Mom had a mental breakdown when I was seven. Kate and I were staying with her for the weekend at her friend Carlos's house, which was somewhere in Chestertown. I was sitting on fuzzy rug in the living room with Kate, watching the movie Shag, when the meltdown started.
Mom, in only a t-shirt, came running into the living room, dancing and singing to the music coming from the movie Kate and I were watching. At first, I thought Mom was so funny, dancing around, twirling and yelling the words to "Sixty Minute Man". Kate and I got up and danced with her, laughing as she hopped around the room. Soon though, I began to notice the frantic movements she was making, and the blankness in her eyes. She seemed to be moving almost mechanically, like something inside of her was steering her sleeping body. I looked to Kate, and I could see her noticing the same things. Her face went from a smile to a questioning scowl, like she was listening for something. I stood next to Kate on the rug, both of us watching silently as Mom continued to bounce and cackle and sing. She ran across the living room, flashing us both as she raised her hands above her head, whooping and singing, seemingly unaware that she had no underwear on. She climbed the stairs and slid down the banister, yelling "Come on, Meghan, come on, Katie!!", beckoning us to follow her, to slide down with her. Kate's face had drained of any signs of laughter or amusement, and she turned to me, saying, "We should call Dad," and I knew she was right.
Kate called Dad as I continued watching Mom, a mixture of fear and confusion blanketing my insides, giving me that feeling that something was wrong, out of place. By the time Kate came back into the living room, Mom was crying and murmuring to herself as she spun in circles to the music of the final credits. She looked at me, mascara trailing down her face, her nose red and raw between the nostrils, and said, "I can't stop. I don't know how to stop." I didn't know what to say. I just put my hand on her back as she walked, stooped and saddened, to the couch and sobbed. She was muttering and snorting, her shirt soaked in sweat.
Dad came and picked us up, Mom refusing to see him, closing herself in a bedroom. Kate and I didn't talk about what had happened, but I knew that she was as scared as I was about what we had seen. The next morning, Dad sat us down in the kitchen of our farmhouse, the oven turned on and opened to keep us warm. "Your Mom was taken away last night," he said. "She ran her car into the side of a building, and then ran from the police. They found her in the woods outside of town, and they found cocaine in her car. The police arrested her, but she had to go away again after that. She had to go to a mental hospital," he said, his eyes brimming over with tears.
"Is she crazy?" I asked.
Dad nodded, then hid his face in his hands.
Kate and I didn't go to school that day. We stayed at home with Dad, quietly talking about what had happened. To this day, the vision of her sliding down that banister still makes me feel like a scared child.