In the spring of 1990, two major events occurred simultaneously: Twin Peaks premiered on ABC, and my mom started losing her mind.
I was 10 years old.
I don’t remember being particularly upset about my parents’ divorce. It happened when I was seven, and I didn’t have any sisters or brothers to use as a barometer on how I should be feeling. I realize now I acted out. I was daddy’s little tomboy, and I quietly pitied him; he seemed so lost and angry after the split.
I self-righteously blamed my mom, who seemingly came off just fine—she moved out of the house, went back to school to get her master’s degree in psychology, and even started dating. When she would pick me up and take me to her place (I never really thought of it as my own), I’d inevitably throw a screaming temper tantrum, and she’d fail at disciplining me (her spankings felt like nothing and her threats were mostly empty). Eventually, I’d be returned to my dad, who paid her the necessary lip service but never punished me after she left.
As angry as I was, however, she was my mom, and we eventually settled into a routine. She’d sometimes offer me chocolate bars to behave, she didn’t enforce a “bedtime,” and she pretty much left me to my own TV vices—which meant I watched whatever I wanted, as late as I wanted, often staying up well after she’d gone to bed. And I tended to dig some dark shit.
While Unsolved Mysteries and America’s Most Wanted were particular favorites, I was really drawn to Twin Peaks, the David Lynch-helmed show that premiered on April 8, 1990 (and which gets an 18-episode reboot starting Sunday, May 21). Compelling, shocking, confusing, and downright strange, the ABC show was about the murder of Laura Palmer, a high-school girl beloved by many in her small Washington town but full of secrets that were unraveled during the investigation of her death. But it was also about the town’s eccentric denizens and all their secrets, and the supernatural quality that seemed to pervade the place, replete with the dreams and visions that beset FBI special agent Cooper and gave him clues about Laura’s death. The setting was beautiful and mysterious, and the music was expressive and haunting, especially the main instrumental themes—the counterparts of hope, doom, and resigned melancholy that pervaded the music, with their dark bass undertones and swells of synths and keyboards.
The setting was beautiful and mysterious, and the music was expressive and haunting, especially the main instrumental themes—the counterparts of hope, doom, and resigned melancholy that pervaded the music, with their dark bass undertones and swells of synths and keyboards.
My mom’s psychosis was in its early stages that spring. I didn’t notice the warning signs at first, or maybe I was willfully choosing not to. But by the start of the second season later that fall, her behavior had become increasingly erratic and her temperament had changed dramatically—from sweet, reasonable, and generally mild to depressed, manic, paranoid, compulsive, delusional, and sporadically enraged for reasons I didn’t understand.
I had no idea what to do about it, or whether I should tell my dad (because their relationship was already so precarious) or anyone else. And because the theme of mental instability came up so much in Twin Peaks, it almost seemed normal.
There were several characters on the show who were similarly beset by inner turmoil, and everyone just sort of pretended they were okay—or endured, ignored, or mitigated their behavior, especially in the cases of Nadine Hurley and Leland Palmer. Nadine, the wife of Ed Hurley, had extreme mood swings, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicidal tendencies that, after an attempt on her own life, found her in a regressed-to-teenage state. While Leland became progressively more unhinged, veering from singing and dancing jauntily to agonized scream-sobbing, his hair turned completely white, and it was unclear to my young self whether he was really “possessed” by Bob (an evil entity who loves pain and murder) or suffering from dissociative personality disorder. There were others, too, that included Johnny Horne (headdress-wearing mentally disabled son of Benjamin Horne), the Log Lady (who carries a log cradled in her arms as if it were a child and learns of important events from it), Sarah Palmer (driven mad by grief from her daughter’s death), Harold Smith (a creepy shut-in and Laura’s secret friend), and the one-armed man (also “possessed” by an entity and on some sort of antipsychotic medication).
I didn’t realize that, in my mom’s case, the two years of intensive studies, therapy exercises, and deep self-examination that were required to get her psychology degree caused suppressed memories of childhood sexual abuse to bubble to the surface of her consciousness like poison. And though she managed to graduate, the compounded stresses (a finalized divorce, an unrelated breakup, a job in her new field) expedited a spectacular psychotic break—and I ultimately became the focus of it.
I remember my mom’s downward spiral now as a series of snapshots that started with her taking lots of naps. She put together a package of baby stuff—bottle, pacifier, rattle—to send to the man who’d recently broken things off with her. She would drive by his house late at night, cursing him from the driver’s seat, once jumping from the car to scream at his dark bedroom window. She related stories of being Paul Newman’s love child (because her “real” father wouldn’t have abused her). She took me on long late-night drives, a few times tailgating unknown drivers she claimed were guilty of colluding with her not-father. She compulsively threw away heaps of belongings that were “tainted” (records, clothing, jewelry, knickknacks).
And one night, her shit hit the fan.
I was a 10-year-old girl, the authority figure was someone I inherently trusted, and I caved because I thought it would make her lay off me. Because in Twin Peaks, indulging in a character’s psychosis generally seemed to work.
She’d reached a point where all those ugly memories were crowding her brain, and her response was to project them onto me. On that fateful night, she picked me up from my dad’s house and peeled away, heading back to her workplace, where she spent the next several hours screaming at me to admit that my dad had abused me, among other related rants and tirades.
I understand now how someone accused of a heinous crime could be coerced into a false confession—can have their willpower broken down after hours and hours of being interrogated, confessing guilt just to bring an end to a stressful situation. I was a 10-year-old girl, the authority figure was someone I inherently trusted, and I caved because I thought it would make her lay off me. Because in Twin Peaks, indulging in a character’s psychosis generally seemed to work. Like when the town’s rich misanthrope Benjamin Horne spent several episodes caught up in a delusion of being General Robert E. Lee and reenacted an entire period of the Civil War—his family, friends, and associates all played along and pandered to his spell until they were able to snap him out of it.
But my tactic had the opposite effect. In fact, even though it was after-hours and there wasn’t anyone else working at the office, someone—a janitor or passerby—called the cops. And because my mom demanded it and was giving me crazy eye, I blurted out my false confession. I was carted off, and by the next day, I was cooling my heels in a foster home. Despite changing my story shortly after I arrived—reverting to the truth because I didn’t have my mom browbeating me into lying, nor did I have memories of any abuse—it was too late. I got caught up in the system, stuck by words I didn’t want to say and couldn’t take back.
It took a year and a half to get out of foster care, and several more years to mend my relationship with my dad. And though my mom was diagnosed as bipolar/borderline psychotic and has been medicated successfully for more than two decades, there were a few more major setbacks along the way. We don’t talk much about what happened anymore, but it’s something that will always lurk in the back of my mind, like the Man from Another Place, shimmying in front of the red velvet curtain that’s been drawn over it.