Friday, June 12, 2009

Somebody leave the light on...

My mother and I went out to lunch the weekend before last.

We've always been very close, for all our differences.

She was going on a mini-vacation to visit her best friend who lives up in Portland now.

She usually goes up there once a year for a few days. They run around Oregon together, giggling and drinking, visiting friends, playing cards, etc.

But this time was different.

We were talking, at lunch, and she was telling me about her trip. How she realized, with the help of her therapist and a book on recovering from grief, that the last few years of her life had been overshadowed by grief, but mourning.

She looked at me and said, "I've been mourning for my family," touching her hand to her chest, "My father, mother, and brother. My family. How things were, how they are now."

I never really thought of her "original" family as her family.

Her father was an alcoholic and chain smoker. He died when I was five, battling out liver failure and lung cancer for years until he finally gave in.

Through that alcoholism and tendency towards abuse (though I do not remember, oddly, if it was physical, psychological, or both) towards his wife, he took an already very temperamental woman (my grandmother) and turned her into a bit of an anxiety basketcase with agoraphobia.

My mother's mother declined over the years, especially after the Northridge earthquake, which split her and her sister's condo in half, so they moved into separate apartments. Her sister, my great-aunt, really grounded her.

She eventually ended up living in an apartment in Los Angeles, with multiple psych meds controlling her and having horrible influences on her to the point of her breaking down and never leaving her apartment.

We moved her into a nursing home, and, after a couple of years, we had to move her to a mental ward.

She died there.

My mother's brother had a serious long-term girlfriend when he was in his early twenties, named Janice. One evening, they were driving in his hippie van and someone rammed them, killing her instantly.

He married a woman named April. She left him without warning and took their son with her.

He then remarried a woman from New Orleans. Insane born-again Christian and dental hygienist, who hated my mother and was infertile, so they were continuously adopting foster children. They lived in Kentucky. Contact was very minimal, save for talking about my grandmother and the state of her care for the few years before she died.

They would come out here, occasionally, for the holidays or very important family events, and stay with us. My aunt would take over, would be rude, would be forceful, would be very religiously intolerant, would never thank us for putting them in our beds, in our bathrooms, shuttling them around.

Guilt-trips were tossed from my uncle and his wife to my mother that she was not visiting their mother often enough, that going to the mental home two or three times a week while having a job and raising children was not often enough.

My grandmother began to resent my mother. Hate my mother. Ignore her.

As sanity left her, her personality fled her face, leaving her wardrobe as the only thing recognizable to us. She would hit the other residents, attack them in fits of rage with unknown sources. My mother was there constantly, trying to feed her, making friends with all the nurses and care-givers so that they would personally call her if anything happened, so she could come in after hours when her schedule did not allow for opening hours.

The entire time, from across the country, her brother was sending emails and calling, letting my mother know that she wasn't doing good enough, that we should risk damaging what was left of my grandmother's brain by moving her to Kentucky so my uncle and aunt could watch her properly since my mother obviously couldn't do it.

My mother started having to bring my sister or myself with her, so my grandmother would interact with us. She pretended that my mother did not exist, so trying to feed her was difficult.

Thinking on it, I believe the only grandparent I had that we did not have to spoon-feed at one time or another was my father's mother. I could be wrong, though.

While in she was in the mental ward, my uncle and aunt flew out to visit.

My mother walked into my grandmother's room to visit during this time, and found my aunt scaring the hell out of my grandmother who, at the time, had the mental capacity of a three year old, by telling her that if she did not accept Jesus as her savior, she was going to burn in Hell for eternity and never see anyone she loved again. My grandmother was bawling her eyes out like a little kid.

My mother walked in on this.

My mother is very diplomatic.

If I had been there, my aunt would have been backhanded and barred from ever coming to the facility again.

They have not been back since then.

My uncle occasionally comes into town for work, but he no longer stays with us and rarely calls to let us know that he'll be here.

My mother has lost a father to his addictions, a mother to hers, and a brother to his fear that he'll lose another partner.

Her base unit has been scattered, has been demolished.

As a child, did she ever expect things to turn out this way? Did she ever look at her father, tossing back whiskey and chainsmoking into the early hours of the morning, going from job to job to job, and know that one day this would kill him?

Did she ever watch him yell at her mother, thinking of the possibility of the damage that would occur that would echo through the years until her mother's death?

When her brother, the science nerd, played countless pranks on her, did she ever stop to think that his adulthood would be one desperate gripping hope that he would be able to keep a significant other? That he would be so very afraid of being alone? That he would take all their shared experience, all their background, and toss it aside because of this fear?

Did she even think that he would leave her? Her older brother? Her protector and tormentor?

I look at pictures of her as a child, in high school, on camping trips with my father, their wedding.

Did she ever know?

Did she ever lay in her bed at night and know, somehow, that she would lose so much?

The smile on her face, the white sweater and long black skirt as she posed for the photo for the yearbook club. Did she know? Even then, was her father declining? Were the ripples in her mother's mind beginning to show?

The laughing waterfights the four of them would get into, hoses in the house and water pistols, using the kitchen sink as a defense. The heavy rains that would flood the backyard and the cats that always seemed to be at least part siamese. Playing Barbie, Queen of the Prom with her father, staying in her room with her friends, listening to The Beatles on the turntable and swooning over Paul.

Waves travel forward.

Did she know?

Did she know that she would meet a man plagued by chronic depression and would fight for years to bear his children? And that, when born, those daughters would be night and day? Did she realize that her husband's mother would become one of her closest friends, and that she would heal the gaping rift between her husband and his father? That she would be instrumental in fixing a family that was so very wounded?

When we were born, did she know that one of us would be going to therapy constantly throughout her life, while the other would be going to cheerleading practice? Did she realize that she would be giving birth to two daughters so different that fairytales could be based off of them? That fairytales and short stories have been based off of them?

She told me once, that when I was three, she realized I would never have an easy life. Somehow, she looked at me and knew, to her core, that my life would never be smooth.

But did she know about her own?

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