Regular readers of Creative Loafing may be familiar with the work of writer Hollis Gillespie. As the woman behind our weekly Moodswing column, she chronicles the incredibly true stories of her often-bizarre real life. Fans of her column may not know, however, that she is also the author of two best-selling books (Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood and Confessions of a Recovering Slut: And Other Love Stories), and her third tome -- Trailer Trashed: My Dubious Efforts Toward Upward Mobility -- hit stores this month.
To celebrate Gillespie's latest release -- and tout the fact the she'll be in Charlotte Aug. 22 (to sign copies of the new book) and Aug. 24 (to host her Shocking Real-Life Memoir Writing seminar) -- we thought it'd be cool to run an excerpt from Trailer Trashed. So, here goes:
Crazy (Is) Relative
My mother died before she ever went completely crazy, but she was relatively crazy and also incredibly strong-willed -- which explains why I'm never completely alarmed when I hear screaming coming from next door. It turns out my neighbor, Dolly, is not at all accustomed to being attacked by her mother. In fact she's very put off by the whole experience.
"I tell you I have had the worst couple of days," said Dolly. "She thinks the house is full of strange babies, and yesterday I caught her trying to escape down the street with the dog in her arms."
Dolly's a good neighbor and hardly ever imposes on me, considering she lives with a person in the throes of dementia. If I were in her situation, I'd probably be a lot more intrusive on the surrounding households. And for an eighty-five-year-old woman suffering advanced Alzheimer's, Dot is still pretty deft at keeping the craziness within the walls of their home -- or Dolly is good at secluding it there. Only a few times have I ever had to usher Dot's barefoot, nightgown-clad butt out of the street and back to her doorstep.
Take that time I caught Dot in the middle of the road collecting industrial material that had fallen off the back of a truck. That did not seem crazy to me at all, except that it was 60 degrees and Dot was wearing one of those '50s-era, Lucille Ball--type ruffle-neck negligees. But it's not like it was the first time someone rushed out of the house in their pajamas to deal with a dire situation. I remember a man did just that once when I was seven and I'd found our dog Bonnie stuck butt-to-butt with some mutt up the street. I bawled sorrowfully in my ineffectual attempts to pull them apart until a man in pajama bottoms, obviously roused from sleep, took it upon himself to save me by throwing a bucket of cold water on the dogs, which caused Bonnie to pop free and commence gestating the seven puppies she'd have a few months later. I did not think that man was crazy at all, just a Good Samaritan.
So that's what I thought about Dot when I saw her in the street that time, collecting hose valves and coiled piping that had fallen off the truck. To me it all looked easily dodge-able until the person who lost it would discover it was gone and retrace their route to retrieve it. But Dot insisted on clearing the road that instant. I led her out of the street and finished moving the debris to the side of the road myself, with her pointing out where I missed a spot, even though I didn't miss any spots. I didn't think she was crazier than me, just more thorough. Crazy, after all, is relative.
Dolly admitted her mother to a treatment facility the other day, the screaming and histrionics having reached a point that was intolerable for her, especially after Dot took to insisting Dolly was a dangerous stranger who'd kidnapped her (long-dead) husband and real daughter, hence all the attempts at escape lately. I'd just seen Dot out and about, and she didn't look like she was plotting an escape. She looked comfortable, tottering around in her pajamas. I can't wait to get old, I thought at the time, so I can wear whatever the goddamn hell I want and dance a jig in a rain shower if I feel like it.
Though I have always known Dot to be cantankerous, it's only been a year since we met, and according to Dolly, all this screaming and viciousness is not Dot's normal self. So I can only imagine what it's like for Dolly, constantly dodging attacks from this little old lady living in her house, who happens to be her mother, accusing her of kidnapping her younger self. How hard it must be, I think, to hear your mother wail for the child that you were, to look at you as though you are a stranger, as though we don't all miss our younger selves enough as it is.
My own independent mother used to tell me all kinds of things about myself I didn't believe. She used to marvel at how strong I was, and I thought she didn't know me, because most of the time I felt more helpless than a hermit crab without a shell. I used to look in the mirror and wonder if she was confusing me with herself. I used to think she was a little nutty for seeing herself in me like she did, but again, crazy is relative. The late novelist Sheila Ballantyne once said, "You can always trust the information given to you by people who are crazy, because they have an access to truth not available through regular channels." So maybe Dolly did kidnap her younger self -- don't we all eventually? -- and maybe my mother was onto something as well. Because lately, I swear this is true, when I look in the mirror these days, I sometimes see her strength looking right back at me.
Gillespie will sign copies of Trailer Trashed Aug. 22, 7 p.m. at Park Road Books (4139 Park Road). To register for her Shocking Real-Life Writing seminar, Aug. 24, visit www.hollisgillespie.com.