There's been a lot of rainbows and butterflies on this blog lately, and rightly so, my life is enviable and I am very grateful for what I have.
Having said that, nothing else in my world is as big a killjoy as my mother. Like the anti-Mary Tyler Moore, she can take a wonderful day and suddenly make it all seem worthless. She is truly the definiton of toxic. With all due respect to Brit, I doubt she has any idea of the impact such a person can have in a life.
After alternating between trying to have some sort of actual adult relationship with her, to completely being out of contact (both of which have their pitfalls), she and I have settled into a superficial truce of 3 phone calls and 3 cards a year, all of which are interchangeable. She called me last week, violating this fragile agreement and putting into motion the depression that is soaking into my psyche, like a sponge in a mud puddle.
She would never call just to chat, and we had just talked a couple of weeks ago, (Donna's Birthday Call, #2 of the year), so I was surprised to hear her voice on the other end and was immediately on the defensive. "What's up?", I asked immediately after we exchanged greetings.
[Everytime I talk to her I have a parallel conversation with myself; its often the only way I can make it through without laughing, crying or hanging up. I've included these thoughts in blue.]
Suddenly it sounded like she was on the verge of tears. My mother does not do crying.
[Acting! It's called acting! She's such a thespian.]
"Well, I'm sorry to call you with bad news."
"Remember when I got so sick two years ago? I thought I had the flu and couldn't get out of bed for two months, and nothing Dr. H did helped?"
[I'll have to look it up in my catalogue of Mom's Illnesses, I think that's in Book XXVII.]
"Well, after waiting for months to get some diagnostic tests done, I just got the results. It turns out I had a heart attack and didn't know it. Dr. H said the damage looks to be about two years old, so that's why I had chest pains. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, I didn't tell you when I talked to you last month because I didn't want to ruin your birthday or your anniversary."
[Like this news would have devastated me to the point where I would have cancelled my plans?]
At this point she stops for effect and sniffles a bit, clearing her throat. "I'm sorry to hear that," I say, at a total loss for words.
"I wanted to let you know so if you heard anything from anyone about my "condition" in the future you would know what they were talking about."
[The only person who talks to you that talks to me is my sister, and yes, I heard those air quotation marks. So now that you know you've had a heart attack -- not that I really believe anything you're telling me--it's safe to say that at any moment you're going to keel over dead and that will be the reason?]
"I also wanted to tell you because you and your sister are in your 40s now [no shit, Sherlock] and you both should be watching your blood sugar [lest we forget your beloved borderline diabetes diagnosis from last year] and your cholesterol."
"I'm fine, Mom, I have a physical every year and those things are checked."
[But thanks for the heads up, its always nice to have a list of things when choosing how one is going to die.]
"So now I have to be on blood thinners. I guess those baby aspirin weren't doing enough."
[Damn those Germans who make aspirin!]
"The prescription I got isn't on the list for my insurance, and I can't afford $120 a month for this medicine on my pension."
[If you think I'm going to send you money, you got another thing comin'. You sucked out 80% of Dad's pension in the divorce.]
"He gave me some samples but I am fighting with the pharmacy to get it added. People think in Canada you get anything you ask for and everything is free, well it isn't really like that."
[Yeah, I know, I lived there for 24 years, remember?]
Again at a loss for words, I say, "Well, I hope you get that sorted out."
Switching gears a little, she says, "How's D's Mom doing?" This is her not-so-subtle way of bringing someone else into the conversation that she can use as a mirror.
"She's doing fine, she has her episodes but always seems to pull through."
Big sigh. "Well, I guess she's just like me...things start to wear out."
At this point I can't suppress my real voice and say, "Mom, she's 86 years old, you're 74."
"I know, I know," she says, with a hint of aggravation in her voice, "I just hope you girls don't have to go through what I have."
I honestly don't recall what she said for the next few minutes, I stopped paying attention, I think I actually started typing a response to an email. When she stopped talking I let the air be dead for a second, then she started in on the coda of every conversation:
"Well, like I said...[insert verbatim of earlier conversation here]...and I'm sorry to give you bad news."
I've yet to figure out what the bad news is here. I suppose it is a bit scary (to normal people) to find out that you had a heart attack and didn't know it, but she is fine now, albeit with some damage to her heart.
This turned out to be one of our better phone calls. I don't think she mentioned my late brother (The Golden Boy) once, unless it was when I wasn't paying attention, and she even refrained from bashing any family members. While my calls to my Dad always end in an exchange of I love yous, my calls with Mom end in a duet of Take cares, it's the best we can do.
I told D about the call that evening when he got home. He was also puzzled as to what the bad news was. I told him, she depresses and exhausts me. I don't think my feelings now have anything to do with the news of the call at all -- it was just her unexpected intrusion into my day that set off this wave.
The most disconcerting thing about all of this is, like Diana in A Chorus Line, I felt nothing. No compassion, no empathy. I have (successfully?) removed her from my heart to the point where I just don't care about her.
I know she is toxic. I know she doesn't really care about me or my health, she is the center of her universe and, like a deranged planet, her mission is to use her gravity to pull in as many smaller bodies as possible, to increase her power. She can't quite grasp (or doesn't notice) that I've left her sphere of influence and have changed my composition to deflect her efforts.
I recently finished reading Halfway House by Katherine Noel, a novel about a family with a daughter who is bi-polar. I've mentioned before that my sister is bi-polar, and has been on lithium for many years. I suffer from both depression and anxiety, but not in the extreme highs and lows that are the hallmark of the disease. A passage from Halfway House described exactly how I feel sometimes:
She could be knocked off balance at any moment. It could be something obvious, like Angie crying, or it could be something more oblique, like a girl begging change downtown. Worst of all, feeling glad at even the smallest thing -- an unexpectedly beautiful day, the taste of sharp cheddar -- would immediately remind her that she was sad. It was as though, between happiness and unhappiness, she'd discovered a trapdoor she'd never known was there, one she couldn't close.
I think of it more of a wormhole than a trapdoor, same premise though...happiness can slap me in the face and remind me of how unhappy I am. It's hard to explain to normal people.
I grieve for the loss of the mother I never had, which seems like an exercise in futility. I like to think that she has no power over me, but the way I feel today says otherwise. Maybe every time I go through this grieving process it will get a little bit better. I can only hope.