After last weekend's big sleep, I've moved myself to a secure location to relax and spend some time with a good friend. I'm without a land line, without television, and, for the most part, without internet, without my husband, even without my CATS. (If you were my friends on Google Latitude, you'd be able to see exactly where I'm camping on the free WiFi.) Just a cell phone.
It's like a time machine that whizzed me back fifteen years - pre-addiction/pre-distraction - for a look at what I used to do with myself. To ease the anxiety, I started reading, and I've read about a thousand pages in two days.
I started with some papers I scored off my mother's desk - a draft of her memoirs that tells the story of her childhood. I've read these before, but not from this vantage point - looking forward with the realization that she is leaving us, slowly but surely going down the rabbit hole and never coming out. And with a new curiosity that comes from new knowledge that tells us whatever-we-thought-we-knew about our parents may not have ever been true at all. We don't know her.
There were no answers here, of course. Just questions. Inside the manila folder, there is a bright green Post-It note in her writing:
I have lost 10 pounds.
I don't think you will have a dad much longer.
I didn't have that kind of support.
Are they words my Mom needed to hear? Or did she write them down while talking on the phone to one of us? Or a friend? It could refer to any one.
Honestly, it was nice to be with her the last two weeks. We had good conversations, teetering on the edge of this life-changing cliff. Not really sure when she's going to tip over. Trying to be open and present, listening to her without giving in to platitudes like, "Everything is going to be o.k." When clearly it is not and never will be. It was a gift to be able to do that.
I've never had that kind of time with my Mother. There has always been something wrong with me. Some way I've disappointed her. I needed her too much when I was younger and I think that made her feel guilty for working; for never wanting to be at home. I visibly (to this day) withdraw when I am suffering so I did that, and by doing that I then I hurt her.
I learned early that I have to take care of my health, both body and mind, where she gave all of that up to give more time to her job. Because she managed to look pretty good without ever exercising or worrying too much about her health or her hair I became "vain, shallow, selfish, immature."
Because I didn't do well in school (not the way my sister did), I was "lazy." I'm actually pretty dyslexic in the maths department, but back then there was no help, no way to train yourself to do what the brain told you was totally impossible. Like adding two, two-digit numbers together. We just called it "not applying yourself."
Mostly I was just angry, so eventually, I made all that other stuff come true, the way teenagers do. That's just the way it works, right? Your emotions push against the ether and the ether pushes back.
Toward the end of her memoir draft, my mother included comments that other readers have made about her draft - this one dated 2003. About me, she says,
"So far, Heidi has been silent. Perhaps a judgment in itself."
I remember reading it and thinking it was too fucking "foot note-y." Just another symptom of her insatiable desire for proof. She wrote the story of my grandmother's time in hospice and death as an academic case study. When my dad died, she wrote a letter to my high school principal on University letterhead. I have always hated that about her.
Re-reading the memoir I could see the insecurities more clearly, the need to make it look more "put together", which is really the same way I feel about professional blow dries and high heels. Beauty armor.
But if I didn't comment on the memoir, it wasn't a judgment, at least not the way she must have thought. It was because I was probably very busy with work. (And because it was too fucking footnote-y.) In 2003, I had just started my consulting business and had really no idea how things would go at that point. I was on a proverbial island, in a city without relatives or a regular day job with benefits and totally unsure what would happen next. (I'm still in business, by the way, and business is good.) But she couldn't forgive me for that, interestingly enough.
And so, for all time, my mention in her memoir is one of silence and judgment. It's what I expected. But I'm truly thankful that I had these two weeks with her, and that during that time, she allowed me to love her and take care of her. Not telling me exactly how to be and how to love her, but just letting me be myself and give generously. She's never let me do that and to be the best version of myself in her presence was like time off the earth.