Mom, it isn’t fair, is it? You are old. You have dementia. It has been creeping in slowly, bit by bit, but now it is really, really here. It’s no longer like a distant relative we can send a card to once in a while, hoping they don’t actually show up to stay over. Or worse, need food, water and money! It’s here and we can no longer blame your forgetfulness and erratic behavior on Ambian, or stress, or your plain lack of caring about anything but your own fears and paranoias anymore.
It’s taken a hold of you now. That relative is here to stay and we cannot politely ask him to leave. And strangely, I do not want him to leave. This version of you, the one with dementia, the old lady version, this one is just plain easier. It’s tamer. It’s somewhat….kinder? The outbursts, they are shorter. The grudges….you forget them now. Halleluyah.
Still, as I lose a little bit of you, more and more every day, I realize that I am also starting to mourn you and maybe miss you and I am paralyzed at the fear of ultimately losing you forever. My mother. You already call less. A few times a day to once a day to now…..every few days? Maybe you forgot my phone number? Why do I want you to call me? Addiction? Dependence? Trauma bond? (This last one is a juicy-I just read about it on Wikipedia!)
Fact is I hated when the phone would ring, I would never know…Like I told you once, it was like a time bomb, I would never know when you would go off. A thing I said, an insinuation, or just….I didn’t call you. I don’t care about you. Why don’t I call more.
So naturally all this business about mourning and missing you? It surprises me greatly.
I am surprised because of how much I hate you. Mom, I hate you. I have never said these words to before. But I am saying them now. I am hoping that I can say it and you won’t hear it. I am hoping the dementia will keep you safe from these words, that you will be safe under a foggy blanket of things you choose to hear and things you choose not to, because who wants to hear that from their daughter. No one. I never want to hear that from my small children, not now or ever. It’s the worst thing you can say to a parent. It’s ungrateful, selfish. It’s childish. I am not a child. I am officially middle-aged. I don’t want to be a selfish child and I don’t want to hurt you.
But you have hurt me. You have hurt me with your silence. You have hurt me with your pride. your inability to trust people. your inability to enjoy life, any part of it. Including me. You have hated me. You have held me in your arms, you have told me that you love me. You have said the things that mothers say. When I was sick, you cared for me. Oh you were the best when I was sick. The best. You would give up everything to take care of me. You would sleep near my bed. I understand that when I was a baby I had a very, very high fever, in our crowded Bay Ridge, Brooklyn apartment, my crib was in the living room. You slept sitting up by my crib. At one point, I stopped breathing. You screamed for the downstairs neighbor. I turned blue. You were screaming. She is dead. She is dead. I was not dead. But maybe you wished that I was.
This is very confusing for a child. The caring part. The food, the roof over your head. The sitting up by the crib. This is what mothers do. Loving mothers. But you were not loving. I don’t remember a conversation with you…..about anything. I have tried to remember, tried and tried, to remember one conversation you had with me when I was a child. I cannot remember one.
When dad died, I was 16. I called. I was at a payphone on a street corner. It was late. You were at my Aunt’s house. I called you. You said, he’s gone. I remember that conversation. I remember that one well. He’s gone. That’s it.
No one, not you, not my three older brothers, talked to me about dad dying. Four years of sickness, pain, cancer. Did you know I once wiped his ass in the bathroom? I was 14. He was naked. I had never seen his private parts before. He was rail thin. No one was home. Where was everybody?
I wiped his ass. He was in pain. Groans and whaling filled our apartment for 4 years. I left that apartment as much as I could. I stayed out. I had sex with my boyfriend, a lot, the one that no one knew about.
No one asked about me. Not a relative. Not you.
At the funeral, you banged on the coffin, you screamed, you screeched. I didn’t cry. I don’t know why. I didn’t cry. But I loved him, he was my best friend. He loved me. I could tell. How does a child know that truth. They just do. It seems that he is the one that physically died, yes, but really, you are the one who has been dead for so, so long. I don’t remember you fully being alive ever.
You have thrived on sorrow. Everything in your life…has sucked. Your husband died young, you had no money, your three sons, riddled with mental illness. One extremely violent. Everything has been terrible. You told me so. Every chance you had. When I crawled my way out of that violent disgusting place you called home, I vowed I would not thrive on sorrow. I vowed I would not be like you. But it stuck with me and it was a very hard habit to break. These yearnings, the feeling of incompleteness, I learned these things from you. You tied me up in the same rope that held you hostage, that still does. It took me so long to unravel it, to get out from under it. But I did.
At an early age I learned not to tell you anything important. A conversation, the ones I tried to have with you. You told me I could trust you. They always ended badly. We would talk. I would confess something. Hours would go by. the phone would ring. I knew it was you, calling me back. It was you who would now spin the yarn around the conversation into a neat little story that was meant to shame me. Two different people. The person from the first conversation. The person from the second one. Both holding two ends of that same piece of yarn. The yarn would be my confession, my need, my vulnerability. That’s how it had been so I stopped trying.
You no longer hold anything for me.
When you ask me how I am now, how are the children. How is Ron. How is work. Fine, fine, fine, fine, fine. I would not trust you with anything that pertains to me or my life. When you say, oh how I wish you to be successful. I do not tell you that I am. When you say, oh god willing you will make a lot of money, I do not tell you that I already have. When you say you wish me to have happiness and health, I do not tell you that I also have those things. Because something I will say, or how I will say it will strike a chord within you, the chord will be angry or it will be paranoid. You will obsess on this for a day or two. suddenly a conversation about my success will turn to someone else’s failure. For example, my own husband’s.
So questions about him, same deal:
How is Ron, how is work, is he making money. Fine, fine, Yes. That part is not true. That last part is a lie. But I do not want to hear how you have not slept all night because of Ron. Since, it’s not about Ron or his supposed failings and it’s not about my comfort or security. It’s about you and it always has been.
When I was younger, I used to fantasize about saving you. Saving you from your misery. I never traveled anywhere without thinking, if my mom could live here or do that thing or see this thing, she would be happy! And then over time I realized, you would never be. No matter what. It took years for you to see, to really realize you had two grandchildren that you love, (or claim to love). I believe you mostly, that you love them. But your love for them can never overshadow your own depression. It never will. Nothing will. I hate your depression. And I hate my own.
Thank you world for Lexapro. Amen.
You gave me nothing. No life lessons. No sense of optimism. Most importantly, no protection.
Let’s go over protection:
When I was being physically and emotionally abused, tortured really, by my older brothers, you did nothing. Now mom, here’s one thing you should know. You need to hear this and I need to say it to you, even if it has to make it’s way through the haze of dementia.
There is a big, big difference between being smacked around by a sibling once in a while, particularly when the age difference is nominal, you know, like 2–5 years. I understand that this is very common in families.
But let’s do a little jog back through memory lane so we can contrast and compare-
when i was 8, my oldest brother was 20.
when i was 7, my oldest brother was 19.
when i was 6, my oldest brother was 18.
when i was 5, my oldest brother was 17.
My son is still little so I don’t have much adult experience with teenage boys. But as far as I can tell, they can be massive and strong at the ages of 17–20. As far as I understand it, this is the age where pro football players are recruited. Same goes for basketball and baseball. At this young age, a boy, a son, can decide to join the army and defend their country, carry a weapon and actually shoot to kill.
At the age of 5–8, a little girl’s biggest concern should be where to find that lost toy. How to win at hopscotch. How to jump double-dutch how to learn to roller-skate. Finish homework, hang out with friends, write letters to pen-pals, watch tv, bond with teachers, dream about the future. I somehow still did all those things. I did all of those things and more. I don’t know if you ever saw those things. Those things, I don’t know. But I do know you saw and I remember you clearly seeing the abuse that was inflicted upon me.
When I tried to run away from the hitting, or pushing, or spitting, or being dragged by my hair, you begged me to stay. I would open the door with the intention of running out into the hallway, down the stairs of our apartment building, and finally out into the street. But you would close the door, beg me to stay…..it was “dangerous” outside. We didn’t live in a safe neighborhood. It’s true, we didn’t.
I remember mom, once, you finally told me — ok — go! Why that night? What changed? I think I know what it was. You wanted another tragedy. You wanted something else to cry about. You wanted one more thing to be wrong in your life. You would add it to the story you tell yourself about why god is punishing you. Why you have such bad luck. Maybe in that moment, you thought, I was your bad luck charm.
There is nothing, nothing those boys could have done that would have forced you to say “go” to them. Nothing. They could have burned the house down, cut you with knives, raped me in broad daylight. With me you said go. Never them. To this day, those boys…men, they are still with you. You would give everything. Anything. This has not changed.
There was one time, you were traveling. The hitting started. I ran out into the street. It was dark and late. I was nine or ten. I ran and ran. I went to the most desolate road. A man saw me, he pulled his car over. He was maybe 25 or 30. I couldn’t tell. My ear, it was so swollen where Alex had punched me. It was ringing so loud. I could not hear. I did not hear the car at first. But then it was beside me. He was talking to me, his door was open. The light inside his car was so bright. The open door, the huge door, the huge car, it was yellow. He smiled. Come in. What happened, he said.
I don’t remember speaking. Memory. What the fuck is it with memory, I don’t remember what. I didn’t feel afraid, should I not have felt afraid? Come, I will drive you. I got in. I thought oh kill me kill me kill me kill me. This could be over. This could be where it all ends. I will not feel alone anymore. You were away, you were traveling. You were traveling in Israel. You went to see….your mother. Yes. your own mother. You had no real relationship with her, right?
She had Alzheimers. How early, I am not sure. But you went to see her. You didn’t see her often. I only met her when I was 7. My first trip there. She cried, buballa, buballa. She cried when she saw me. I felt loved by her. I felt it. Why did it take so long to meet her? You never told me stories about her either. I don’t think you had any. You told me one story, yes. Your dad died. You were 12. He was a photographer, in Cairo. It was wartime. He stepped on a land mine, working for the British army. His body was never found. That one you did tell me.
Later I heard he actually committed suicide. But I don’t know if you knew that. I still don’t know if you know it or how true the story is because we never talk about it.
The man in the car, he took me to his mother’s apartment. It was close by. They were Israeli. They called my brothers. Two brothers came and picked me up. That’s all I remember from that night. But why did they let me go?
Why didn’t the mother question them? Why did this mother, his mother, let them take me home? Ah, no scars. No scars. There were never scars, you see? If you punch someone in the ear, there might be some swelling or redness. The punch was with an open hand, really. so that’s more like a slap, probably. No scars. the pushing, no bruises. the hair pulling, well, if you maneuver your head just right, nothing comes out. You just follow where the puller goes. No bruises. No proof. Who to believe? That mother let me go. That man in the car should have thrown me in a river.
Now we are here. Why drudge up the past? Besides, you hardly remember it, despite your protestations, I am not old! I can still remember!
Why talk about this now? I am a grown woman, a mother, a wife.
You are at the end, I suppose. Or nearing the outside of it. And this is where, I am sensing, things will change for me. Every person, a bullet with their name on it. It’s just a matter of time. Mortality. I am supposed to do something. Soon you will lose your apartment, they are asking you to leave. This is terrible. Another string of bad luck. Again. you say you can’t catch a break. At this point, I believe you. You can’t. Grief, it follows you. Misfortune, it’s your middle name. Mom, you were right, why did I ever doubt you? You are practically cursed.
You are 84. Your son, he’s mentally ill and lives with you. This isn’t fair. I don’t want to help you anymore. I am a horrible daughter. I called some organizations. I called a relative. I sent some money.
When my brother asked can you live with me, the answer — no — -came out so quickly, I could hardly stand it, damn that was so quick! It shouldn’t have been. There should have been a pause, right? Ishould have said, let me think about this. But I said no. and no it is.
Live with me? For years, decades, I have recovered myself. Found myself. You, live in my house? No.
But why? When now you are kind. You are more forgiving, you are more complimentary. You show some happiness when you see those grandchildren. I should take care of you. I should protect you. In the talmud, it says, we should honor our mothers and fathers. But I do not honor you. I judge myself for this. I don’t want my children to know. I don’t want them to repeat the cycle. But for honor, I must split myself in two again. Be “this” way and “that” way. And I am no longer willing to do that.
What will become of the mother and the daughter that cannot express any of these things? Where do the feelings go? What do you feel now? I don’t know. I will never truly know. I do know that when you die, it will be too late. What a cliche. It will be too late to try and explain and I am a living cliche. You would not understand anyway. Dementia or no dementia. You birthed me but you did not raise me. You fed me but you did not nourish me. I did that. I did that all by myself.