Tuesday, March 18, 2014

She's gone...the most influential person in my life...

My mother just died. Yes, she up and died. Why did she do such a thing? Well, her body was exhausted, after 90 years of living. She’d had six children, a few of them quite challenging to raise. She’d been associated with a husband (my father) who perhaps did not satisfy her needs (and I don’t mean sexual, but simply a strong, involved, male presence capable of relating emotionally). Not that there is anything wrong with my father. He was a great provider with very interesting ideas and interests. My sister quite likes him. I found him wanting. I needed his attention when I was a teen and did not get it. So I paid him back, I guess. He spent money he did not have on my counseling and etc. But, back to my mother.
I was fortunate to see a lot of her in the last five or six years. When she started inviting me to her funeral, I guess I started visiting a lot. Twice a year at least. Since I live 900 miles away, that was an effort. Not a huge effort, but an effort. And there was more affection than usual. Quite odd for our family. Maybe she actually loved me! Maybe I actually loved her!
It was a wonderful thing that all six of her children could be with her about two weeks before she died. She was on hospice care at home. I arrived about two hours after she’d been brought home from the hospital, having gone into hip surgery able to speak, and having come out not able to speak. I do not know why this was; perhaps another mini-stroke. She’d already had two. AND breast cancer. AND a heart attack. She was a trouper. She was strong. But no one is infinitely strong.
The strange thing is, I’d broken my own pelvis after a fall...just six weeks before that. My mother was worried about me. But I recovered. She did not. I was at her side when she was pretty conscious for a few days after returning from the hospital. I told her I was sorry for the trouble I’d given her as a teenager. I told her lots of things. I am not sure they were the things she wanted to hear.
The love between us seemed to suddenly come into view in the last few years. It wasn’t always visible. There was so much anger, especially on my part. She was always a lot stronger than I was, and always worried and giving advice. I remember when I came home from a car trip to Maine and back to visit friends. I had driven it straight; it wasn’t THAT long a drive. She remarked that I should have taken a rest stop. I responded with fury. That was in 1980, so long ago. Since then I’ve felt more and more tenderness for her.  And I’ve realized she felt that for me.
So, what do I do now? I think the only thing I have learned, which I suspected all along, was that everyone has a reason, and everyone is struggling. In some ways, my mother (partly because of her religion) seemed sure of herself, psychologically. When she became physically weaker I was able to give her something, perhaps. I have realized that she cared about me in a primal way; it has nothing to do with competing philosophies. At what level do I want to live and experience things? If I stick to the basic level, I was loved by her. Yes, I was. And that is good to know.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Weak sisters...?

“You can’t do this to me! I love you!” Ellen’s voice carried through the apartment to my bedroom down the hall. Chip was breaking up with her. She had been foolish to think it would last. He had just divorced, and I had needed a roommate. He had picked her up on the Wellesley College campus by sitting on a bench looking forlorn in his dark trenchcoat, his black hair hanging in his face bad-boy style, his mouth humorous, expressive. Ten years older than Ellen, probably, and in need of some solace, I’m sure. He hadn’t talked to me much about his divorce from his French wife. They had a child, a girl, two years old. It must have been difficult for him to pull himself away from his daughter.

Ellen was plump, juicy, and innocent. Her greetings to me at the apartment were always cursory; she was there to have sex with Chip. I felt no sympathy now as she cried out in the throes of realizing that was all he’d wanted, although perhaps I should have. The whole thing had lasted three weeks, and they’d been very noisy. I supposed he was a good lover, but I didn’t need to be kept awake every other night. My “medicinal” apricot brandy and milk helped, but I didn’t like being reminded that I myself had been similarly innocent, vulnerable, and infected with romantic expectations.

Perhaps things are different in the 21st century, and women don’t automatically feel they are in “a relationship” that has facets other than sexual (when those facets aren’t actually manifested). “I know he loves me. I can see it in his eyes,” says one stereotypical young woman in love.  “He hasn’t said anything about it, but I have this feeling we will be together; I have this feeling I will have children with him someday,” thinks another. Perhaps these (hypothetical and historical) young women know that if they'd said anything explicit about these notions to the lover, they’d be confronting him with the prospect of lying to continue pleasant sexual activities. So the women keep silent, hoping, expecting. "If I feel so strongly about what’s happening, he must, too!" And the delusion continues until it's shattered.

It’s happened to me. True, it was long ago, but I get reminders every now and then, sometimes from female students I deal with at my job, sometimes from women friends who should know better. I also get reminders that it’s not as easy for some males as it was for Chip, whose slender good looks and naturally sardonic delivery of self-deprecating jokery touched by sadness from big, brown, half-closed eyes made him self-aware bait. Yes, there are young men, too, who have problems merely getting started. Their heartbreak is non-specific. Loss seeps into their lives from an imagined lonely future. But that’s not what I’m talking about right now.

I cried Ellen's way too once, to someone over the phone with whom I’d lived. I imagined that we were still together (despite our separation while he recovered from a minor motorcycle accident). When he told me he was now with someone else, I felt helpless, abandoned. “But what am I gonna doooooo?” I wailed, even though I had a roof over my head, competent roommates, a job, and some comforting pets. The person with sexual “responsibility” for me was relinquishing that responsibility. I was lost. I had suddenly lost my sexuality and my romantic role. Why did that mean more to me than anything else at that time?

My subsequent involvement with a man had an even more painful demise, since I again delegated sexual responsibility to the guy, eventually ascribing some very bad behavior on my part to his influence. When he left, I had to take a unrosy look at myself.

Maybe it was the way girls were raised in the 1950s and 1960s that made us vulnerable to putting all our “eggs” in one basket, I don’t know. I wish I’d known that I was fine as I was, whether or not I was in a “relationship.” I wish I had been taught that sexual feelings were OK, and didn’t need to “belong” to one man, necessarily, at least in youth and young adulthood. I couldn’t even feel that I had any sexuality at all when I was alone, and we now know that’s not right!
Do girls these days have it easier? Of course heartbreak still exists, for women and men. But I don’t know if there’s that feeling of the bottom dropping out of life itself when a lover leaves; that cry to which I eventually became unsympathetic and cold, even toward myself and my long-ago weaknesses: “You can’t do this to me! I love you! What am I gonna dooooo?”
Shape up, woman! Shouldn’t a loving relationship be a want rather than a need? The whipped cream on the top of an already delicious life? Why were we—are we—so friggin’ WEAK?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I have not much to say. My inner life has been damped down, compared to, well, when I was in my twenties, when that was all there was. OKAY, I’ve accepted the importance of the outside world, including society and particular other people. Fine. My last remembered dream consisted of my trying to arrange some kind of “tour” for a bus driver; people had signed up but not everyone was boarding the bus. I don’t even think I was making any money from this deal, only trying to get a task completed. Sounds familiar. Will visiting a “hippie” friend in Tennessee cure this? I doubt it. But it’s a start. Some much-touted psychic will do “reiki” upon me (although I’ve not felt the need for this). I will meet alternative-type folks. But how can I respect them? Do they have any involvement in the dominant economical processes? How is “New Age” and “Catholic” different? Don’t both posit another (unseen) world that can be dealt with and investigated and profited from? The thing is, I used to be a “hippie.” It was only a refuge, though. And I met its challeneges. I got an “A” in Urban Hippie Life 101. I should have continued my course of study, but for some reason I desired to make a living the usual way. My bad.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The end times...

A friend of mine pretended to be horrified when I mentioned that I didn’t have the time or the money to visit my dying aunt. My youngest brother is taking care of this aunt at her home, which is 600 miles away from where I live, and 300 miles away from where he actually lives. He can do this because he’s not employed full-time right now. In fact, his “job” is now taking care of this dying person. He is learning a lot; he is learning things I don’t want to learn. I am mature enough to hear him talk about it, though. In years past, I might have avoided such topics. Death makes me uncomfortable.
Death was one of the reasons I became depressed when I was a teenager. When I discovered that it actually happened to people, I was confounded. A counselor I’d had at summer camp had been killed by a motorist as she walked on the tree-lined road near my school. I remember obsessing about her death: “But she had plans! She had hopes and dreams! It doesn’t make sense!” Which segued into: “So, what’s the point? Why bother?”
There were other reasons (discrimination against women, for one) that I was assuring myself it was not worth bothering to have “dreams and plans,” but right now I’m talking about death. The best people are doing it. People who have aged enough to know better. Why are they leaving us? Do they not care? As my brother says (sometimes with tears) “a whole generation will be lost.” He has loved this generation—his parents, his aunts. He feels they were harder workers, had more integrity, more courage. He’s probably right. My aunt (who is 91) worked in a home for the retarded and mentally disabled. She put up with low pay, little social regard, physical danger from the people for whom she was caring, and finally, an attempt to oust her before she’d qualified for her pension. She put my mother through nursing school. She never married because she thought she was “ugly.” She loved art and tried her hand at watercolors. She had friends, most of whom are dead. She is modifying and improving my brother’s cooking skills via her specific demands of the moment. She is a toughie. But cancer is eating her insides. She won’t go to a hospital, but hospice people visit. There’s oxygen (my brother rigged up a tube to go up the stairs, because her upstairs power outlets are out of date). My brother also cleans up after she’s had an “accident.” This is becoming more frequent.
She’s not the only one. Relatives of co-workers are going through these final days, and people have to take time off from work to hold vigils. My parents are approaching this journey, perhaps, being only a few years younger than my aunt. I don’t know what I will be called upon to do. And it may be that I won’t do it. I’m still working, I tell myself. I have no time. I have no travel money. It’s not something I want to face yet. And it will happen to me.
Baby boomers—who are probably one of the first American generations to be sheltered from death (except for those who went to Vietnam)—must now minister to their dying loved ones. No one escapes. First, the introduction to the process. Then, the invitation. Twenty or so years apart, but one follows the other.