By Jessie Close
With Pete Earley
With Glenn Close
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At a young age, Jessie Close struggled with symptoms that would transform into severe bipolar disorder in her early twenties, but she was not properly diagnosed until the age of fifty. Jessie and her three siblings, including actress Glenn Close, spent many years in the Moral Re-Armament cult. Jessie passed her childhood in New York, Switzerland, Connecticut, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and finally Los Angeles, where her life quickly became unmanageable. She was just fifteen years old.
Jessie's emerging mental illness led her into a life of addictions, five failed marriages, and to the brink of suicide. She fought to raise her children despite her ever worsening mental conditions and under the strain of damaged romantic relationships. Her sister Glenn and certain members of their family tried to be supportive throughout the ups and downs, and Glenn's vignettes in Resilience provide an alternate perspective on Jessie's life as it began to spiral out of control. Jessie was devastated to discover that mental illness was passed on to her son Calen, but getting him help at long last helped Jessie to heal as well. Eleven years later, Jessie is a productive member of society and a supportive daughter, mother, sister, and grandmother.
In Resilience, Jessie dives into the dark and dangerous shadows of mental illness without shying away from its horror and turmoil.
Table of Contents
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She is not an ordinary or "run-of-the-mill" human being…
—from an analysis of my handwriting when I was seventeen
This memoir is, obviously, about my life. But my life is filled with people: family people and friends people and other people. So this memoir isn't about me alone.
Some of my memories will inevitably not jibe with other people's memories, especially those of my children. We don't operate on horizontal lines, but as a family we function on wildly divergent lines, sometimes crisscrossing, sometimes running parallel, always aware of each other.
Since becoming an advocate for mental health I have realized that the face I present to the world is not always the face that reflects me; I have learned how to hide my discomfort. I have learned to push on no matter what, if I have to, and I have learned how to step back and take care of myself when I can.
NOT YOUR NORMAL CHILDHOOD
I learned at a very early age that being loved was synonymous with being left: that it was a painful thing to love me, and to love.
—from my private journal
My story begins with an Irish setter named Paddy.
I'm starting with a dog story because canines have played and continue to play an important role in my life and the lives of all us Closes. I own four dogs. My mother, Bettine Moore Close, has three; my oldest sister, Tina, has three; and my brother, Alexander, whom everyone calls Sandy, has two. Glenn starred in the movies 101 Dalmatians and 102 Dalmatians as Cruella De Vil, an evil socialite who wants to slaughter puppies for their spotted fur, but Glenn is a dog lover also, with two terrier mixes. My father, William Taliaferro Close, better known as Bill or Doc—or T-Pop to us—was a dog lover all his life. When he died in January of 2009 he left two dogs, which brought my mom's count up to five. By my count, that's sixteen dogs between us—without adding the ones owned by our six children.
I know why I love dogs. They love me back. They make me feel secure. I love the silly things they do, and I love it that they love me no matter what mood I'm in. Love and security are not what I always felt growing up.
But Paddy, the Irish setter—he was responsible for bringing my parents together. Their families were actually neighbors, but the children didn't meet until they were teenagers. My mother's parents, Charles Arthur and Elizabeth Hyde Moore, owned a farm in Greenwich, Connecticut. My dad's parents, Edward Bennett and Elizabeth Taliaferro Close, lived about two miles away. My parents didn't meet until they were sixteen, because after World War I the Closes moved to France, where Edward managed the American Hospital of Paris, a facility opened in 1906, when Paris had been a magnet for American intellectuals, writers, poets, and artists.
Granny Close returned with my father and his twin brother to the United States in 1938 because it seemed inevitable that Hitler was going to invade and conquer France. The fourteen-year-old twins were sent to boarding school at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, when they returned. My mother's only sibling, Johnny, also attended St. Paul's but was an upperclassman when the Close twins arrived. The first time my dad saw my mother was when she came to visit Johnny and he spotted her in the chapel. He glanced up at the visitors' gallery, saw Mom, and knew in his heart that she was "the most beautiful girl" he'd ever seen. But he didn't dare speak to her, and she would know nothing about his feelings until much later.
Around 1940, Granddad Close also left Paris, and Grandmother Moore decided to host a party to welcome the entire Close family back to Greenwich. She called my mom, Bettine, and Johnny into the parlor and announced that she wanted them to host a party for the Close twins.
"It would be nice if you introduced them to your teenage friends," my grandmother said, "since they don't know anyone here in Greenwich."
The idea of throwing a party for two teenage boys whom no one really knew didn't excite my mom or uncle, but Grandmother Moore didn't give them much choice. Under her watchful eye, a dinner was arranged for William Taliaferro (Billy) Close and his twin, Edward Bennett Close Jr. (Teddy). My father and his twin had been born six minutes apart on June 7, 1924—Teddy first, which is why he was the twin named after their father.
Judging from family photographs, my father was exceedingly handsome. He had strong features that reflected his English and Scottish ancestry. My mother was beautiful. She was tall and slender, with dark auburn hair and a full mouth. The party had just started when Paddy, the Irish setter, came trotting across the lawn clutching a terrified bunny in its jaws. Because Paddy was a trained hunting dog, his soft mouth allowed him to carry the rabbit without puncturing its skin or breaking any bones.
As soon as my mother and father spotted Paddy, they rushed down the steps to rescue the bunny. My father suggested the two of them carry the shaking creature to a stone wall at the end of the lawn and release it on the other side, away from Paddy.
It was during that rescue mission that my parents began talking and realized that they liked each other. As soon as my dad got back from freeing the bunny, he rushed to find Teddy.
"Miss Bettine Moore is off-limits," he declared.
The twins had a pact. If either was interested in dating a girl and was the first to announce it, the other would stay clear of her.
My dad was so enthralled with my mom that he asked her to go to a movie with him after the party ended. She agreed, and it was during that movie, when others were trying to shush them, that my father told her he was going to become a doctor.
Much later in their lives, my father would write his autobiography, A Doctor's Life: Unique Stories, and he would explain that he'd decided to become a doctor when he was only seven years old, while touring the American Hospital. He wrote:
The head nurse, Miss Compte, took my hand and led me on a tour… She had brown eyes and a comforting smile, and her starched white apron rustled when she walked.
My stomach was tight with anticipation as we stepped out of the elevator onto the surgical floor. Two large doors swung open and tall figures wearing white hats and long white gowns emerged, smiled at us, and walked down the immaculate corridor.
I caught the whiff of ether and clean linen. Miss Compte eased the door open just enough for me to peek through. Two gowned figures leaned over a stretcher outside one of the operating rooms… Those rooms were used by some of the surgical giants of Europe… The surgical gowns, caps, and masks were like mystical robes of high priests, and the rubber gloves suggested exploring fingers capable of delicate maneuvers. But more than anything else the sound of starched linen and the faint smell of ether stimulated my imagination.
Downstairs in my father's [hospital administration] office, I told his secretary that I would be a surgeon when I grew up, and if I wasn't smart enough to be a surgeon, I'd be a hospital administrator like my father. She thought that was cute, but I was serious. I wanted desperately to be part of that mysterious world, to share in the prestige of being called "Doctor," and to wear the proud uniform of a surgeon.
Mom was impressed. She wanted to become a nurse, but she wasn't interested in living a mundane life. Mom read at least two books per week, and she wanted to work in some exotic overseas location and have adventures like those of the heroines whose stories she devoured.
Bettine and Billy met at 5:00 a.m. the next day to go horseback riding. They paid as much attention to the swarms of mosquitoes buzzing around them as they did the moviegoers who had tried to keep them from talking. They were instantly in love. My mom still mourns the fact that she lost the little wooden ring my dad gave her when they were sixteen and became secretly engaged.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, my parents' college plans changed. Dad told his father, "I'm leaving Harvard, marrying Bettine, and joining the Army Air Corps." My mother left Jokake School, a boarding school in Tempe, Arizona, to marry Dad before he was shipped overseas.
Bill and Bettine, both eighteen, were wed February 6, 1943. The ceremony was held at Mooreland, where my mom wore a "white faille silk gown, with a marquisette yoke, and long tulle veil fastened to a Juliet cap of silk," according to the newspaper. "She carried freesia and gardenias."
When my parents married, there was no option for a woman but to take her husband's name. The same was true of my grandparents. Grandmother Moore was a Hyde before she married Charles Arthur Moore. It's the Hydes and the Moores, both on my mother's side, where I believe the seeds that would later germinate into my own and my son's mental illnesses can be found.
The end of the nineteenth century was America's Gilded Age of opulence, when great family fortunes were made and mansions that rivaled European castles were built. Mrs. William B. (Caroline) Astor ruled New York's high society, and with help from a confidant she compiled the so-called Four Hundred—a secret list of who mattered and who didn't in New York society. How was that number reached? It was the maximum number of guests that could fit inside Mrs. Astor's private ballroom.
My grandfather Edward Bennett Close—Eddie—was on her list.
Originally from Yorkshire, England, the Close family had helped found Greenwich in 1640. Both my grandfather and father wore signet rings bearing the family crest and motto: Fortis et fidelis—strong and faithful.
By the late 1800s, Greenwich had become a sanctuary for New York's wealthy. The Rockefeller brothers had built grand estates there, joining others eager to escape sweltering summers in the city. Granddad Eddie met his first wife, Marjorie, at a dance in Greenwich when he was twenty-one years old and she was only sixteen. Four days later, he secretly proposed. Because of her age, they agreed to keep their pledge secret, especially from Marjorie's father, Charles William (C. W.) Post. It's funny that both my father and his father each became secretly engaged to sixteen-year-olds, although, in my father's case, he was sixteen also.
C. W. Post changed the American morning coffee habit in 1903, when he began selling an alternative to coffee, Postum, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Marjorie was his only child. Two years after meeting Marjorie, Granddad formally asked for her hand. C. W. tried to prevent the marriage but eventually gave in.
Eddie Close and Marjorie were wed on December 2, 1905. Marjorie would later tell biographers that her new husband didn't want children. Even so, they had two daughters—my father's half sisters, Adelaide and Eleanor—during their twelve-year marriage. My grandfather had little to do with his daughters except for a tradition that began with them and spilled over to my father and his twin: he would take them on outings, albeit infrequently, and he called those outings "beanos." A beano would be a trip to the ice cream store or a ride in a rowboat; all beanos were great fun and remembered well.
On May 9, 1914, C. W. stuck a rifle in his mouth and squeezed the trigger, killing himself at age sixty. C. W. had been worth $33 million, which he left to be equally divided between his second wife, Leila, and Marjorie.
Marjorie felt cheated, having been told that all the family's holdings in Postum Cereal Company would be hers based on a trust signed when her parents had founded the company. Granddad Eddie went to the cereal company's headquarters and spent days digging through files until he found the original trust agreement. He returned to Greenwich triumphant, and on December 8, 1915, The New York Times reported that C. W.'s widow had agreed to a $6 million settlement to avoid a legal fight. Marjorie received all her father's stock and property, which was valued at $27 million—$620 million in today's dollars. Women didn't run major companies at the time. A board of directors made most decisions, and Grandad became a vice president on the board.
During World War I Grandad was sent to Europe and ended up a Major on General Pershing's staff. While he was serving in Europe, Marjorie attended a party on Long Island, where she met Manhattan stockbroker E. F. Hutton. Family legend holds that Marjorie and Hutton had an affair. When Grandad returned home in 1918 he found his wife cold and distant. Marjorie divorced my grandfather and shortly thereafter married Hutton, who helped her transform Postum into the General Foods Corporation, a move that increased her fortune to the equivalent of $3.4 billion in today's dollars.
Only a few months after the divorce, my maternal grandparents, Charles Arthur and Elizabeth Hyde Moore, planned a double date with Granddad and a young piano and voice teacher from Houston, Texas, Betsey Taliaferro. Eddie and Betsey (Granny Close) agreed, and they all traveled into New York to attend an opera.
Shortly after this date, Eddie and Betsey married. They left immediately for France, where he took charge of the American Hospital of Paris.
My sister Tina once asked Granny Close if Granddad, then deceased, had gotten a large divorce settlement from Marjorie. Granny Close had taken a last puff on her cigarette and stamped it out in her silver Scotty ash tray. She then explained that Granddad had not accepted a single penny from his first wife. In fact, without even being asked, he'd voluntarily returned all the stock that he had collected during their marriage. Granny Close quoted my grandfather as saying, "A gentleman doesn't take money from a woman when they are divorcing." Too bad for us!
Granny told us that on their honeymoon, Grandad stated he didn't want any more children. She begged and he relented, but told Granny she could only have one. Certainly not to be outdone by Marjorie, Granny was able to present Eddie with twin boys: my dad, Billy, and his brother, Ted. Twins were her revenge.
I always felt that Granny was a sad woman who thought, deep down, that her husband didn't really love her. Within the family, we believed that Grandad never got over Marjorie.
As intriguing as my Close family history may be, it is my mother's side that contains the most likely genetic link to my own mental illness.
Grandmother Moore, my grandmother, was the eldest daughter of Seymour J. Hyde and Elizabeth Worrall Hyde, members of another prominent Greenwich family. The Hydes had been farmers in New Hampshire and eventually established a highly successful dry goods manufacturing business, A. G. Hyde and Sons, famous for Heatherbloom Petticoats.
In February of 1915, Seymour J. Hyde fell from his horse and cracked his skull while riding in Greenwich. He died a few hours later, leaving behind an estate worth $2 million—about $46 million in today's dollars. His namesake son, Seymour Worrall Hyde, took charge of the family business and soon found himself caught in a scandal that was reported on February 1, 1918, on page 1 of The New York Times under the headline:
KIDNAPS FOUR MEN
Soldiers Tell of Spending a
Night of Terror in Home
of Seymour Hyde
DETAINED AT PISTOL POINT
A Times reporter wrote that Seymour W. Hyde (my grandmother's brother) had taken four men hostage at gunpoint in Manhattan during what appeared to be a mental meltdown. He forced two of his hostages to undress and put on purple gowns. He then had his chauffeur transport his hostages to his father's Greenwich home, where he'd proceeded to beat one man and force him to dance until he could barely stand by threatening to shoot him. He then pulled a hot poker from the fireplace and threatened to brand another helpless hostage. During this entire episode, Hyde kept claiming to be a German spy. Two of his hostages slipped away and notified the police, who were met with pistol fire when they arrived at the Hyde property. When Hyde ran out of ammunition, the police broke inside, placed him in a straitjacket, and announced that he was clearly "insane." His mother told reporters that Hyde was simply suffering from fatigue brought on by the pressures that came from running the family business.
For a short period, Hyde was institutionalized, but he eventually returned to Greenwich, where some viewed him as completely mad. He was known to have gone riding naked on horseback through the hills, which actually sounds like a lot of fun to me…
Seymour Worrall Hyde may have been mentally ill, but he was one of the few multimillionaires to withdraw all his money from the stock market shortly before the crash of 1929. He eventually established a Hyde family trust, which still pays benefits to my mother, my siblings, and me, although through my grandmother Moore.
What all this means is that my dad, William "Billy" Close, and my mother, Bettine Moore, came into their marriage with some baggage. My dad had a father—Granddad—who had not wanted children. My mom had an uncle who had been institutionalized for a severe mental illness. Now that we know about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we can also wonder if Seymour Hyde, who fought in World War I, was afflicted with that terrible syndrome.
Given their privileged upbringing, what was really surprising about my parents was how little either of them cared about social status and money. It's possible they were that way because they grew up with social status and money. Having something as your birthright and turning it down is easier than not having it at all. We can only ignore what we have. But if anything, my dad and mom made a point of teaching us kids that social rank didn't define a person. This was particularly true of my mother. She grew up in a thirty-room home with servants. Yet she never felt that she was better than they were; they were her world.
My mother remembers a time when her parents came in very late from New York City, and the cook had waited up with a hot meal. Her father told him offhandedly, "We've already eaten." Suzanna Mannagotter, who helped in the kitchen, had heard the cook swear under his breath, "They won't be singing that tune when the revolution comes!" Mom heard the servants talk about Communists and revolution and understood the disparity between them and her family. Mom told me, when I asked her about this, that years later Suza told Grandmother Moore what the chef had said and Grandmother was horrified. She found out where he lived and apologized to him in a letter.
But rather than instilling feelings of superiority in them, that disparity caused my mother and, I believe, my father to feel a special obligation to help others less fortunate than they, true altruists.
That said, none of us can escape our childhoods. And my father, in particular, would pass a ghost from his past to all of us.
After she was married, my mother began following my father to a series of Texas airfields while he learned how to fly C-47 troop carriers. She'd wanted an adventure, and that's what she got.
The wives of aviation cadets were not recognized by the military, which meant that Mom was not permitted on base. The first room she rented had cockroaches skittering across the floor and no windows. Outside another, two men got into a knife fight. She followed Dad, moving from one shoddy boardinghouse to the next. That was a lot for an eighteen-year-old girl raised in genteel Greenwich.
Dad was allowed to leave the base one day a week, and my mom eagerly waited to see him, but their honeymoon didn't last long. My father would arrive at her room carrying a stack of airplane magazines and flop down on their bed to read, barely saying a word. The first time this happened, my mother ran outside and cried. As time passed, my mother would realize there was another reason for his apparent coldness.
My parents would be married nearly sixty-seven years, and they clearly loved one another. Yet my father found it almost impossible to express his emotions. But he had them, and he could be terribly sentimental. Once, when he was much, much older, he returned from a local landfill with a battered, eyeless Sesame Street Cookie Monster—a stuffed toy—that he'd rescued because he couldn't bear the sight of it being abandoned there. He put the Cookie Monster on a shelf in his bedroom with other favorite objects. Despite these events, he found it nearly impossible to share his innermost feelings with my mother—or any of us kids. The only time we saw him cry was when he had to put down one of his beloved dogs.
Years later, when I was an adult, my mother would tell me that she suspected Dad's inability to express his emotions was rooted in his childhood. His parents had shipped him and his twin brother off to rigid English boarding schools when they were seven years old. My mother said that when my father and his brother had been left for the first time at Summerfield, a venerable British boarding school, my father had chased after the car and leaped onto its running board, crying. The chauffeur stopped and literally peeled his little fingers from the car before driving away.
I've already mentioned that my grandfather Edward Bennett Close had not wanted children, and apparently he had little to do with either of his sons, except for the occasional beano.
I think an exchange between Mom and Dad that happened in January of 2009, shortly before Dad died, is telling. Dad was feeling ill, and late one night he turned to my mother and said, "Tell me you'll never leave me."
"Bill," Mom replied in a shocked voice, "I will never leave you! By God, we've lived together as husband and wife for sixty-six years. Why would you think I would leave you now?"
Seeing an opening, Mom asked Dad if he loved her. There had been several times during their marriage when she hadn't been certain that he had. All he would have had to say was "Yes" or "Of course!" My father had looked at her through sad eyes but couldn't utter a word. It was as if he couldn't mouth the words "I love you." He could write it in letters and, later, in his autobiography, but he couldn't speak it.
In 1944, my father completed flight training. A few months later, in June, the Allies launched the Normandy invasion. A week after D-day, Dad boarded a troopship leaving New York for France, where he immediately began flying over the front lines. Dad was smack-dab in the middle of combat, ferrying troops and supplies to the western front. One of his early missions was to supply General George S. Patton Jr. and his troops during the Battle of the Bulge, when the führer made his last-ditch effort to split the Allies' ranks. After that decisive battle, Dad became one of the first Allied pilots (he was a copilot) to fly paratroopers and supplies into Warsaw, Poland.
My dad never bragged or even spoke much about his war years. When I was young, I happened upon some pictures of skeletal bodies piled on top of each other. I asked my mom about them, and she told me to put them away. They were photos that my dad had from Poland during the war. Mom said my dad would become upset if he knew I'd seen them or asked about them.
If my father had been distant before the war, when he returned in September of 1945—four months after Germany surrendered—he was even more detached. He had been gone for fifteen months, and my mom greeted him holding a baby. It was my sister Tina, who had been conceived on the night before my father had shipped off to Europe. Tina was six months old and teething.
Mom, Dad, and Tina moved onto my grandparents' farm, Mooreland, taking up residence in Stone Cottage, a building that had been the farm's slaughterhouse before being converted into a residence. They were only a short walk away from the property's main stone house, called the Big House, where Mom's parents lived. All the buildings were clapboard with foundations of local gray fieldstone dug up and dragged on skids by horses to construction sites.
Eager to pursue his dream of becoming a surgeon, Dad applied at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. Unfortunately, he had gotten bad grades at Harvard, so he asked my mother's father, Charles Arthur Moore, to pull some strings.
My mom's father was quite a character. In addition to being a wealthy industrialist, Charles Moore was a noted explorer who'd participated in an 1897 expedition to the Arctic with Robert Peary. He was well known in New York, and the letter that he wrote to the president of Columbia did the trick for my father despite its tone.
My son-in-law wants to become a doctor. Personally, I have no use whatsoever for the profession. However, his determination is such that I imagine he will make a good physician.
Charles A. Moore
Although my parents rarely argued in front of their children, their marriage continued to be strained. One night while my father was trying to study, my sister Tina began crying.
"Why can't you keep that brat quiet?" my father yelled.
My mother slapped him. "She's not a brat!" she declared. "She's your daughter!" It was the first and only time she struck him.
Mom had put aside her dream of becoming a nurse to rear a family. On March 19, 1947, my sister Glenn was born. She was twenty-one months younger than Tina, and they eventually became inseparable.
- On Sale
- Jan 13, 2015
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Grand Central Publishing