Phil’s Nervous Breakdown

My youngest brother finally moved out!  Yay!!!!  Now I had the whole upstairs to myself again.  I could play music or the TV (or talk to myself) as loud as I wanted, and not worry about what he heard and whether or not I kept him awake.  I didn’t have to worry about him making snide remarks during the day.  And the other bedroom was now free again, making it a guest room.

Phil and I dreaded the three-month separation of summer, though in a way I looked forward to it: I wanted to show him my famously long letters.

I may have also looked forward to spending some time on my own in my last summer as a single woman (this was before we married), working on my Senior Writing Project (continuing my desert island novel Jerisland, which I started in high school) and reading up for my Senior Thesis (which I originally planned to do on Gothic novels).

Phil dreaded the summer for a different reason: He told me once that if it weren’t morally wrong, he’d take care of his physical needs with a bunch of different women while I was gone.

He once said, while it was still painful for me, that if I didn’t want sex, he could do without it; but now he said his desires were so strong he could easily have sex with other women if it were morally okay?  How did he think that would make me feel???

It made me feel awful.  I couldn’t imagine sleeping with anyone else but him for my entire life.  How could he not feel the same?


Going through the May 3 issue of the Mirror, while writing my memoirs, I noticed that Phil’s mom got several awards and honors.  These were awards based on smarts, not just on leadership or personality.

So just because her sons and, if I remember right, husband treated her like a childish idiot, doesn’t mean she was one.  I remember Phil’s dad making some crack at her expense, and Phil laughing.

On 10/4/99, I saw an episode of Seventh Heaven (Yak Sada) in which a smart woman endured many years of her husband and sons treating her like a child.  They thought a wife was supposed to stay home and be her husband’s servant.  (She stayed in the marriage only for the kids; she was now about to file for divorce.)

Phil’s mom Maura wasn’t expected to stay at home, but I can see echoes of that attitude in Phil’s insisting I say “obey” and in the way he, his father, and Dave would treat Maura.  Phil and Dave saw Maura as dumb, yet here she was getting honored for being in Who’s Who and finishing her Honors Thesis!


On probably May 9, our Botany class went to Kohler-Andrae State Park, a local park with dunes, water, sand, grasses, and other flora and fauna.  It was a good time, at least for me.

Dave was in charge of getting Pearl around the place; he may have carried her at times.  We brought jackets, because it was a bit chilly there at times.  On Monday, May 9 in my day planner, I wrote, “dress for the woods–boots or oldish shoes.”

In the van on the way there, Phil’s mom chatted with me and somehow we got to the subject of Phil’s vampire friend S–.  When I told her that Phil didn’t want me to meet S– for fear he’d steal me away, she said, “I’d better talk to that boy about trust!”  Like I’d even want to get involved with a sadomasochist who had beliefs so different from mine!


On May 10 was an annular solar eclipse.  I didn’t know about this until after I stepped outside and felt I was looking through a car’s tinted window.  It was surreal.  This was a Tuesday; we had classes and the campus was bustling and busy.


Phil had lost his Differential Equations (Diff-EQ) textbook, and hadn’t been able to get another one, so he was soon lost in the class.  (Cindy wondered why he didn’t just borrow another one.)  The class got so stressful for him that he wanted to audit it.

Per page 30 of the 1992-1994 Course Catalog, auditing a class meant you got a letter grade of Z on your record.  You got no credit for it.  I think the point was so you wouldn’t get an F, and you still might stay in the class for a while.

I don’t remember if he actually did audit the class, but that would have been done before the end of the ninth week of the semester; I know he was still in the class in May, which was far beyond that time.

In early May, on one of our last days of World Civ class, possibly the 11th, Phil and I sat in Bossard with the others.  In just a few minutes it would be time for World Civ, and then after that, the Botany class would go to the woods for a lab review.  This sounded like a lot of fun, and I was looking forward to it.

I got ready to leave for class with Phil, while he worked on his homework for Diff EQ.  He began to giggle.

I said, “We’d better get going to class.”

He kept giggling.  Pearl and the others said “Okaaaay,” and left.

I grew stern, stood up, and said, “We have to get going to class.”

He kept giggling.  He began to draw on the piece of notebook paper, then balled it up.

Something was wrong.  I sat back down.

Phil kept giggling, and shed a few tears as well.

He was having a nervous breakdown right before my eyes!

I took him to my room, and let him lie down on my bed until he felt better.  I called Pearl and told her to tell Mrs. Rev why I wouldn’t be in class.  The next day, I explained to Dr. Williams that we weren’t in class because of an emergency.

As Phil lay on my bed during his breakdown, I started work on a translation of “Undine.”  Though it was hard to take care of someone having a breakdown, at the same time I preferred that to being without him.

(You remember that story “Undine” by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, the one Heidi read with me freshman year.  On April 22 I found the book in the library again, an old compilation of German stories, and copied “Undine” on the library copier.   It cost me six bucks because it was about sixty pages.

(A co-worker, a pretty and sweet senior, asked me about it; I explained that I couldn’t find an English translation so I was going to translate the German text.  She and Seymour also noted how much copying I did to get the story.

(I finished the translation over the summer, though many archaic words still mystified me.  In late January of 2002, I searched the Internet and found an English translation with which to compare mine.  I did fairly well, considering the difficulty of the piece.)

Phil soon regained his senses and seemed to feel better.

Mrs. Rev told Maura, “Phil’s lucky to have Nyssa.”

Mrs. Rev must have taken us for another lab review, or else the lab test was in the woods, because I do remember going back there with her and the rest of the class.  I drew sketches of the flowers she pointed out.  Dave carried Pearl on his back, since she couldn’t drive her scooter on the trails and her crutches would be slow-going.


The following may have happened on Sunday, May 15.  I know it happened on a weekend, and there was a World Civ test the next day to study for.  The only World Civ test which was on a Monday was the final on May 16, so it was, of course, extremely important.

Dave and his Pearl told Phil about a vending job for a soccer game, which he could do that day and that day only, at one of the S– high schools.  But we had a lot of homework to do, including studying for the test, so he decided against it.  I did NOT influence his decision.

He and I talked about it in his room AFTER he decided.  The door was closed, I believe.  As we talked, I supported him in his decision, saying that he had to study and how could he study if he worked all day?  If he took the job, I would have supported that decision as well, telling him about all the money he’d make.

Phil later reported to me that Pearl heard us at the door, and told Dave I had influenced Phil not to take the job!  She had it so totally wrong and was talking about me behind my back for something I did not do.  I don’t remember if Phil ever told them the truth, or if they went on talking about what a wenchy thing I’d supposedly done.

Our Flight: forced into deception

Probably late in the week of May 15, when we had finals, it was time for Clarissa and me to part as roommates.  I would now be Sharon’s roommate in the apartments, and Clarissa wouldn’t have another roommate, at least not the following year.

Clarissa took a moment to be solemn, and said to me, “You’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”  I don’t remember much of what we said that day, but I do remember that, and that it was sad to part.

I looked forward to rooming with Sharon, but my college life had included Clarissa as my roommate for so long that it was hard to imagine not living with her anymore.

Another sad thought: Muskie Pat was finally graduating after several years of taking more than one major.  You always knew he’d cook your burger up right, and you couldn’t be sure of this with anyone else.  Senior year, my Muskie burgers never did seem quite right.

He ended up marrying a girl in my class.

Dave soon graduated, and I remember his Pearl fussing over him and his cap and gown and everything on the day, and talking so proudly of him.  I believe she graduated the year before.  He ended up working in the sporting goods section of a home improvement store in S–.

I think it was just before the beginning of summer vacation when Phil and I went with Dirk to see a movie.  They asked me what I wanted to see; it was a “guy” movie, with action and a bit of gore, so they were surprised (and pleased) when I picked it out.

But it was a good movie, a science fiction one with prisoners held on a tropical island in the future.  The name was No Escape.

I don’t think the movie was very popular, because it was just the three of us in the theater with a big tub of buttery popcorn, free to talk or put our feet on the chairs in front of us.  That was a good time.


Phil and I drove to my home on Sunday, May 22, 1994.  The circumstances surrounding it were really trying.

It started when my mom suggested that Phil bring me home and then stay the summer.  There were lots of places looking to hire, and he’d have much better luck finding a job in South Bend than in S–.  It would also help them a lot to not have to come pick me up, or pay for tolls in Illinois and Indiana.

Phil liked the idea.  I had to tell Mom by Friday the 13th who would be taking me home, him or them.

Since they supported his driving me home for Easter Break, Phil thought his parents would support him driving me home and maybe even working in South Bend, so he mentioned it to his dad.  His dad didn’t mind, but said to ask his mom.

Phil did, but she was against it.  She said things like, he should be looking for a job now, we needed to spend time apart and not be together all the time, etc.

(Actually, it’s good that I spent so much time with him, because it taught me things about his character that I needed to know.  And he was going to get a job in South Bend: That was the whole point, because the job market was better there!)

Just as she and his dad often said about me staying over all the time: “She doesn’t live here.”  To this complaint, and to his mom saying not to take me home, he said to me, “You are my wife!”

Since she was against it, Phil’s dad joined with her.  But his sister said, “You’re over eighteen.  You don’t need their permission.  If you want to do it, just do it.”

My mom didn’t want him disowned over it, and I told him so, but he said,

“Call your parents and tell them I’m taking you home for sure.”

He didn’t tell his own parents or brother about this, though.  Instead of being an adult and not being ruled by his parents, he behaved like a child.  He let them believe my parents would come up on Sunday to take me home, and that I’d stay at Phil’s house till then.

I hated the deception, especially when his mom started going on and on about cleaning up the house for my parents’ arrival, and how I could help.  There was even talk of a little party.

I told Phil I hated this deception and secrecy, and that I’d rather he just told them, come what may.  I wanted a way to tell his mom without causing a problem.  But he still didn’t.  (It was his job, not mine, since they were his parents.)

His brother or mom would ask one of us a question; he would answer somehow, and I would evade the question so I wouldn’t have to lie.

The day before we left, we were supposed to help clean up.  I cleaned up Phil’s room while he was off somewhere else, vacuuming and possibly dusting it, and it looked better than it had the whole time I’d been with him.

I was proud of how it looked.  I wasn’t going to sit around on my butt while everybody else cleaned, even though my parents weren’t really coming.

We filled up the van.  It was partially packed already with things that I didn’t need at Phil’s house, on the pretext that we’d unpack them from his van into my parents’ vehicle.

Phil said nothing to his family (only his sister knew the truth), and had me take my stuff to the van and get inside.  Then his dad came out and called to him.  Phil went to him, and he asked what was going on.  I didn’t watch or listen, but his dad didn’t yell or anything, just let him go.  Phil went to his mom, kissed her, and said,

“There’s been a change of plan.  I’m taking her home.”

She was too stunned to put up a fuss.

He couldn’t believe we kept the secret so long.  I hated the whole thing.  It made me feel terrible, but Phil wouldn’t have it any other way.

Doing what he wanted to do, while still living in his mom’s house, seems to have been hard for him.  If he had more gumption to stand up to them and say he was an adult now, he would have said he was going to South Bend (no sneaking around), and we would have planned to get married probably before the end of the year.

Would there have been a secret marriage?  Probably not, because we wouldn’t need to do anything secretly.  And I wouldn’t have been forced to lie to my parents, either.  The whole thing made me sick.

I probably expected to get a taste of what it would be like to be publicly married to Phil, but I had no idea how bad that taste would be.

Then Phil took the van to Firestone in S–, to get the oil changed and such.  They told him the right outboard brake pad was 100% worn.  100%!

The brakes needed other repairs as well to make them work properly and safely again, but none of this was done on this day.  More about this in the September chapter.  We didn’t get to leave S– as soon as we planned, but we finally got home that evening.

Summer Shockers

One night in May soon after we got home, I heard on the 10:00 news that Michael Jackson had married Elvis’ daughter, Mona Marie Presley.

After all these years and the many questions people had of Michael’s sexuality, especially now that a young boy alleged he’d been molested by Michael, it was a shock to hear that he was married.  It was another shock to hear his wife was Elvis’ daughter.

Dad was away on business and Phil was probably in bed; Mom came out of her bedroom, which she’d just gone in, and watched the news report.  She said at the end, “Her dad must be rolling around in his grave!”


Phil started looking for a job, and I did not, since Mom said I might not have time for one, what with all the projects I wanted to work on that summer.  (Also, I didn’t have a car.)

I had talked to Mom about working at the bank where she works, but when I said I was going to work on my Senior Honors Thesis, my Senior Writing Project and translating “Undine,” she said I probably shouldn’t get a job that summer.

If Phil and I were both successful in our dreams, we wouldn’t have to work at “normal” jobs.  I wanted to be a homemaker so I would have time to write.  But I told him that when we set out on our own, if I had to work for a while, I would, even if it was at a factory.

Phil, of course, looked in the Sunday and daily classifieds for jobs.  I thought it was just his task, but on Tuesday the 24th or thereabouts he said to me, “Do you want me to leave in a few days because I can’t find a job here?  You have to help me look in the classifieds!”

“HOW?”  I said.  “How am I supposed to know what looks good to you?”

“Just look for something I can do.”

I thought, and still think, he was being unfair (after all, I never asked my future husband to do this or vice versa), but I started looking.  Yet more guilting over something that I wasn’t even doing wrong.  It is the responsibility of the job seeker to search the classifieds, NOT his wife.

Phil got an interview for a sales job with a cable company before the end of the week.  The company was in Mishawaka, a small town right next door to South Bend.  You could cross a certain street and go from South Bend to Mishawaka.  Though I didn’t know my way around Mishawaka, Phil took me with him to help find the company.

He wore one of Dad’s suits, baggy despite adjustments, but all he had.  He hadn’t brought dress clothes with him, but the company wanted “business attire.”

(Why didn’t he bring a suit with him, knowing he was to look for a job?  Afterwards, I bought him some clothes at the mall with my credit card.)

He went off, and I stayed in the foyer for a while, sitting by the receptionist.  She was married to the head salesman or owner.  She asked when Phil and I were getting married, and I said,

“Summer of ’95.”

“’95–that’s a good year to get married,” she said, not explaining this, and also said what year she married.

I did try for one job, though.  Mom told me they were looking for workers at a nearby shirt-maker, which was a few blocks down from my house.  So I went down one day (possibly Wednesday), braved the busy street there, and turned in an application.

I picked one up the day before, but the woman there on Tuesday didn’t tell me what another woman told me on Wednesday, that they weren’t looking for day workers anymore, just late-shift full-time workers.

Well, I didn’t want to walk down that way at 3 in the morning in South Bend.  But she told me to put it in anyway, and she’d write on it when I wanted to work; if they wanted part-time day workers they’d get in touch with me.

It felt good to get the application in.  I’d never done embroidery or shirt work before, and hoped I would just do silk screening if I did get hired.  But it was close enough that I could walk there and not worry about how I’d be able to get there without a car.  They never did call.

When summer vacation started, we didn’t have MTV but we did have the glorious Q101, with that Brit who talked like Daphne on Frasier (not that I watched Frasier yet).  I don’t remember her name, but she was a lot of fun.

Once, as my parents drove me through Chicago, she said, “I was at this party last night with all men.  Now, gehls, these men were just gorgeous!  Unfortunately, they were more interested in each other than they were in me.”

Phil said he wanted to buy me a trousseau for the wedding.  I thought that was cool, because I would love to have some new clothes to wear.

I didn’t go out and buy much of anything because classy clothes were too expensive and modern-day fashions were too boring, so then as now, it was hard to find anything I liked.

So I hoped this trousseau would have what I liked, and that he’d be able to afford such things.

(In those days, I’d never heard of Goth, and couldn’t just log onto a website to find Goth clothes.  Not that I’d be able to afford them, anyway.)

I wrote a letter to Peter during this time, telling him about the engagement.  I didn’t get a reply, and thought he was ignoring me or mad at me because of the misunderstanding fiasco back in early January.  This wasn’t the reason, though, as I found out later.  I don’t believe there even was a reason.

I just couldn’t get away from S–.  Not only did both the Indiana and Michigan branches of my family start barbecuing brats the summer after I first started going to Roanoke, but now there was an “Enzo Pizza” in the Scottsdale Mall.

I didn’t know where they got the name from, but “enso” is often heard in S– (“Yah der hey enso”).  Phil and I kept joking about it every time we walked by it that summer.


Memorial Day, May 30, 1994.  As usual, we went to “look up ancestors” in cemeteries in Michigan, Dad’s favorite Memorial Day treat.

This time, Phil came along.  In one of the newer and bigger cemeteries–which aren’t always as intriguing as the tiny, older one a little ways from Grandma’s house–I pointed out a tombstone that read PETER.  (Peter’s real name is also a last name.)

Mom said, “Good place for him.”

Phil and I looked at each other in shock.

“After the things he said to some of the girls at church,” Mom said.

I blanched, considering that anything Peter said to girls at my church would have been said while I was still going out with him.

Mom soon explained that she wasn’t talking about my ex-boyfriend.  Instead it was the music leader at church!  He’d recently left the church because of some controversy, which I, being in college, hadn’t heard of till now.

Apparently he made a comment to a girl in the teen group, who was dressed for something special; the comment was, “You look good enough to eat.”  I might even have heard of it or been there when it happened, because it seems vaguely familiar.

It’s possible that it wasn’t meant to sound sexual, but it was bad enough.  There might have been something else said, too.

It came to the attention of the pastor.  Then Church Peter and our own version of Sandi Patti, his beautiful blonde wife with the beautiful voice, left the church–along with that brood of cute little blonde-haired girls who had brightened up the church since the 1980s.

It was sad to see this controversy come to the church through a respected family.

[Update 2013: But Church Peter and his wife are still together, all these years later, so it could very well have been a misunderstanding.  My mom even forgot all about it and agrees that it was probably a misunderstanding.]

One Sunday morning, one of our elder members of the congregation gave the sermon.  However, he kept saying the same things and using the same stories over and over again.  I don’t remember how he stopped, but someone may have mercifully interrupted him.

My dad said during lunch that the man may have been having a stroke while preaching.  Phil and I looked at each other in shock.  We later heard it was something else, but I forget what.

June 1994

Life at Roanoke: My College Memoirs–September 1991 through May 1995

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?
April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign
May 1992:

Sophomore Year
Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Junior Year 
Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams
September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: