I never told my mother that I didn’t believe her when she confided that God spoke to her during shock therapy at Western State Hospital, back in the 50s.
She was confined (again) for depression. Was, in fact, catatonic. And we were not allowed to visit. I heard Auntie telling Grandma that Mom was unaware that she had three small children. So to save us distress, we were only allowed to stand outside in the cold and wave at a shadow in her window.
Years later, after she had stopped the cycling of debilitating depression, she told me that while in the hospital she had been visited by God. She had regained consciousness in a brightly lit room (probably the shock treatment room), awakened by the kindest voice she had ever heard saying, “Pearl, aren’t you going to let me help you?”
She was certain that it was God who spoke those words, while I, the skeptic, believed it was just a mortal doctor. That kind voice caused her to dissemble and then come together, whole. After hearing God, she steadily improved up to the day that she read the book I’m OK, You’re OK. Upon its completion, she threw off the dark mantle of her chronic depression and began her life as an artist.
So here I am, at 75, writing my own memoirs about the dark moment when I was unbelievably touched by some otherworldly force that lifted and propelled me from despair to hope. I am not a religious person. Yet these stories, though they seem somehow beyond reason, mysteriously are still not beyond belief.
Because I remember my mother’s face when she told me; the raw intimacy, the emotion, the strangled voice. That, too, is my experience.
No matter how many years have passed, the telling of one beat of my own story is still as raw and present as the moment it happened. And when I tell it, I still choke with humble gratitude. These events are what we in recovery call psychic rearrangements.
These are moments that defy rationality and belief. Moments that rewrite our destinies.
Elisa Peterson is a maker, designer, artist and story teller. Lately, she’s been writing and illustrating small personal memoir essays that explore what she calls “unreported damages” and “retroactive repairs.” In all her work, whether visual or in print, she is fascinated with story – the hidden, unknown, unconscious story. The ironic, humorous, serendipitous story that drives and colors our lives. She is a native Tacoman.