It’s been a day. I spoke to my mother, who had sounded better the last time we spoke. She sounded much worse today, and informed me my grandfather’s in the hospital, although she can’t say for what. A rehabilitation center of some sort. She thinks he’s going to die soon. And then she wants to move to Washington.
I’ll admit that cold dread fills me at the idea.
We have a history. I spent a considerable chunk of my twenties trying to extricate her from a horrible situation. She’d call me in tears every time her husband went back to drinking and began beating her. She’s really leaving him again, this time, she’d say, and so I’d tell her to come on down. She’d live with me for a few days or weeks, interrupting my writing, putting my life in disarray, and inevitably, just when we’d got things sorted enough she could begin to live a life of her own, she’d go back to him. Always. This went on more times than I can remember.
He called me once, drunk, barely able to do more than breathe, and said, “Your mother…” His voice trailed off. My heart tried to explode. My body went cold and numb, my field of vision shrinking to a sliver, because I thought this was the call, this was where I’d find out he’d finally killed her. I still don’t know the reason he called, but I got hold of her later and found out she was fine. But he was drinking and abusing her, and every time she went back because he was good at winning her back, I’d watch her leave with the certainty that this was the last time I’d see her alive.
I spent a lot of time angry and scared. I spent a lot of time confused and hurt. The confusion and hurt would morph into anger. That’s how my personality works. I’m not one of those people who can suffer mildly and patiently. I just get mad, and the more scared or hurt I am, the angrier I am.
But no matter how angry I got, the fear won out. I’d always accept her back. She eventually left him for good only because he beat her dog. I made her buy a house that time, not trusting her not to go back. Get her in a house, something she’d invested in, where we could live together, and this time she’d stay put, I thought. It wasn’t much, but it was a pretty double-wide with potential. Between the two of us, we could afford it. I gave up my lovely little studio apartment, where I’d been happy for a great many years and could walk to work in a trice. I gave up my freedom and independence, and moved in with my mother. And her dog. And her two cats.
It was a disaster. She treated me like I was still a child, virtually a toddler. You’d think someone dancing attendance on you and making you meals would be awesome, but it wasn’t. It felt like being smothered. She wanted to know every detail about what I was up to. And while she didn’t demand, the constant quest for information got right up my nose. We had opposite schedules: she’s an early bird, I’m a vampire. The walls were thin. And she wouldn’t smoke outside. I’m a smoker, but I smoke outdoors. Can’t stand the smell in the house. I’m a desperately light sleeper, awakening at the slightest noise or strange odor. So sleep deprivation piled up on top of the loss of autonomy.
And then there’s the Illness. Being faced with that every day, this shell, wearing an approximation of my mother’s face but with few traces of who she’d been, that was rough. Incredibly rough.
It wasn’t easy. I was miserable, and sometimes she’d push a button and I’d lash out. I yelled, and hated myself for yelling. But she knows which buttons to push and can’t help pushing them. Everyone in the family talks about that, how Linda just finds those buttons and grinds her finger in. I don’t think she’s even aware of doing it. But you’re surely aware. And you howl.
But we were making it, to a degree. I wasn’t happy, but we had our good moments, and they were enough to keep me from going mad myself. We’d get it sorted out. We’d forge a life together. We were on our way.
Then she abandoned my ass for Indiana. Temporary, she said. Just to take care of her mother for a few weeks. Then months. Then it became permanent.
I’ll spare you the details of the shrieking that ensued. I’ll just advise that I was not happy being left with the land lease, and with her trying to also dump the mortgage on me, which I couldn’t afford, and then constantly after me to sell the place for her. The house we’d started to build together, all she wanted to do was get rid of it. She couldn’t think what that meant for her daughter. She couldn’t think.
And that was during one of her best times. She was pretty coherent, back then.
So I told her the truth, tonight, when she said my aunt had told her I wanted her to fly back here. I know how that conversation went. My aunt told her I’d floated the possibility of getting her into an assisted living facility out here, and that morphed in her damaged mind in to “My daughter wants me to live with her right now.” You can’t trust her thinking anymore. You can’t trust that what she says is true. It’s true to her, but it’s like seeing reality through a funhouse mirror. So who knows if she’ll even remember the truth? But I told her:
She can’t live with me.
There’s no way. Both of us would end up destroyed. I don’t have the time, money, physical and emotional resources to handle it. The only way she’s coming out here is if I can get her in to an assisted living facility. And I won’t bring her here unless we have that. She will need to live with people who can take care of her physical and medical needs, in a home where she might make a few friends, so that I’m not her only friend. I don’t know if this state will pay for such a place for a dirt-poor person. We’ll find out.
If they don’t, she must stay where she is. There’s family there, and she’s established residency, and she has a home, and a mental health facility that picks her up thrice weekly to make sure she’s treated and taking her medicine. These are things that are already being done for her. She may not like them, and they may not be quite enough, but they’re far more than I can do.
I’ve had to face the fact that there is no possible way, short of sacrificing my own life, to take care of her. And I’m sorry, I’m selfish, and I do not want to let my life go. I’ve sacrificed quite a bit of it for her already, and I know what happens when I do: I get us nowhere.
I feel, right now, like a trapped animal eyeing its leg and considering how much less pain will be involved in chewing it off rather than succumbing to the trap. I actually, seriously, considered emigrating to South Africa. Not kidding. My dad’s about to lose his job, but he might get a job in South Africa, in a gorgeous region I might add, and I swear to you all I can think about is that if he does, I want to go with him. Because then I could escape.
I’ve considered engineering a break. I’ve considered a lot of things that are not at all noble, and involve me running away at greater or lesser speeds. All this in the course of one afternoon and evening, all this because I want, desperately, to elude that trap. In the end, I won’t do them. I won’t let her completely down. I won’t (probably) move to South Africa. But there’s a negotiation that has to be done, in which boundaries are established, and it’s determined just how much of a sacrifice I can make. It won’t be as much as some. Those people who give up their lives in service of others, that’s not me, and I can’t be that person, no matter how much guilt and anguish it causes to admit it.
So, I shall be spending part of the day tomorrow on the phone with various people, including her counselors, and trying to track down what resources might be available here in Washington, and whether any sort of life for her here is viable, or whether we’re going to have to do this long-distance. Because she agrees: I can’t go there. I can’t move to Indiana. No jobs, and I’d be suicidal almost from the moment of arrival. It has that effect. At least that boundary’s clearly established. But what can I do if we find out there’s no way for her to be here? No help, no health care, no home? How do I tell her that, then, that’s that? How do I live with that answer?
VNV Nation’s “Entropy” speaks to me: “When does enough become enough? / When does “no” have meaning?”
[Los Links is coming. I promise.]