Sat June 21
4:30 this morning I composed the start to this but it has all faded by now. I felt like I said to myself exactly what I wanted to say about caring for her, about what life in this house has become but I was also very tired and folded tight between the wall and the dog waiting for her to stop vomiting long enough to come back to bed where she had asked me to stay with her. I say “asked” as if it were like any other question, one with a variety of answers freely available but “would you” is truly twisted into “you will” in this relationship and “no” is not going to happen without a fight.
I was thinking last night … this morning… about informed consent and how I wouldn’t truly be able to give it, not really. I could say “no”, but what would I be in for if I did? The sorrowful pull of her thinning lips into that expression that makes me cold in my stomach for days? A dismissive “fine” and shutting down of all other emotion? A breezy “OK” that makes me wonder how many years from now I will hear about my unwillingness to help or the worst– a re-statement of need stretching out from this moment to some point of pain decades ago. I know I am playing along, I know I am choosing to be here but my choices are not all things being equal. Nothing is equal.
I find myself accidentally blaming her for her symptoms – she is nauseated at 4:30 in the morning “what was she doing?” I wonder. I know this is a way for me to feel like there is some answer, some method by which this situation can be avoided in the future. I am protecting myself from a chaotic world by blaming the victim. And she is a victim right now (always?) of so many things – pain and pain medication, hypomania or mania, uppers downers and inbetweeners and all the various twists of past and now and mind.
I try to pull up some sympathy from somewhere, some feeling I can connect to about the sorrows of the body that made mine and I can’t. It has been gone for so long. The cycle of hope and excitement for the new remedy that will get her back to “Where she was before” has gone on so long there really is no “before” anymore. There is no woman without the pain, the ice packs, the restlessness without the physical ability to back it. There is only worse or better – hostile or maudlin - depressed or elevated.
I watch her reactions to her interpretation of my reactions cause counter reactions in her and move her to apologize or become defensive or angry. She seeks out my acknowledgement that my fathers tone of voice betrays the ___ he is trying to hide and truly it doesn’t matter what I say. She reacts to some expression of mine with an apology and I have to figure out the right words to say to even get to what it was that she decided I was thinking. Every interaction is new again, all old pains are new and living moments. Our relationship is in a state of constant second dates- some history but no lasting trust, all nerves and wondering and anxiety. At the same time everything is saturated with history, a situation now is the same for her as a situation then, all situations are the same, they are living and they are now even when they are past. But it has all gotten jumbled up. She is a victim of her own victimization of herself. I am a casualty of her war for justice for herself in a world increasingly hostile to her. Email and web ads violate her like when she was mugged in Boston, falling to the street and kicked and kicked and kicked by trying to sell her things she doesn’t want. Doctors ,so many doctors and all of them haughty, and rude, treating her like an addict (isn’t she?). I would fear dementia if it hadn’t always been this, if there hadn’t always been a straight line for her between the time the priest groped her when she was 23 and the way the clerk at the CVS violated her with a comment at 45. If the past wasn’t always redefining the present and predicting the future.
A story last night over dinner – a pharmacy asked her to stop bringing her business to them. She uses heavy narcotics for pain and though she and my father both can’t remember why they denied her, the outcome (in her mind) was that she was “treated like a criminal”.
“That was the second time”, she tells me, “that I was treated like a criminal. The first was in the mid 90’s, when I was studying in that Motel 6 for my Master’s exam. You take these tests and if you pass, they give you your master’s degree. In grad school. So I was studying and on the way out the clerk gave me the dirtiest look. They thought I stole the bed spread and accused me of stealing it.” She explains the simple things to me- over and over, but never explains what I really need to know. I know what a Master’s exam is, I don’t know how you manage to retain so many hurts and lose sight of everything else.
A hurt 5 years ago at a pharmacy is truly the same for her as an accusation by an unknown hotel clerk over 20 years ago. But can she remember that her son hates chicken or her daughter loves the ballet? Sometimes. Sometimes. The past is a patchwork of how she has decided others have categorized and labeled her. The unfair conclusions she has concluded others have concluded about her. They all relate together in a crime show collage of maps and pins and red string linking this to that to that. That is the only continuity I have come to know in her company. She will tell the stories of her victimization each time as if they are fresh and new and relevant. Hurts from strangers making offhand comments are as deep and profound as being hit by her parents. All insult is injury. All injury insult. She will ask me if it is “okay” that she is telling me this and be so relieved to be able to talk about these things as if I haven’t been hearing them since I was a small child. I remember. It isn’t new to me.
When she is elevated she says “Is this what it is like for you?” just out there, at the table while eating. I used to try to explain what it was like for me, choosing my words carefully so as not to cast shadows on her. Now I claim ignorance because there is no need for me to tell – she won’t remember and it won’t make a difference. All I can do is say that I understand, because I am the one who understands. Hasn’t it been so since I was old enough to speak? My illness comes from her, she believes, she apologized once for giving birth to me. It isn’t quite the same as “I wish you had never been born” but it is a fascinating way of making my mental illness about her. I am sorry I did this to you, please comfort me.
I don’t feel guilty when I think that I wish she would die. It seems so stark sitting there like that. The sentence so raw and ugly. I suppose the meaning underneath is that I have stopped believing it will ever be good for her again, or for my father so I just want the suffering for everyone to be over. If there were another way for that to happen, I’d welcome it, but there is too much. The elastic of her mind is worn and she is a needy, grasping creature even when healthy so were she to be self sufficient, the need would come out some other way. My father is doing all he can to be in it – to keep his head down and hope it passes. I fight with myself about shining a giant accusatory spotlight on what he calls his life and proclaiming it unacceptable. If his only choice is stay in this small house of a life with no change or go, does it really help to tell him that the paint is peeling and that one photo on the wall is always crooked? It isn’t a situation that can be made peace with but it is a situation that can be denied and compartmentalized and managed. As she swirls around with her actions like biting flies and expects you to sit without flinching you find that you are either angry or resigned. Anger calls for action. Anger demands change. There is no true change here so there can be no anger.
People ask me sometimes how I put up with XYZ without being angry. I honestly am just learning now even how to be angry. It doesn’t even occur to me. The parameters in which anger is allowed in me are so narrow and so specific that they are very rarely met. The strictest gatekeeper being, “did they mean to do it?” If the answer is no, there can be no anger. There can be no anger without pure intent from the other party and I am always able to understand where they are coming from, always able to see where they are the victim. After all, I have been doing so since I was a little girl.
So why don’t I say no? Why don’t I refuse to play? I do, I pick my battles, but certain battles cannot be won. To say no is to be willing to stop having a relationship with her and to watch the burden slide off my shoulders and settle even heavier on my brother and father. To say no is to stop having a mother and honestly I am not ready to do that. But I reevaluate, now and then, the pros and cons of having her in my life and I allow for a time that may come when the cons are too great to cast aside and I have to tell her that it is my way or no way at all. When/if that day comes I know what she will do and for now I am not ready for it. For now.