Where were we at this point as a family? Mom was in the Washington State Senate and was running for Lieutenant Governor. I’m going to guess that your knowledge of/interest in state and local politics is as non-existent as most people’s, but it’s enough to know that this was something she considered both extremely modest and a big, big deal. She’d planned it for almost three years, way more than the other candidates seemed to, and we’d been photographed a lot in the run-up to the Primary to see if she’d be selected as her party’s candidate.
Because weren’t we all perfect and adorable? Weren’t the Mitchells exactly what the state needed?
Look at us with our healthy and unthreateningly average smiles. Our hair that spoke of middle-class prosperity but wasn’t (too) much better than yours. The modern political husband, super-supportive and perhaps a bonus extra behind the scenes. The two older children with their polite attitudes and good grades, and beautiful little Meredith, precocious and funny as a later Disney heroine. Wouldn’t Lieutenant Governor Alice Mitchell be your friend as well as your humble public servant while hanging around in case the Governor died?
The problem was that hardly anyone had heard of her, the campaign had no money, and polls had her at a steady but distant fourth in the Primary.
It wasn’t my mom who told Mel she was looking “a little fat” in some of the press photos; it was her one-day-a-month campaign advisor, a chain-smoking beard called Malcolm. But Malcolm did say it, and my mom didn’t fire him.
Was that enough to make Mel stop eating? Maybe. But we were hardly a hotbed of mental health before then. We didn’t have nearly as much money as it looked like we had, for one thing, because my dad was still paying back the thousands he embezzled from my Uncle Rick’s car dealership, where he used to be top sales manager. My dad stole, under Rick’s nose, all the money to buy the house we still live in. He should have been arrested. He should still be in jail.
But Rick is my mother ’s brother and this was even earlier in her career, when she was trying to move up from the State House of Representatives to the State Senate. A scandal would have ended her political career, so she and my dad not only stayed married, but she somehow convinced Rick to keep it secret and – if you can believe this – actually let my dad stay employed there. No access to any accounts, of course, but still selling cars until he’s paid back all the money, plus interest. Which will probably take him up to retirement. As I said, Uncle Rick doesn’t come around much any more.
So pretty much every day back then we were about an hour away from losing everything: money, careers, house, a father, all the while pretending we were the highly functioning family of an up-and-coming politician. My dad drank every day (always did, still does). My mom threw herself into politicking, and Mikey Mitchell – your humble narrator – was so tense I’d started to get trapped in compulsive loops for the first time. Counting and re-counting (and re-counting and re-counting) the contents of my sixth-grade arts cabinet. Driving our poor dog Martha crazy (pre-porcupine death) by walking her over the same length of road four dozen times because I couldn’t seem to get it exactly
“right”, though I could never have told you what “right” was. I was sent to a psychiatrist called Dr Luther and was put on medication. And this was all before my mom decided to up the stakes by running for a bigger job.
So all I’m saying is that the ground was clearly fertile for craziness to grow. My sister just got stuck with one that was particularly shit.
One that killed her.
Killed my mom’s campaign, too. Malcolm tried to keep the press to a minimum (and this was at the start of the vampire romances, so there were plenty of “mysterious” deaths among the indie kids to be writing about anyway), but enough got out that my mother was forced to withdraw to support her daughter through a “crisis that could hit any family”.