Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Looks like the water here is broken Here I am staring at the weekend Cold coffee, cold shower, cold hearted One of these days I’m gonna get this life of mine started --Jessi Lynn, “Your Hand”* I have not been a big fan of September, 2009. It started on the first with news that my grandmother had been taken to the hospital. She’d fallen and couldn’t get up and nobody knew why. My grandmother is the only grandparent I have left. Her husband died before I was born and my dad’s parents died when I was young. I never really got to know my sole surviving grandparent that well, though, because my mother left home for college at 18 and never wanted to have to look back. It’s a bad relationship and to hear my mother tell it everything is my grandmother’s fault, which isn’t a surprise. Everyone has a problem but my mother. Everything is somebody else’s fault in her world. Meanwhile, grandma and my father pretty much hate each other. When my sister and I were growing up we were pretty much shielded from our grandmother. And the only side of the story we had was my parents’, so we just pretty much assumed that she was a bitter old woman. See, my grandma and grandpa met in Minnesota but then headed to Detroit because that’s where the jobs were. I have a huge family in Minnesota, but there was nobody in Michigan, so it was just the two of them. Then my grandfather went to war and my mother was born. And, like so many before and since, grandpa came back from war different than he was when he left. Pretty much all I knew about him from my mother was that he was an alcoholic. I also learned quite early and often that my grandmother was an enabler. My mother hated it, wanted to escape, and, as best I can tell, blamed my grandmother for pretty much everything. My mother, like I said, went away to college with the intent of never looking back. Her college was in Indiana. She met my father there and they moved to Chicago. Somewhere between 1977 and 1980 (I honestly don’t know the timeframe) my grandfather died of cancer, leaving grandma alone in Detroit. She could have moved back to be with her family in Minnesota but she instead decided to move to be closer to her daughter in Chicago. I honestly think my mother hated her mother for doing that. She wanted to get away and never have to deal with any of it any more. So my mother avoided her mother as much as humanly possible. And she kept my sister and I away from her as much as possible, too. My mother is always the hero of the story. My grandmother is always the wicked witch. Such is the way we’ve always understood it. But an interesting thing has happened over the last few years. As my sister and I have grown up and interacted with our grandmother as adults we’ve realized that a lot of the things we’d always taken to be the case with grandma were, quite honestly, wrong. We’ve also been increasingly aware of the fact that my mother’s version of any story is not necessarily the one we can trust. So we started talking about how we needed to spend more time with grandma. But inertia and life kept getting in the way. Back in July my mother went in to get hip surgery. My grandmother cancelled her usual plans to spend the summer in Michigan to help my mother in her recovery. Doctors believe that the work she was doing to help my mother contributed to the reason that she ended up in the hospital on the first of September. She also had an infection and will be turning 89 next month. Honestly, on August 31st I think we all assumed she was invincible and would outlive us all. Now I’m not so sure of that any more. I’d heard from my mother the same old complaints. Grandma went over to the house to help, as grandma always does when things need to be done. From my mother came a never-ending string of complaints. “She can’t do that right.” “She doesn’t know where stuff goes.” “All she does is get in the way.” And the final injustice, or, at least, so I thought. After grandma went in to the hospital an email from mom which made her in to the hero of the night. An email that ended with the complaint that she’s always known her life would be miserable as soon as her mother lost the ability to drive. That option was not on the table at the time. The self-absorbed navel gazing should have been shocking. But it wasn’t. It’s mom. Grandma went to the hospital on Tuesday. Wednesday rolled around. My mother wasn’t working due to still being on medical leave. My sister doesn’t work too far from the hospital, so she took her lunch break to visit. My mother hadn’t been there. I left work early and got to the hospital a little after four and found my mother was there. She’d been there since about three and left shortly after I arrived. Thursday morning I called in to work and told them I’d be offsite. I drove the 20 miles from home to the hospital. My parents were there, but left by ten. I was there all day. Friday I was again at the hospital. My mother never showed up. Word came that they were sending grandma off to rehab. Grandma and I got all the arrangements set up with an assist from my bro-in-law. When I tried to call my mother to tell her what was going on her cell phone wasn’t even on. This is how inconvenienced her life was by her mother’s mysterious hospitalization. Four hours in the hospital over three days and not even a turned-on cell phone. This is simply the first four days of a three-week saga. I told my mother her behavior was horrific and embarrassing. I said a few other things, too, mostly to stop being so self-absorbed and to stop responding to everything by playing the martyr card. I was told that this was inexcusable, that no one should ever speak to their mother that way. This from the parents who poisoned their children against their only living grandparent. This after a phone call I made after finding out that my mother had told somebody that I had the maturity of a seventeen-year old. That my lack of maturity simply meant my sister had the ability to callously manipulate me and turn me against my mother. The person my mother said all of this to, who my mother somehow thought would take her side against her daughter and son, was my brother-in-law. “She’s a sick woman,” he told my sister. “She can’t be reasoned with.” This is the woman who wanted us to take family counseling when I was in high school or junior high. And by family counseling she intended to drop my sister, father, and I off and go somewhere else, probably shopping. Because we were the problem, not her. But this really isn’t supposed to be about all that. It’s supposed to be an undercurrent that’s wound its way through much of my blog over the past year and a half or so. I actually realized it in July and it’s part of the subtext to this post I wrote at the end of the month. It’s almost an unspoken, “Oh, and also…” at the end of any number of sentences. Because throughout my blogging since I started my Loco to Stay Sane project last spring the one I call Her was pulling an acknowledged double-duty. But, in reality, she was actually pulling triple duty. She stood for herself, obviously. She stood for my departure from god and Christianity. But she also stood for my own mother. And not in some weird, creepy oedipal way. It’s said enough that people say girls marry their fathers and boys marry their mothers. And, in a way, I get that now. I’ve mostly found myself seeking after girls who are interested in their agenda and won’t stop to listen to me unless they actually have to. I’ve mostly found myself with manipulative girls who find ways to let me know, in ways big and small, that they are far more important than I am in the relationship. And I’ve mostly found myself doing everything I could to hold on to them, let them know that I’ll do whatever I have to do to stick around. This is why I’ve basically been a commitment-phobe. It’s also probably why I live alone but still want to run away from home, stay unattached, make my own way in the world. The relationship has always been, in my mind, the ultimate surrender. It’s not been about two becoming one, but about me giving up myself. So these have been the steps in my life over the last couple of years. First, walk away from religion and the surrender to god. Second, walk away from Her and Her insistence that I was only okay as long as I tried to be the version of me she preferred.** Third, tell my mother that she’s wrong and I’m not buying the shit she keeps trying to sell. It’s almost a cliché, an absurd plot point in a terrible movie… I got home from one of those early long days sitting in the hospital and thought about how much it sucked to be alone. I guess I’d never thought about relationships in these particular terms before, but I just wanted to have someone there to talk to, someone who would listen. For me the occasional bouts of loneliness that inevitably come with the life of solitude I live were mostly abstract, the sort of thing I’d forget about in a few hours or a couple days. Honestly, they were the sort of thing I could just say, “Meh, it sucks now, but it’ll get better. That this is a hell of a lot better than the alternative.” Because in my world the only thing worse than loneliness was a relationship. I’ve always had a skewed idea of the relationship. Togetherness was never enough. Only devotion and willingness to allow myself to be consumed mattered. And even at that it was a conditional love. So from here on out I’m going to hold on to that new thought. The relationship as a joining of two people who support each other and actually care when the other’s world seems to be falling apart. How dreadfully novel… -------------------------------- *According to my mp3 player this song is called “Track 09” and it’s by Sarah Peacock. Something really weird happened there. I mean, I can get the idea of me forgetting to actually put a title in, since Goldwave didn’t exactly recognize the CD. But why Sarah Peacock gets the credit for the track is completely beyond me. **This, however, brings up an interesting tangential point. Given that it was not a particularly healthy relationship to begin with and she would not really have been able to handle the non-Christian version of me for very long it’s also pretty moot. However, knowing that there were underlying assumptions that I had to give up my autonomy for any woman in my life it’s hard to tell if she actually treated me in the way I’ve been claiming that she did. In fact, there were several conversations that we had which come immediately to mind that would indicate she wasn’t happy with that particular mental block of mine. Most damning, perhaps, is that one where she got mad at me for constantly asking her what she wanted and for constantly seeking her permission when she wanted me to just make a freaking decision. Given all that, feel free to change whatever perceptions you may have of Her accordingly. There’s a really, really good chance that she wasn’t as bad as I’ve made her out to be in some of my posts. There’s also still a really good chance that she wasn’t as good as I wanted her to be. But considering that she also functioned as my stand-in for god and my mother, things probably got a bit skewed…


Michael Mock said...

Ugh. Family problems are often the worst. And there's probably very little that you can do to change your mom's attitude and behavior. Setting clear boundaries might help: "Mom, I know you blame Grandma for everything that went wrong in your life, but if you speak ill of her in front of me, this conversation is over. I will leave (or hang up the phone, or whatever)."

Or it might not. As advice goes, mine is probably worth about what you pay for it.

GailVortex said...

Yowser. Teh suckage. But although it really sucks to come face-to-face with your parents' human failings, it also brings the opportunity to recognize and start figuring how to counteract the garbage you carry around as the impact of those failings setting your expectations all your life.

Which I think I see you having inklings of at the end of your post.

Hang in there, and best wishes for your grandma.

Geds said...


Actually, that's pretty decent advice. I never really set boundaries with my mother and always backed down, preferring to give ground in the hopes of not losing everything. I've learned that all that happens when I give ground is that my mother decides I'm weak and can be bullied. So, y'know, Neville Chamberlain, Hitler, Godwin my own blog...all that fun stuff.

There have been several meltdowns that I didn't bring up because they didn't matter. Part of the reason for that is because my mother is apparently unable to cope with the fact that I've stood my ground this time. So it's actually been an interesting week, since my sis and bro-in-law are out of town and it was looking like I'd be handling my own affairs, dogsitting their neurotic schnauzer, and being the only one looking after grandma. But a couple of my cousins popped in to town and spent yesterday and today keeping g-ma company and apparently managed to talk at least a bit of sense in to my mother. Rumor has it she was actually going to visit grandma and try to patch things up tonight, but I don't really know.

The only issue now is that I can't be the one to re-initiate contact with my mother. If I do that she'll decide that I'm sitting her thinking I really need her and she'll start pushing me around again. So I simply have to do my thing. I'm not exactly waiting by the phone or anything. I'm a little busy...


Oh, I've come face-to-face with their failings many times. The problem is that most of the other times there wasn't a literal life and death situation, so I've backed down. It's more the coming face-to-face in a new direction and having to hold out that's shocked me.

And, yeah, I'm trying to grow and learn. It's a lot of stuff I've been putting together slowly.

Also, thanks. I got some good news about her recovery today. Apparently she wasn't reacting well to the antibiotics (she's allergic to almost everything, the run of stuff they tried the first time around wasn't strong enough and gave her digestive problems and whatever she was on this time caused hallucinations and dizziness, so good times...). Hopefully things will improve soon, though.

Michael Mock said...

Well, I'm... how to say this... cautiously happy? Here's hoping she recovers quickly and completely.