I am an old woman living in her converted garage so I can rent my house and afford to eat and pay my bills. But getting together the money to pay property taxes gets harder every year. And every trip to the grocery store costs more to buy less. I dread leaving my house. I have a full tank of gas in my van, and it might last the winter if I'm careful.
I have no credit cards. I filed for bankruptcy the last year of my mother's life. Caring for her had made working impossible, and it made my bipolar illness worse. She was too difficult for anyone. And I was her only living relative and had the legal, as well as moral, responsibility to care for her. Then suddenly, with all money gone, she finally qualified for Medicaid. And under Medicaid's watchful eyes we got a social worker, and meals on wheels, and three days a week an aid came to our house to bathe her and take her for a walk. And for the first time I slept for an hour without fear.
Early on in her dementia she saw her brother in the house and wanted me to make him go away. He had been dead for years. She wanted to sleep with me, and I could think of not a single thing on earth I would have hated more. Once I woke in the dark of early morning to find her standing looking down on me. How odd that my mother could still strike terror in my heart. Panic and terror was what I felt at the prospect of my mother in bed with me. I thought she might kill me. It was more probably a projection of my own dark wishes.
One morning in the deep of winter I went into her room to wake her, change her diaper, dress her, fix her breakfast. She wasn't in her bed. I searched the house and worried that she'd found the hidden key, and let herself out into the snow and freezing temperatures. But the key was in its place and all the doors were still locked. Than I ran through the house again, looking everywhere calling her name, while my dog Lucy searched with me. We went down to the basement, looked in her closet, under her bed, and finally I checked the attic where squirrels were nesting in the last of the shredded insulation and torn bits of paintings, scraps of summer dresses. And there she was, bedded down on the wood floor with the walnuts and the squirrels, her nightgown hiked around her hips, curled like a fetus. Sagging diaper leaking, her wrist cold to the touch. It was freezing in there with the uninsulated ceiling. I had trouble rousing her. I was afraid she might be dead at first, and for a moment I thought of leaving her there and going back to sleep. Then the moment passed, and I did my best to scoop her up and take her to her bed. I quickly changed her diaper, put her in a warm, clean nightgown and while I changed her like a sleeping baby, her eyes slitted open and glanced sideways at me and she said, "Lucy." Not a question. Lucy was her little sister. Lucy lived in Arkansas then, but had also been diagnosed with Vascular Dementia as well. My Aunt's lifelong companion was blind, and I wanted not to think about their reality. I tried not to think about the implications of my mother and her sister and their mother and all the Savage women who had something called Malignant Hypertension which, prior to blood pressure drugs had claimed all the women in my mother's line young--all with massive strokes, or heart attacks or they just dropped dead early with no apparent cause, until the advent of the treatment of high blood pressure with diuretics. And as the drugs got better we survived the strokes to end our days in nursing homes, drooling and vacant and wearing diapers.
I remember when, after my grandmother survived her second stroke, my mother and her sister swooped in, packed her shit, sold her house, and divvied up the jewelry between themselves. They left her in a Nursing home, never to visit again. I wasn't living in Salt Lake then, and I wasn't told about any of this until months after it was accomplished. I was horrified. Two daughters, both single, and neither for a moment considered caring for their mother.
Now I know why. They were smart. They each had a strong survival instinct. And grandmother was a drooling idiot. And I was a sentimental fool, who wanted to believe in the power of love to overcome distaste. Some kind of love. But they wanted to have their lives. And she, they said, would never know the difference. But still, didn't they owe her anything?
There is probably no one more sentimental about love and its absence than a child who never felt loved. We grow up craving it and never recognizing it since it feels so unfamiliar. And we seek the familiar because, though it might be abuse, it feels like the thing daddy called love. And if mother is withholding, we give everything to try to earn her love. And eventually nothing feels like love. And if you believe the family mythology that you were never good enough, you know you don't deserve love. So you work a little harder, sacrifice a little more. Until you live alone and she now needs you at last. And just when you can really help her, you turn into her dead sister, who she always hated anyway.
So I thawed her cold body, fed her broth, and tried so hard to be the good daughter. I know now that it wasn't for my mother that I was doing all this. It was for me. I wanted to see myself as the good daughter, since no one left alive would every know what I was, but me. It was my image of myself that so needed to believe despite the lifetime of abuse and criticism, that I was a good person, and good people take care of their dying parents.
She seemed no worse for her slumber with the squirrels. She was as active and odd that day as any other. She fought with me over the shit in her diaper, just like any other day. I had a number of concerns about her running around the house with poop in her pants. She had, in the recent past, taken to removing her poop and hiding it in the most inappropriate of places--and really, is there any appropriate place to hide poop but in the toilet? I found it along with a fork behind a sofa cushion. I found it under her pillow, and have to admit that I considered for a moment leaving it there. It was only my daily stripping her sheets and washing them that made this unworkable. She hid it in the dryer as I've said before. One never thinks to look into the dryer for shit before tossing in the days laundry to dry. Do you?
There were special nighttime diapers that were supposed to be able to absorb any amount of nighttime bed wetting. It's a lie--don't believe a word of that advertising. So every morning, once I managed to get her changed and dressed and fed, my next job was the daily bed stripping and sheet washing and bed making. So leaving her hidden turd under her pillow wasn't an option no matter how much it might please me to do it.
As the days went on like this, I found myself unable to remain awake in the afternoons. I set an alarm for every official moment of the day, but once the getting up and doing morning chores and the answering the door for the meals on wheels guy, after watching my mother eat her tuna sandwich with sloppy gusto, I would take us upstairs and lock us in my suite of rooms, where she could "type" on my computer for hours, while I drifted in and out of consciousness.
My mother had once been an executive secretary. There was a time when she could take dictation shorthand and type ninety words a minute with complete accuracy. Hoping for the best, I turned on the computer and pulled up an empty page. I typed a few words on the keyboard and watched her eyes light up as words appeared on the screen. She all but pushed me out of the way, eager to get to the typing. It seemed she had something to say. So for awhile I watched. Her fingers hovered over the keyboard, gnarled knuckles, ravaged nails (but festooned with gaudy rings I could not pry off her fingers). Then she dropped the little finger of her left hand upon the z and the zzzzzzzzzs flew off her finger like sparks across the screen. Line after line of small z. I tried to show her that all the other letters were there, but she briskly pushed my hands away to very deliberatley place that finger lightly upon the z and leave it there. I moved to the small room off my office that held my bed and slipped away into the sleep of the damned.
I awoke to the slap of my mother's hand across my face, and her distress as she pointed at the wall behind my head. She looked at the wall and said her first words in days, and in obvious alarm, "Can't you hear that?" It was the squirrels scrabbling in the walls.
(I am reposting this while I get my brain working again. Today isn't starting well. So, for awhile, lets ponder the troubles of my failed romance. It might be instructive.)
When I met Tom (the man I call first love/last love) he was just beginning to play the acoustic bass. I've always had a thing for bass players. There is something about the instrument--it's rather womanly looking, and the man playing it has it in an embrace between his legs. His arms are wrapped around her and he is fingering...
I like men with good hands, finger dexterity, and stamina. Bass players fit that bill, pianists, guitarists too. For a brief period of time, Tom used to ask me to sing to his bass or piano accompaniment. I was reluctant, but eventually gave it a try. I have a deep, smokey voice, fairly limited range, but almost perfect pitch and a great memory for the lyrics of jazz standards. Solo bass is one thing, bass and vocalist is another entirely. I would lead him through my vocal arrangement of My Romance in my key, and he would say, but that's not the right key, that's not the key it's written in. And I would say, but it's my key, my range. If you want me to sing with you, we will have to play it in my key. He would say, "Sing it. I'll follow." And we would run through the song over and over, and just when I would get comfortable with the arrangement, relax and really start enjoying myself, he would change it up, get loose and start throwing in a bit of bass virtuosity. Without warning, he would play a solo in the middle of a duet. It ruined everything for me as a singer. And then I refused to sing for him. It's a metaphor for what went wrong with us.