bone. When she was still around when I went to high school, she wasn’t reassured, she just moved her imminent death a little farther down the line.

“I just want to see you go to college before I die.”

I was seven when the Forester man came for a visit. We sat in our small living room and he painted a wonderful picture of the International Order of Foresters (IOF).

“The Foresters are a fraternal organization that started in Canada in 1874 to help families just like yours,” he smiled and I was mesmerized by his voice. I can’t remember much of the story, but I liked the word “fraternal” and I pictured Robin Hood and his band of caring outlaws, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. I thought of the Three Musketeers—“all for one and one for all.”

I knew we had very little money, but the bottom line purpose of the Foresters was to sell insurance and we bought the whole package. My mother signed up for insurance on herself, so I’d be taken care of when she died. She also bought an insurance policy on me because “it’s never too early to think about your wife and kids.” As a dutiful son, I felt proud to own an insurance policy to take care of my family…while I was still in the first grade. [Read more…]