The Mystery That Binds Me Still


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134 in stock


By Mickie R. Singer

ISBN: 978-1-84991-554-0
Published: 2007
Pages: 100
Key Themes: autobiography, humour, Bi-Polar, Panic, Anxiety, Attention Deficit, Obsessive Compulsive, Adjustment Disorder


About the Author

Mickie R. Singer is a writer, teacher, artist, storyteller and poet, depending on her mood or the angle of the sun. Haunted by a lifetime awareness that there was “something wrong,” she was over forty before her multiple mental illnesses were diagnosed. With Bi-Polar, Panic, Anxiety, Attention Deficit, Obsessive Compulsive and the more recently acquired Adjustment Disorder, she sometimes has limited ability to cope.


But in spite – and because – of these conditions, Mickie has lived a full, intriguing and often fun-filled life. She is an eccentric and humorous person who enjoys the adventures of living even though the ravages of mental illness are a constant threat and have, at times, shut her down. This book is an account of all her experiences – some amazing, some amusing and some disastrous.
A former education director for the Mental Health Association of York County, Pennsylvania, the daughter of a mentally ill mother and an active mental health advocate, she is both personally and professionally knowledgable about the nature of mental illness. To affirm that a mentally ill individual can keep their spirit even when “the black hole yawns” is the inspiring intention of her book; to speak out against the stigma surrounding mental illness is her lifetime goal.

Book Extract

I am Mack Singer’s daughter. Most likely you would not recognize his name. He was neither famous nor rich nor known to the public. Nonetheless, he was legendary.
My story begins with him.
My father and his life were both dramatic. He made his living as an upholsterer but shone as an actor. His stage was confined to Cincinnati, in a group called the Bureau Players and in early television at station WKRC. The author of those shows was a young Rod Serling, later writer and narrator of the television series, “The Twilight Zone.” Originating over forty years ago, it is so popular it’s still in reruns today. Being a man touched by magic, it was only fitting that Rod Serling became Dad’s good friend.
Dad was given to quoting some of his oddest old lines at the most unexpected times. I once dropped a bowl of mashed potatoes because he had unnerved me with his sudden shouting: “By the bones of Hallibar! By the bones of Hallibar!” thundering from his mouth.
My father was a believer in the little people, whom he defined as the fairies and the leprechauns. He taught me how to look for them. You couldn’t see them if you looked for them straight ahead, he’d tell me. “You’ve gotta look slaunchwise,” he said. Looking slaunchwise involved holding your head very still while you raised your eyebrows and slid your eyes north and south. He never saw them but he was ready for them, and that, he told me, is what counts.
Fantasy was very important to my father. During his bitter childhood, tales of alternative worlds in early science fiction and fantasy magazines gave him sanctuary and hope. One story in particular stayed with him through the years. It featured nine invisible gods that sat on a man’s shoulders and kept him safe. Dad borrowed these gods for his own. At thirty he met a curly-haired woman with “bedroom” eyes. He wanted to marry her only a few days after they met. But first she had to pass the test.
Dad told my future mother he had nine invisible gods that sat on his shoulders and when she didn’t so much as flinch he was sure she was meant for him. On the tenth day of their courtship he asked her to marry him, and several months later, he and Jean May Rukin were wed. They had a small ceremony with a justice of the peace, inviting a few family members and friends. Afterwards my grandmother had a reception at her house. Late in the afternoon my father announced he was tired and he was by God going to bed and taking his wife with him. If anyone wanted to see them they’d have to come to the bedroom. Several of their friends complied, chewing on tuna fish sandwiches while being entertained by the pajama-d newlyweds.
Meeting my mother was the best thing that ever happened to my father. Not only was everything before that prologue, it was hell.
My father might have been born in 1909. No one, including my father, knew for sure. Dad never had a birthday or been told his age. His birth records burned up in a fire in his former hometown. When he met Mom he selected August 15th as his day. From then on his birthday was celebrated with Mom making his favorite foods, “Eggplant Repulsive” and “Smashed Lima Beans.” My brothers and I always dreaded it. Though I admired my father greatly, I must admit I didn’t always care for his taste.
Mom’s absolute priority was Dad, the care and feeding thereof. Dad’s priority was letting her do it. It seemed to work. They were married and in love for 53 years.
Dad’s father was a hops farmer somewhere in the Georgian region of Russia. He had several brothers and one sister. I’m not sure how many brothers he had, because several of them were killed in pogroms. Besides Louis and Will, only the name “Sholom” remains in my head. They were Jews, and Jews in Russia were a: poor and b: isolated from their Christian neighbors. My father’s family was neither, owing to the Russian thirst for beer.
I will not refer to my father’s father as my grandfather. Dad would be most upset if I did. He insisted that “that man” was no father of his. I had strict instructions never to so much as suggest I was related to him. Dad would literally growl at the thought. Biologically he was unquestionably Dad’s father. Although I never met him I saw a picture of him once. He looked exactly like Dad. This was extremely ironic because the reason you-know-who hated my father was because he didn’t believe Dad was his.
My grandmother Freida (I am allowed to claim her) was in fact a faithful wife but her husband didn’t return the sentiment. He regularly transported escaping Jews in his wagon under the hops. He’d bribe the border guards to let him pass. Apparently he was very generous because a loyal guard let him know one night that he had been discovered. The Cossacks were on their way to take him to jail when he escaped and eventually came to America, settling in Philadelphia, where he promptly and illegally took another wife.
While he began a new life his son Sholom was murdered during a pogrom; the Cossacks conscripted Lou to be in the Russian Army for 25 years and when he escaped, a soldier slit his throat from end to end. Amazingly, Lou survived and eventually he, Will’s sister Sophie and Freida all came to America. They tracked down you-know-who in Philadelphia.
But he refused to have anything to do with them.
In 1914 both Freida and my father fell ill during the Spanish flu epidemic. The hospitals were too full to take them in, but the nuns did. Thus began my father’s lifelong emotional attachment to Catholicism. Heartbroken, he watched his mother die in the bed next to him. He was left with nowhere to go but to you-know-who’s house, and his hate.
In the early twentieth century the word “abuse” wasn’t applied to what some endured behind closed doors. Nonetheless, you-know-who employed every possible form of verbal, mental and physical abuse toward my father, regularly making use of clubs and whips. According to Dad, the result was that he became a turn-of-the century juvenile delinquent, a hardened, tough “little son of a bitch.”
This was perhaps best illustrated by my father’s actions when you-know-who sent him to a rabbi to learn Hebrew. This particular rabbi was also abusive. He used a short whip to “correct” his students when they were wrong.
During one session Dad decided he had had enough. He grabbed the whip out of the rabbi’s hand and chased him around the table, giving the rabbi a sharp taste of his own methods. He did not go back again.
Dad grew up wild in South Philly’s streets. He wasn’t particularly obedient in school either, but he was smart. He never made less than an “A.” Although he left school at the age of 14, he knew 6 different languages, having picked them up from the various ethnic groups he grew up with. For the rest of his life he would regret his lack of formal education. His original desire was to be a librarian. He was a voracious reader, going to the library weekly and polishing off several books. When he was in his seventies he and Mom enrolled in college at the University of California in Long Beach. Dad specialized in Native American studies and was formally adopted by the Pima Indian tribe. He was made a group instructor in one of his classes and found himself actually teaching – and loving it. Both he and Mom became ESL instructors as well.
Perhaps his bitterest memory was of you-know-who taking him to an orphanage at the age of ten. You-know-who actually tried to bribe the directors to take Dad. But they turned him down. So both of them came back home; neither of them happy about it.
At 14 Dad ran away from home and never returned, drifting across the country. Because he needed a trade he chose upholstery. He took care to be good at it. He was a great believer in the idea that if you’re going to do something, do it well. In Cincinnati he developed an impressive enough reputation that he did upholstery work for the most posh department stores and for some of the museums. One time – don’t ask me how, I was too young to know – he upholstered Liberace’s furniture. The whole family was particularly amused by Liberace’s throne chair. Just like his clothes, it was over-the-top: grandiose with gold paint and red velvet – and at the end of each of the arms, where one would rest one’s hands – there were two enormous golden breasts.
Becoming an upholsterer helped Dad find a perfect place to express his rage. When he became active in the upholsterer’s union he quite literally fought for union rights in the streets, battling bosses, strikebreakers and police. He was fond of pointing to a bump on his nose and saying “See this? This is from a lead pipe.” His street fighting resulted in numerous stays in prison. He never told me how many times or for how long. All he said was “I was never in jail.” Apparently he used various aliases but not his real name.
Even my father’s legal name was an alias too. Coming from Russia his name was “Avrom Hersh Tzintz.” The immigration officials at Ellis Island quickly changed it to “Abraham Harry Singer.” Their decisions, at the time, were law. Dad was best known by his nicknames, which were in turn variations of “Mox” “Little Mox” and “Max.” Later on when he had to apply for citizenship he had to pick a name and stay with it. “Mack Harry Singer” was his choice.
The citizenship problem was a sticky one. Dad thought he was a citizen. You-know-who had said he’d gotten his citizenship papers, so all the children were U.S. citizens as well. After Mom and Dad had married and had two children his lack of actual citizenship came to light. He was threatened with deportment. During his hearing Dad had to prove he had a record of law-abiding behavior. This was a considerable fly in the ointment. How he managed to get past it, I am lifelong bound not to say.
Not only had he been in jail, he’d associated in many nefarious activities as well. He told me about a prostitute he’d once known (he didn’t say how) who asked him to be her pimp – which he declined. Dad was also given several different nicknames during his years of traveling. One of them was “Lotsa Poppa.” I declined to ask him why.
It was clear, however, that during that time he hated his own Judaism. He associated it with his father and the abusive rabbi. But he felt safe and protected with Catholics because of the nuns having taken him in. For years Dad socialized exclusively with Irish or Italian Catholics. He picked up a passion for olives and leprechauns and became the only Russian Jew to maintain hailed from County Cork.
Dad never converted but he was confused, and he raised me to be equally so. On one hand he was staunchly Jewish but on the other he refused to go to Temple. He was quite comfortable, however, with my attending mass at St. Agnes. On Christmas Eve the whole family watched Midnight Mass on television, but we never had stockings or a Christmas tree. Mom tried to install some Jewish identification in us. She made a fairly big deal out of Passover and Chanukah and lighting the candles for Sabbath dinner (until she began to fear that our bird would fly into the flame.) Dad, however, would grumble outrageously anti-Semitic remarks like “Never be in a room with more than three Jews at a time.” Yet when Joey Bishop or some other Jewish comedian would show up on a television show he’d yell “Jew boy!” and beam with pride that a Jew had made it big.
Go figure.
I couldn’t decide whether I was Jewish or Catholic, Irish or Italian. At one point in my childhood I contemplated giving up on the whole thing and becoming a Protestant. But I couldn’t pull it off. There was a tiny dose of Judaism that had crept into my soul. It took hold, albeit dim and faint.
Dad was wonderfully mild-mannered and loving. In later years friends called him “Kindly Old Philosopher.” When asked how he was, he would always say, “I’m breathing. Life is good.” The love he found in Mom and his kids erased that sad “little son of a bitch” – except when he was mad. Dad’s temper was legendary too.
My father’s years in the streets had affected him deeply. Touch one of his hidden triggers and he’d turn instantly furious, vengeful and mean. It didn’t happen often but when it did it was horrific. He told me that when he became angry he literally saw red, and I believe it was true. His voice could take on a tone that would scare the poop out of an elephant. From the time he left Philadelphia he always carried a switchblade in his pocket with his hand inside, ready to fight. It was somewhat unnerving walking with Dad to the library, which seemed in our quiet neighborhood a pretty safe thing to do. Nonetheless he’d have his hand deep in his pocket, alert for danger; all systems go to brandish the knife. He kept a crowbar on his night table, ready to do battle with burglars. He also kept a gun in one of his dresser drawers. One night a severely intoxicated young man pounded on our door at 2 a.m., demanding to be let in. In his inebriated state, he apparently thought our house was where he lived. Immediately, Dad was at the doorway with his gun. Pre-911, I was frantically begging the operator to call the police. I wasn’t particularly scared that this befuddled fellow would break in; I was terrified Dad was going to shoot him.
There were family stories of Dad threatening people but I never saw him do so – they happened before I was born. When my brother Jon was a little boy he almost got run over by a truck. My father was witness to this. Immediately he pulled out his knife and ran toward the truck, pounding on the door. The driver speedily rolled up his windows and sped off.
In another incident, Dad got angry at a co-worker and went after him with a pair of scissors. He was prevented from doing murder only because he was held back by his fellow employees.
Yet few who knew this mild-mannered, good-hearted man would believe he ever displayed such behavior as that.
To Dad’s credit he mellowed considerably as his life went on, although he never took his hand off of his knife. I was the child who most received his gentleness and sweet nature. I was his princess, his little girl. He made me feel special. He encouraged every aspect of my imagination. Together we wove stories. Sometimes I’d come down to the basement where he kept his shop and I’d tell him a tale while he worked. At bedtimes if he didn’t read to me from the Oz books we would build “story trees.” They were made of stories, with branches we’d pretend to be made of a different candy every night. No matter whose turn it was, he reserved the right at the end to have the top branch. This was always covered with “a thick white blanket of sour cream.”
I still think sour cream is the greatest thing there is.
Dad was simply larger than life. He was immensely funny, given to popping off whimsical comments at any given time. I recall with fondness his telling Mom to “excuse my entire face.” Another one of my favorites was when my mother yelled at him for packing peanut butter cups into a picnic lunch already bulging with food. “We’ve got enough food for an army!” she snapped. In his characteristic mildness Dad replied “But this is for the Navy.”
He was never without an opinion or political passion. He was a deeply righteous man who cared about what he felt was right and he was willing to do what it took to make it so. Despite his adventures in the streets, or perhaps because of them, Dad had solid Judeo-Christian values and beliefs. He was absolutely insistent that his children have the same. The worst thing we could do was to be rude or thoughtless toward someone or to show up late. “You have to respect people’s time,” he insisted. He taught my brothers to be gentlemen, demanding at dinnertime they pull Mom’s chair out for her and push it gently back. God help you if you did anything that upset Mom. Dad was her champion, her loyal white knight.
Most of all, my father loved people. He gloried in them. He loved to watch them, to appreciate the things they said and did. People flocked to him, attracted by his humor and warmth. Later in his life Dad kept journals where he wrote down his observations. When he observed a random act of kindness or overheard a conversation that amused him, he’d write it down. One of my favorite entries was written after he came out of the hospital for a hip operation. A concerned neighbor asked him “How are you, Mr. Singer?” Dad replied, “I’m bursting with euphoria!” “Oh dear,” she replied. “Does it hurt?”
My father’s influence guided my life. He believed in me, and told me so. “You can do anything you want to,” he said, and so I believed it too. This was terribly important to me, in light of being most often in the charge of my mother, who suffered from untreated mental illness.
Mom had the misfortune of inheriting a long line of mental disorders, going back to at least my great grandmother and likely beyond. Growing up with a mentally ill mother didn’t help matters. In the early 1900’s few knew about mental illness, neither how to recognize nor treat it. She developed a host of symptoms, being highly stressed, depressed and afraid to leave her house. Mom thought she was an “emotional cripple.” In her view, what she had was beyond being “crazy.” It was something else, something even more sinister and threatening.
She was not a happy woman. Her face carried a permanent frown. As a result, it was only on occasion that I could experience the warm, funny and loving person she was. She was a talented artist and had once been a dancer. She was bright and well read and had a sense of humor under that groaning layer that burdened her so much of the time. She also had suicidal ideation and was given to writing me suicide notes. It was creepy to the utmost. Anger and criticism came easily and sometimes she was downright mean. Thus, Dad became the good guy, the one who appeared to believe in my dreams. Mom believed in smashing them. That was her way of “protecting” me from “the cruelty of life and its disappointments.”
Even her tenderness could be quite disconcerting. When I was a little girl she told me not to worry about anything because after all, the roof could cave in any minute, so why fret? She thought she was comforting me. Instead, I started worrying I was going to be crushed by a falling ceiling.
Dad wasn’t perfect, as a father or a man. There were times when he hurt me deeply. But he brought in the fairies, the magic, the hope and the light. He was the bright spark that gave me gumption. While Mom invited me into her fear, Dad encouraged me to celebrate life.
He may have molded me to be like him, but he wasn’t necessarily prepared for what he would get. He wanted a rebel, but he found it hard to deal with me when I became more of a rebel than him. He encouraged me to be “different,” but wasn’t always comfortable with how different I could be. He hoped I’d stand up and be an individual, but found it hard to take my politics, rag-tag boyfriends and oddball friends.
Most of all, he wasn’t prepared for his little princess to become more mentally ill than his wife. No one knew what was “wrong with me;” it was simply apparent early on that something was. During my worst episodes his ulcers rioted. He watched as I battled six different disorders which remained, for forty years, undiagnosed. He died before I had a diagnosis, appropriate treatment or medication. I can only imagine his pain.
I’ve been told I’m a walking miracle. I think that’s stretching it a bit. I have managed to hold it together enough over the years to become a teacher, a storyteller, a writer and a college instructor. I have functioned during the slavery of rituals in severe OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder); and surfed the dizzying ups and downs of bi-polar disease. I inherited all of my mother’s disorders and added on more of my own. Still, I’ve survived addictions, low self-esteem, an abusive marriage, single parenthood, and assorted other traumatic things. I have also inherited my father’s gift of meeting life headstrong, stubborn and enjoying every moment that I can. I know that without my father’s legacy, the gift of his fantasy, humor and determination, I would never have made it. Happily, I am still here today, neither crazy nor dead. Some days when I reflect on that, I am absolutely amazed.
I share a lot of characteristics with Dad. Like him, I like people, love to talk, hold grudges, tell stories, get angry, rebel against rules, value playmates, friendship and respect, converse with the fairies, enjoy being outrageous and stand up for what I believe. For good and for ill, I am Mack Singer’s daughter. I tender my life a tribute to him.
The rest of this story will be mine rather than my Dad’s. I have written this book hoping my experience can be healing or helpful for others. Some who read it might take heart when they discover they are not alone. Perhaps it will provide some inspiration or cheer. One of my favorite poets, Kenneth Patchen, wrote a book with a title that says it all: “Hallelujah Anyway.” That is what this book is all about. The human spirit is incredibly strong – we can survive unspeakable horrors, and still celebrate, and still laugh. Sometimes it comes down to knowing that if you’re breathing, life is good. For anyone who needs a reminder of that, I tender this book.


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