Someone made a comment recently that took me aback. After reading something in my blog he said, “Wow, sounds like you really hate your mother.” It bothered me, for a few reasons. Number one, that simple summary somehow trivializes the years of lived experience down to a singularly defensive emotion. It isn’t quite that simple my friend. My feelings, or how I portray them in my writing, didn’t come to be in a proverbial vacuum. The fact is, I’m not sure how I feel about my mother. I’m not at all sure I would use the word hate in any event. Especially now, since she is currently a ghost of the being she once was. But I’ll get to that.
The fact is, my mother is and has always been mentally ill. From the time she was an infant who supposedly held her breath until she passed out when she was angry, frustrated or afraid (as the family legend tells) to the teen who defied her parents and left high school just shy of graduation, and married a boy (who was not Jewish) from the wrong side of the tracks, to the woman who had affairs with much younger men and ran away to another state with a guy she met country-western line dancing. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t actually, technically, medically diagnosed until adulthood. Even then, I’m not sure what her diagnosis was. And not to put too fine a point on it, but just because she wasn’t diagnosed by a medical professional until she was an adult doesn’t mean she wasn’t mentally ill her entire life before that. She was. At any rate, they treated her and medicated her as if her diagnosis was *hysterical female*. She took Lithium, Valium and other “mood stabilizers” popular in the 70s like they were candy, self-dispensing when and how much she deemed she needed at any given moment, throughout my entire childhood. She was labile despite the dosing of prescription medication and would fly off into a rage or sobbing hysteria with very little provocation (at least as far as I could see). If something didn’t go her way, if something didn’t go as she wanted/expected or if something even remotely displeased her she would scream, hit, throw things, break things, cry and call names. I believe the technical term is: Tantrum. These temper hemorrhages were not once in a proverbial blue moon or even once in a while. They were Every. Single. Day. Often many times on any given day. And they were not for the faint of heart I can tell you.
She should never have had children. She shouldn’t have been entrusted to care for a pet rock, never mind a tiny, helpless, human being. But again, that is neither here nor there I guess. What’s done is done. The bottom line reality is that growing up with her as a mother was no bed of roses. Or whatever the appropriate saying would be.
As a child I’m not entirely sure how I felt. Scared and confused for sure. When I wasn’t entertaining some fantasy of being some kind of changeling from another galaxy, I sort of assumed the crazy that took place in my home was taking place in every other home too. In my teens and certainly early 20s I did hate her. As I experienced and saw more of the world, specifically how other people and other families functioned, I felt livid at all the ridiculous unnecessary derangement I had had to put up with. Other mothers didn’t throw things, break things, call their children horrible names or threaten unspeakable acts.
One of the things my mother always prided herself on was her ability to be mean. She always relished and reveled in the role of bully. In her young adulthood she would describe herself as “a force to be reckoned with”. Small of stature, she was always quick to remind people that “dynamite comes in small packages” too. She loved to regale us with (no doubt embellished versions of) stories of how she had insulted, threatened, intimidated or upset someone she didn’t like.
One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell was about when she bumped into an old friend of my grandmother’s in the supermarket. This friend and my grandmother had had a falling out, and so were not *friends* when my grandmother died unexpectedly. To start off with, my mother forbade this particular friend of my grandmother’s from attending her funeral. We all disagreed with that decision, but as usual there was no reasoning with her. In her state of heightened grief, she was even less reasonable. The singular meanness of this demand was profound. This poor woman, no youngster herself, was not allowed to attend the funeral of one of her decades-long dear friends. If that wasn’t bad enough, months (maybe even years) later, my mother saw this woman alone in a grocery store. According to her, she rammed her shopping cart into that woman’s shopping cart, glaring at her maliciously and saying something to the effect of, “I see you’re still alive. Too bad.” I remember the first time my mother told that story (when the version was that she’d only crashed the shopping cart once…. in later versions she repeatedly slammed her shopping cart into the other woman’s). Chills went through me. I felt abhorrence and disgust envisioning the scene, watching my mother’s gleeful expression as she recounted the incident.
At any rate, my mother, once an evil legend in her own mind, has become a sniveling, slobbering, gibbering, feeble (both in mind and in body) shell of a person. Her hypochondria has taken on a life of its own. In addition to her lifelong bouts of dizziness, tinnitus and what she calls her “crying-jags”, she claims to have extensive and incurable skin cancer all over her body (for which she has repeated surgeries) as well as a new and never-before-encountered glaucoma that leaves her completely blind one day and with near 20/20 vision the next (which also requires frequent surgical procedures). She is frequently, as in all the time, fighting colds, flu, viral infections, stomach inflammation and other ailments, diseases and indispositions. The doctors have never seen the likes of her medical maladies before, she tells me over and over. She is also constantly *injured*. She either falls, trips, slips, tumbles, bumps into things; closes doors, windows, boxes or lids on herself; gets scratched or bitten by her or someone else’s pets; twists her ankle, the list is endless. Her infirmities, debilities and general ill-health are her only topics of conversation. She has not one friend (with a communication repertoire like that one can understand why). She rarely leaves her home these days, in part because life is so exhausting for her that she needs frequent naps throughout the day. Fretful unease has become her baseline, afraid of everything from rabid animals to errant meteors (the sky is falling). And let’s not forget the recent school shooting which took place a mile from her home that she is still recovering from and quite shaken by. She only leaves the house for her multitudinous medical appointments or to sometimes engage in her only hobby – shopping. But she can never go far or for too long. Because all the disquiet in her life and mind is tiring and she needs a nap.
She is constantly contradicting herself, denying whatever she said just moments before (which doesn’t work quite as well as it used to before things like texting, facebook or email). Sometimes she adamantly denies having said whatever she said. Other times (like when presented with her own text or email) she bursts into tears literally pleading insanity. She maintains that she is paralyzed by the fear that she has dementia. Her husband has hired caregivers to be with her several days a week because of her frequent assertions that contradict reality, her recurrent bouts of hysteria, as well as her more and more delusional behaviors. More than one of these private-pay aides have quit within days because of her constant drama. A fact that she has reported to me herself. I can only imagine the hell she has wreaked upon these poor hapless Florence Nightingales who think they are being hired to care for a young Sophia from the Golden Girls. At the same time, she claims to have no idea what they’re talking about, maintaining no knowledge whatsoever of anything that even remotely could be considered drama in her life. And so it goes. Her life is a quagmire of insanity. I work with people in their late 90s who have more energy, ability and definitely more on the ball mentally than she has. She is 73. And make no mistake, my mother has not changed overmuch. She has simply become more of herself. She is less able to hide her mental disorders from others. But trust me, this is who she has always been.
But no, I don’t hate her. Neither do I like her very much. There isn’t very much to like or to connect with to be perfectly honest. The person she once was wasn’t very likable to begin with. The person she is now is a mere shell of a human being, quite frankly, pathetic. And one might think that rather than feeling indifferent (which is pretty much how I feel), I’d have some sympathy for who she has become. The fact is that she spent her lifetime spewing her own anger, pain, hate and meanness on everyone and everything she came into contact with without offering a shred of anything even remotely positive to the Universe. She did nothing to help herself, or make her life any better. Never mind the fact that she did nothing to enhance anyone else’s life. So no, I don’t even pity her. In many ways, she has made the bed in which she currently lies (double-entendre intended). Perhaps she had her own demons that drove her. I shrug. We all do. While some of us are driven by our demons to reach out and help others, offer compassion and caring and kindness, others choose to lash out with malicious spite and cruelty, in an attempt to make those around them as unhappy as they are. I see it as a choice. And again I could be wrong. I chose differently is all I’m saying.