Gustav Klimt painted a masterpiece of motherhood contained in his larger work “The Three Ages of Woman.” There stands a woman and child gloriously rendered; one would think they were sublime. The young girl curls reflexively against her mother’s form, fitting perfectly within the hollow created between a mother’s arm and ribcage. The baby sleeps as the mother does, in peace and surrender. There is no shadow. The light is shining on them both. The woman’s face, crowned with a halo of golden hair dotted with white flowers blooming, is so peaceful and blissfully contented that I wonder if she can possibly be real. I doubt it.
The nurse peeked out of the white door and called my name gruffly. I stood quickly and shuffled toward her before my father could say anything. I followed her through three locked doors. Each buzzed before we went through and shut with the resounding clank of the electronic locking mechanism. The last door had a large glass window that looked into a stark white room with a couch, table with four chairs, and a television hung high up in the corner. I saw my mother, sitting at the table piecing together a puzzle. Her hair was gray and stringy from several days without shampoo. Her eyes were buffeted by giant pillows that looked purplish in the fluorescent lighting. She wore the same blue sweater she fainted in 3 days before. The woman on the sofa in the corner was rocking back and forth and mumbling to herself. I took a step back away from the door wanting desperately to run towards the exit. The doorknob was cold in my hands. I was fifteen. I would learn much later what brought my mother to the mental ward of Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Fontana, California was prolonged hallucinations and deep depression. She had been seeing her twin sister, who was stillborn, for some weeks. The stillborn twin was coaxing my mother toward suicide.
In March of 2013, a sinkhole opened up in Florida and sucked an entire house along with the man inside into a cavern beneath the surface. CNN reported that the sinkhole opened up beneath the man’s bedroom. The man screamed for help from his brother before the earth swallowed him up. National Geographic says that a sinkhole is any collapsed feature that forms when a void under the ground creates a depression into which everything around it drains. They also say that humans can induce sinkhole formations.
“Hello?” I shrink into the red leather armchair that is marked with my form on its seat. It is relatively quiet in the house because my husband is off at work, my son is off at school, and his younger sister is playing upstairs. My tea steams into my face and I listen to my sister’s voice through the phone rail about something happening to her husband at work. I blow softly into my tea and watch the surface ripple inside the warm mug. The television is mumbling in the background. Colors and faces swirl on the screen distracting me from my sister’s voice. “Uh-huh…yeah…really?” I intone mindlessly while she yammers on about her husband’s job. I am caught up in a reality show with people screaming at one another over a table at some posh restaurant in Hollywood. “Wait, what?” I say into the phone. My sister’s voice on the other end is telling me how my mother is feeling down again. How my mother is feeling suicidal again. How my mother was sitting on her bedroom floor mouthing the end of my father’s pistol again. How my mother called the suicide hotline and had the sheriffs department come keep her from blowing her brains all over the floral comforter…again. For a minute, I struggle to breathe. I can see my mother. Thin gray hair laying stick straight down to the middle of her back with bangs fringing brown eyes and a strained smile. Her skin is speckled with dark tan age spots and there are fine lines and wrinkles around her eyes and mouth from smoking for thirty years. She is a large woman, round in the midsection. She always wears these shorts made out of sweatpants material and matching colored sweatshirts without hoods. Her clothes are always in dark blues or blacks to hide her weight and mirror her mood. Now, she wants to die.
The National Institutes of Mental Health say that 26 percent of adults in the United States suffer from some form of mental disorder. Of those cases, 22 percent are considered severe. They also say that bipolar disorder, psychotic depression, and schizophrenia run in families.
Some places are more prone to sinkholes than others. The eastern United States, for example, is built on limestone deposits. Limestone is a soluble rock. Heavy rainfall can wash away sections of limestone deposits creating sinkholes. The most catastrophic type of sinkhole is a cover-collapse. It begins with a cave in the rock, deep under the surface. Somehow, soil finds its way into this cave through a tiny crack, a slight crevice. The soil begins to seep slowly but surely into the cave like the grains of sand in an hourglass. This creates a void in the soil. The void moves upward as the grains descend into the cave until, one day, the bridge over the top of this void can’t hold it anymore. It collapses.
The room was cold and my four-month-old son squirmed in my arms atop the exam table. Tears ran down my cheeks. I sniffed and shifted my son’s weight to the other leg. He was cooing and gurgling baby noises into the space between the doctor and I. I told her about the problems I was having with motherhood, sleepless nights, strange thoughts, and the overwhelming desire to sleep and not wake up again. I’m going to send you up to Mental Health today. I need you to call your husband and ask him to come to the hospital. “But I have our car,” I implored. He’s going to need to get a ride here. “Why? Why can’t I just go pick him up?” You can’t leave the hospital with your son until you go to Mental Health. Limestone. Collapse.
“I don’t understand.” My voice is frantic now. Tears stream down my face running in black trails from mascara to chin. “He’s not picking up.” I am almost screaming now. “I’ve called him three times. He’s not answering.” Ma’am, we’ll call and get your husband here. The nurse is going to walk with you up to Mental Health. Aidan is crying now, too. He’s squirming again. I clip him into his stroller and the nurse walks with me to the elevator, down the hall, then in through double doors with a sign above that says in stark white letters MENTAL HEALTH.
There was the angelic mother and child. Klimt also included a third figure. She is not nearly as well known. She is often cut out of the composition when people want to frame this piece. I can see why. She is a crumbling, wrinkling old woman hanging her head in her hands as she stands next to the serene and beautiful mother and child. Klimt used a palate of gold, pink, blue, and white to render the woman with daisies in her hair and the cherubic child resting on her breast. For the old woman standing near, he used grays and browns. He cast this woman, head in her hands, belly distended from child-bearing, skin brown and wrinkling from many years of the challenges of life, hair obscuring her profile with it’s scraggly appearance, in the colors of earth and death.
The bed dips when Gavin sinks his weight into the pillow top. I slide over to enjoy the warmth found next to him. We talk for a little while about nothing at all important. Silence lingers between us after the conversation ebbs. I lay on my side, facing my husband of 7 years. Surely this person knows me better than any other. “My mother had to call the suicide hotline again.” I whisper into my pillow to muffle the words. He holds me while my body shudders out sobs. My tears are wet and hot against his chest, unsure if I am living on limestone or granite.