Trying to break the tie that binds.
The day I kidnapped my mother, snow threatened New Mexico, particularly Raton Pass on I-25 over which we needed to travel from Albuquerque to Colorado Springs. I knew this, but it made not one iota of difference to bundling my mother into the car with her walkers, her toilet riser, her many prescriptions, to say nothing of a large heap of indecision on both our parts.
She looked at me from her wheelchair, trying to straighten shoulders beat down by years of my father’s verbal abuses, insinuations of stupidity and dramatic displays of silence and anger typical of the obsessive/compulsive.
“Kathy? Are you sure this is a good idea?” she asked as I prepared the passenger seat for her arrival, pillows just so, back rest on top of them.
I pulled myself form the door opening and looked down at her, then knelt in front of her wheelchair, feeling ever so much the parent, she the child.
“Mom,” I started. “We’ve been over this.” Impatience crept into my voice and I swallowed it back. We’d not only been over it, we’d lived it, dreamed it, thought of all the possible consequences, dredged up every awful scenario with my father, “I won’t have this go on anymore.”
“This” was finding her shaking and in tears in her assisted living apartment after one of my father’s visits. “This” were reports from the nurses and therapists, calls to me in late afternoon, that they were concerned my mother was depressed, not eating right, not wanting to face the dining room table and its occupants. He wasn’t visiting to visit her, to keep her company. His visits were planned manipulations, little eerie paths to make her new apartment an extension of the torture chamber at home.
She and I were so excited – her aortic valve failure that landed her in The Heart Hospital – turned into the rescue of the century. No, the doctor said, she could not go home without 24-hour nursing care. One look at my father’s face (someone in the HOUSE?) ended that discussion. Mom had to go to a skilled nursing facility to recover, then to assisted living. I could have kissed the Romanian doctor, a woman who was brusque and to the point. It was news my father wasn’t ready for, but I practically danced in the streets. Mom was to be free!
He dragged his feet. Didn’t want to take her things from the house. Mom and I were baffled. They were HER things, after all. My attempts to set up her apartment were met with “You’re taking to much; there’s nowhere to put all that.” Then, the famous line: “You’re stipping the house. That’s it.” So, I stopped, whipped out the credit card on my parent’s account and went on a spending spree for furniture, drapes, office supplies, pictures and everything I could think of that would be HERS for her apartment. The day she moved in, it was done, it was cute, it was not a white-walled prison. That would come later.
“I know,” she said now, “but I’m worried about Daddy.”
My father had stopped being “Daddy” to me with the onset of this situation. He said awful things when I went to the house. He could barely be civil when I called. E-mails went unanswered, as did snail mail. Thinking Mom would adjust, as would he, I went home to Colorado. Now, I was back.
“Don’t worry about Daddy,” I told her for the fiftieth time. “He will be just fine. I will take care of Daddy.” It came out more ominous than I meant and I backtracked. “I told him what I was doing last night when I called.”
“Was he mad?”
This too, was well-worn road. “No, Mom,” I answered. “I think he actually understood, but we will never know.” This was a lie. We would know, or I certainly would, probably when I was disinherited as an only child. He had no friends, no relatives, no one. Which was just how he liked it. No, disheritance was unlikely; it would simply be too complicated for a bitter, old man who hated change.
Her question came was as if we’d never spoken of her coming to Colorado Springs, but being ninety gives one certain privileges and forgetting is one of them, especially if it is something stressful, and heaven knew, this was stressful. “Where are we going?”
“C’mon,” I urged. “Let’s get you in the car.”
She went through every step the therapist had taught her for standing up. I helped her turn and she lowered herself into the Subaru’s passenger seat with the same precision as standing.
“Oh!” she proclaimed upon arrival.
I folded the wheelchair and put it in the back, grateful my Subaru was a wagon, climbed in and started the car.
“No.” She looked at me with those afraid eyes, watering, looking up in anticipation of punishment, the ones she had when my father was mad, which was just about all the time. She was a ninety-year-old little girl who knew she was in trouble. She was damned, I realized, no matter what she did, no matter what I did. He would be here brooding and she would know it, feel it in her bones. After 65 years of being the blame for everything in the universe, I had no doubt she would receive it telepathically. Or, leave her here to be subject to his bursting into the apartment without so much as a knock, of being counseled by his perfectionism on where to put the water glass, how to operative the TV remote, listening to his dissertations on whatever amused him at the moment? Exhausting her, killing her slowly. I could hardly stand the thought.
I thought of women’s shelters. How did that work exactly? I couldn’t take her there, of course. She needed constant care. My father had never touched her, as far as I knew, but abuse comes in many forms as I’d learned after growing up in that house. Sticks and stones can get police warrants, protective custody, restraining orders, but words were an entirely different matter. All the bruises and bleeding were inside, tearing at you, ripping apart your pride, shredding your self-esteem, tears uncounted.
And here, decades later, was the result. A woman who could now look back and say she should have left, but didn’t. They say “It’s that generation.” All I know is she stuck it out with him for something, but the something never happened. He just goes on and on, barely mellowing in the intervening years, failing to understand love, only grasping at control. And look what he has control of now. A woman who can barely stand on her own. A woman who is devastated by a glance, who dares not ask for ice or fresh water for fear of offense. It’s taken a lifetime for him to diminish this ex-Marine, a woman stationed at Cherry Point teaching recruits to swim during World War II, but he’s done it.
I looked at her. “Mom, what do you want to do?”
She stares ahead at the street, perhaps seeing beyond it the interstate, maybe the pending snowstorm, maybe the assisted living facility I’ve arranged for her in Colorado Springs.
“I can’t” she says. “He needs me.”