The call came as midnight approached on Halloween of 2010 — my first as a high schooler and last as a trick-or-treater. The raspy voice was unmistakable. I had seen all of her movies. And, like many people, I could not escape the 24/7 reporting by the tabloids, in gleeful and schadenfreude fashion, of her troubles.
I am not breaching any confidence or revealing what is not already known. Even the mainstream media reported that, in October 2010, she was at the Betty Ford Center. My mother was also there.
Earlier that evening, I helped my 8-year-old brother with his costume. I had also decided to go trick-or-treating. At a certain point, it becomes creepy and somewhat unnatural for teenagers to still be doing that. After all, the spookier and scarier world is that of high school and late adolescence.
That particular Halloween, though, had taken on an inexplicable importance to me — perhaps as a last grasp at what, in reality, was long since gone.
The years leading up to that night were marked by the addictions of my mother, the embarrassment and chaos she caused and the loneliness of needing, but not having her. Painful to watch and even more painful to experience, I had to grow up fast. Finally, as I started ninth grade, my mother left for California and a chance at sobriety.
The phone rang twice before I could get to it, but I already knew who it was by the caller ID: “Eisenhower Medical Center,” the cover for the Betty Ford Center.
I was not anxious to talk to my mother just then. It had been a fun evening and probably my last, I knew, going to people’s homes and asking for candy. I wanted to savor the moment for as long as possible.
On the third ring, I picked up the phone. The voice said: “Hello, Maeve. This is Lindsay Lohan.”
The conversation was brief and, before she passed the phone to my mother, she said: “I just love your mom … and I want you to know that she will be home very soon.”
That was kind of her. A famous film star telling me that she loved my mother when I found it so difficult to do so.
Wherever one lands on the spectrum from plain bad behavior to a disease, I struggled with how my mother, both a medical doctor and a lawyer, could lose her way and choose alcohol and drugs over family life and healthy pursuits.
Over the remainder of that year, and afterwards, I came to appreciate how good an actress Lindsay Lohan really is. She said what all the other adults had been saying. She knew what I wanted to hear and convinced me, for a time, that there would be a quick ending to all of this. Yet, on that brief call, we both must have known that there would be no quick homecoming.
The hard part was that no one really knew what was going to happen. Addiction is an unpredictable thing. So, too, is the road to recovery. Both are tricky, fraught with relapse, continual disappointment and damage done. Still, I often found myself telling my brother what I could not know (but wished to believe) about our mother’s efforts at recovery.
Months after the phone call, my mother wasn’t home. She floated in and out, before getting cited for DUI two days before Christmas and going on to more rehabs. Sobriety finally came, but at a steep price.
That Halloween, as I put my costume away and took a final bite of candy, I had already begun my transition to adulthood. I knew what I needed to do, and not do. I also realized that no one — not my dad, my siblings, my friends, my teachers, my coaches, my neighbors nor Lindsay Lohan — would be able to help me more than myself.
Maeve McAllister just graduated from The Ellis School in Shadyside and will be a freshman at Wellesley College in the fall. Her mother is four years into recovery and is medical director of psychiatry for a large hospital-based physician’s group in Pennsylvania. She is active in physician recovery.