The Silent Treatment (again)

My mother has always derived a particular vengeful pleasure in giving the object of her wrath “the silent treatment.”  She has often gleefully boasted about her prowess in this particular art form.  In the 16 years I lived under her roof, I watched her use it on many people, listening to her crow about how she would make them crawl back to her.

I think one reason she hates me is that I never would crawl.  I did go as far as asking what I did to set this thing in motion, but getting no answer, went about my business.

I know why I’m getting the silent treatment now.  After my father died two years ago, I no longer had to protect him from her rages, so I stopped doing several things I had done before, which I had been doing only to shield him from her wrath.

One of them was to tell her “I love you.”  I don’t love her.  I loved her desperately as a child, and all I got was curses, insults, belittling, mocking, and, of course, the silent treatment.  So, once my dad was safely dead, I simply stopped lying.  I never said “I despise you,”  “I can’t stand you,” “You make me sick to my stomach,” or any of the other endearments she showered upon me when she had the chance.  I simply don’t lie anymore.

To complicate matters, I was supposed to have visited a month or so ago, but I came down with the flu and had to cancel.  She of course thought I was lying in order to get out of visiting (she is a prolific liar herself, so she assumes the same for me.  I can’t lie to save my life.  I’m no good at it.)  

I really do need to communicate with her regarding some family business, but after two phone calls where she’s been so phenomenally “cool,” as she puts it (another way to punish someone: be cool and distant), in the two phone calls I’ve tried since I cancelled my visit, I’m beginning to think it’s not worth the emotional effort to try to help her.  Maybe I should just back off and let her manage as best she can.

I have to remind myself of the times I visited when I lived in Israel.  I would fly to America, 14 hour flight, rent a car, and drive the three hours from the airport, arriving completely done in, wanting nothing more than a hot shower and a bed.  Well, there was a bed, but no sheets, and the bedspread full of cat hair (and fleas).  So, fresh from a trip literally halfway around the world, I had to clean the bed and find some decent sheets and put them on before I could lie down to rest. 

Why could she not have a bed made up for me when I traveled so far to visit?  She always scurried to make up a bed for my cousin, who lives two hours away.  Why not me?

The answer, I believe, lies in one of her favorite pet names for me, her term of endearment:

“Your Lowness.”

It is as if God gave her an only child to despise at her whim.  

Love?

Children MUST love their parents, she has screamed at me.

Monkey see, monkey do, and I did not see anything resembling love from her.

My parental love died with my father**.  All that is left now is my Biblical duty to make sure that her physical needs are provided for.

“And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love/You make”–The Beatles

**And of course a good deal of her biliousness toward me has to do with the extremely close relationship I had with my father, who was in no way any sort of angel, but was generally kind and always honest, and never played stupid games or called me names or cursed me.  So she has always been jealous of my open love for him, and treats me like a rival.  Sick.

Story Construct Dialog Mind

Yesterday I went to my mother’s–formerly my parents’, but since my father’s death she has erased every trace of him, except the works of art that she either likes or keeps for their value, I don’t know which–to take a shower.  I avoid going there now, if she is at home.  There is always some kind of unpleasantness, because she resents the fact that I avoid her.

On Thursday she had forwarded me an email from a former student of my father’s.  It turns out that unbeknownst to me, the professional organization of ceramic artists of which he was a founding member had, at their annual meeting not long ago, given a touching memorial presentation dedicated to my father’s life.

The email contained a series of photos of the memorial, with a transcript of the speech.

I was flabbergasted that I had not been invited.  I would have turned myself into a pretzel to get there.

So I asked my mother why we had not been invited.

“Your memory!  Your memory is so terrible!” she shouted.  This has become a refrain that I hear every time she forgets to tell me something.  “My memory.”  Always “My memory.”

I confronted her.  I told her she was gaslighting me, trying to pass off anything she hadn’t told me as “my memory,” so that hopefully (her hope) I would believe that it was in fact “my memory,” that I am “losing it,” that the only truth is her truth and that I am a helpless, powerless imbecile with a bad memory.

I suggested that perhaps this was her story about me, and it might not be entirely accurate.  This sent her off on a tirade about how she and my father had always given me everything, etc.;  which somehow did not seem to be connected with my memory, but with a memory of her own.  And I know which one.

So I asked her why she thought I had left home at the age of 16.

My purpose was not to drag out old arguments, but to engage in meaningful dialogue which might lead to a discussion of how memory works, and how we sometimes make constructs out of our memories, especially painful ones, or ones we’d rather forget.

“Because we wouldn’t let you smoke pot in your room!  And every time I took you to buy clothes and nothing fit (because I was a bit chubby at puberty), you wouldn’t get anything until you lost weight!”

I don’t know what my weight had to do with my running away, since she never noticed I had become anorexic as a result of her calling me “Fat Ass” and teasing me about needing a girdle, but that is another story.  And the pot–frankly, mother, I didn’t give a damn whether she did or did not approve, although I dreaded my father’s lectures on the inevitable downfall of the Pothead.  As for her explosions of expletives, they were just more of the same.

Stories.

We all have stories, especially those crafted by memories of childhood events: “I was up in the tree and this boy pushed me out and I broke my arm.”  So every time this boy’s memory comes up, so does the story about the episode of the tree.  That is a normal story, filed away in our mind, solid in our neural net.

And then there are constructs, where memories trigger not only a picture of what happened, but also a fixed theory of why they happened.  These are often accompanied by some sort of positive or negative judgement:

“Oh, So-And-So.  She was an out-of-control drunk.  She used to get pissing drunk and slash her husband’s paintings with a knife.  That’s why he left her, you know.”

I know that if I mention So-And-So, or her husband, or even their children, I will get exactly the very same barrage quoted above, verbatim, as if from a factory package, from episode to episode.

Likewise if I try to engage in dialogue about events of my childhood, I am shouted down by her yelling me her constructs.  If I ask permission to add my own perception, my childhood neural memory snapshot of what happened, I am scolded that that is intrinsically not true.  Only her construct is true, and my story has no truth in it, and is of no value.  It is only made up in defiance of authority.

She often asks me why I never tell her anything.  So this time I venture out on a limb and say, “If you want to know why I never tell you anything, this is why.”

“Why?  Because I’m telling you the truth and you don’t want to hear it?” She challenges, in a childish “nah-nah-na-boo-boo” voice.

“Because,” I try to keep my voice even and fail, end up shouting, “Because every time I try to share something with you it gets thrown right back in my face.”  I didn’t start crying.

“That is not true,” she counters, icy voice.

“It is true.  Next time it happens I will point it out.”  Psychology 101.

“You just do that!”  Conversation over.  If you can call that a conversation.

I change the subject.  She is angry about that.  Fuck her.

I engage her in a project that needs doing.  It takes up several hours.  Then, at last, I spend a blissful half hour in the shower, grateful for the new water well–previously it was spring water and one had to take 5 minute showers–and the on-demand hot water heater.

Refreshed and not caring, I descended the spiral staircase into the lower living space.  She was waiting for me.

“You know,” she said sheepishly, “the reason I didn’t tell you about the memorial is that the organization expected us to pay our own way, including the $500, $600 admission fee.”

“Oh,” I said, ignoring the fact that my memory had just been restored, “That’s horrible!  What nerve!  I can’t believe they would do such a thing!”

As I gathered my things and exited, she looked at me wistfully and said, “Good Shabbos.”  It was Friday night.  When Dad was alive, I always made them dinner on Friday nights.  I tried to do it a couple of times with just my mother, but found it too awkward, since there was nothing to say.  So I stopped.

“Oh,” I lied.  “I thought it was Thursday.  Guess I lost a day.  Good Shabbos to you!”

I got in my car and drove back to my little house on wheels, tears burning my vision.

Validating My Need For Validation

My father’s death on Yom Kippur (November 2, 2014), and the years leading up to it, launched me into a journey of self-awareness.  It’s the journey I’ve been seeking all of my life.  It’s the journey of validation of the soul, of becoming aware of my physical and personal boundaries.

Until these times, everything I’ve done has been for the purpose of seeking validation from others.  Which others?  Others, just others.  Friends, employers, patients, staff, partners, spouses, my child…

My father gave me lots of validation.  He was careful to pay attention to what I was doing and give me praise, really specifically as in, “The way you make use of line and space in this drawing is stupendous,” or, “This is an absolutely scrumptious omelette!  You’ve really outdone yourself, Laurie!”

His critiques could hurt, though.  He was always honest, but never brutal; and yet, since I hung on his every word, a negative critique either on my work or on something I had done in life stung, and I would go and cry privately.  I knew that he was right….except when he was defending my mother’s rages.

“She isn’t feeling well, you know.”

“She has her period.  She’s always a bit testy when she has her period.  You just have to cut her a wide berth.”

When he did that, I felt betrayed, abandoned, and so, so alone.

It confused me terribly when he started scolding me for standing up to her.  For one thing, she began to scream and call me names right in front of him.  When I told her that what she was doing was abusive, they both screamed back at me that it was their right to abuse me because they were my parents.

Stunned, I said, “Are you telling me that because you are my parents, that gives you the right to do or say anything you want to me?”

“That’s right!” they both shouted, in unison.

Over the next few months it became clear to me that he was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, in which the captive, in an effort to save himself, comes to idolize the captor.  Dad’s illness caused him to become increasingly dependent on Mom for his physical care; his self-preservation became dependent on siding with her, flattering her, doing what she wanted when she wanted it…and being her whipping-boy.

He had always been able to deflect her tantrums by simply leaving and going to his studio to work, coming back late at night, giving her a chance to get over her “mad” and simmer down into petulance.

On rare occasions, if she goaded him sufficiently, he would blow up and yell at her, reducing her to tears.  She would run to their room, throw herself on the bed and sob.  He would go to his studio and work, and the next day he would bring a peace offering, a bouquet of wildflowers, dinner out, chocolates.  And then back to status quo.

I confused validation with appeasement.  I overturned every rock looking for something that would bring lasting acceptance from my mother.  Praise would have been wonderful, but simple acceptance would have been enough.  Gifts, vacations, floral arrangements, expensive meals out, elaborate meals made at home…all of these garnered momentary praise, but felt to me exactly the same as the Mother’s Day cards I made for her, the valentines, all the childish surprises I made for her, in hopes that this time she would really love me…

Look at all the things I’ve done.  I won’t list them, but just know that I have accomplished many things in my life that should have been just for me, or because they were fulfilling dreams…but at the bottom of it all, I was seeking validation from my mother.  “My daughter, the doctor….”

I wasn’t just seeking approval.  Approval is very important, but it’s temporary and tied to the deed that provoked it.

Validation is a much deeper thing.  Validation is approval on the level of the soul.  The Inner Approval.

According to Jewish law, parents are partners with God in Creation.  God utilizes the special blend of the parents’ souls and bodies (the body being a temporary dwelling for the soul) to create a new person.  It is for this reason that we are commanded to “Honor your father and your mother.”

But what happens if the parents are legitimately abusive?  Are we commanded to honor them?  Can honor be legislated?  If so, what form would that honor take?

When I first became Jewishly religious, I went into a panic about this.  It didn’t help that my mother loudly and offensively mocked my new clothes, the fact that I had chosen to cover my hair, the fact that I prayed three times a day and kept Shabbat according to Jewish Law.

On one of my trips to Israel, prior to moving there permanently, I ran to the most famous Orthodox Jewish bookstore in Jerusalem and asked if there was a book on honoring parents.  There was: “Sefer Kibud Avot.”  The Book of Honoring Parents.  It was in Hebrew.  I had just barely learned to laboriously read a little Scriptural Hebrew.  Somehow, the words of this book flew off the pages into my mind.  I swear it was a moment of Divine Inspiration.

The book said that if parents were abusive, the child still had to honor them.

But in that case, asked the book, what does “honoring them” mean?

It gave a number of examples of exceptional people whose parents abused them terribly, yet they continued to take the abuse.

For instance, one of the Rabbis who lived during the time of Jesus was sitting teaching a group of his students, when his mother came into the room and spat in his face.  He did not remark upon the incident, but continued teaching, and she went away.

There are many lessons in this story.  I have thought about this a lot.

But getting back to what Sefer Kibud Avot had to say about this incident:  Rabbi Ploni (“Ploni” is a Talmudic term for “Whoever”) was a saint.  We are mostly not saints.  If a saint could be expected to behave like that, how are we non-saints suppose to act?

The book then defined what the term “Kibud Avot (honoring your parents)” means in the case of abusive parents:

1) Make sure they have a roof over their heads

2) Clothes to cover their nakedness and for warmth

3)  Food sufficient for their nutritional needs.

In other words, according to Jewish Law we are only responsible for their basic physical needs.

The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that we are not to purposely harm ourselves.  We are not to do anything that puts us in harm’s way.  According to Sefer Kibud Avot, this includes abusive parents.  We are not to expose ourselves to abuse from any source, and that includes from parents.  We are to distance ourselves from evil.  Willingly exposing ourselves to evil is like doing evil ourselves.

Yikes.  Validation!

That revelation came down to me in 2005.  There is actual discussion of the issue in Jewish books of law!  I was not the only one who had to deal with this problem of how to honorably take care of one’s abusive parents, without feeding the continual abuse!  Validation that I am not “imagining things,” as my mother likes to say.  (The term for this type of invalidation of another’s lived experience is gaslighting.  You can find much more on the topic of gaslighting on the blog The Invisible Scar.)

I have wrestled with this since my father became ill and I left Israel in 2011 to be with him in his final years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds, breaths.  I found ways of dealing with my mother’s insanity on my own terms, yet it tore me apart to watch her mocking and belittling and publicly shaming him.

I’ve had a lot of help during these years.

Giving credit where credit is due, I have a wonderful advisor in the form of my therapist, with whom I have worked on and off since 2000.  She has saved my life many times.

I have also learned an enormous amount and garnered tremendous validation from the site The Invisible Scar.  The site is about surviving emotional abuse, with a focus on Adult Survivors of Narcissists (ACoN).  If anyone here feels that they have suffered at the hands of a narcissistic parent or caregiver, I highly recommend that they visit The Invisible Scar.

The Invisible Scar is run by a Christian organization, although it maintains religious neutrality.  However, I highly recommend the Christian ministry site that is its source.  Here you will find an extensive questionnaire that will result in your knowing whether or not you have been pillaged by a narcissist in your life.  I found myself going down their list going, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, nope, uh-huh….my life has been parasitized by my narcissistic mother, enabled by my passive father.   Jeez.

If you are a Christian, or are interested in the Christian perspective on what to do if you discover that you are being abused by a parent or significant other, I cannot imagine a better place to find diagnostic tools, validation, and advice, backed up by Scripture that applies universally to any ethical system or religion.  I am clearly not a Christian, but I know wisdom when I encounter it, and this is down-to-earth, straight-to-the-core, cut-to-the-chase wisdom.

Here’s a gift from The Invisible Scar that showed up in my inbox a couple of days ago:  two professors from the University of Georgia have asked The Invisible Scar to help recruit volunteers to take a survey on the parental communication skills of Adult Children of a Narcissist.  If you’re like me, you might be anxious (in my case, obsessed) about not repeating history–in other words, not passing on the terrible heritage of the emotional abuse that you suffered at the whims of the Narcissist in your life.  If you’d like to participate in the survey, go here. It only takes a few minutes.

You might find it validating!

Holy Shit

It happened.

What I was waiting for, and dreading, and avoiding, and otherwise side-stepping.

The confrontation with my mother.

She started it.  She wanted to know if she had said or done anything to offend me, since of late I have seemed to be avoiding her.

She got that right.  All of it.

The only reason I am camping out in my father’s former studio, complete with no facilities, is that I gave up my gorgeous, wonderful life in Jerusalem to come and be with Dad in his last years.  I am immensely happy that I did that.  It gave a richness to Dad’s and my already very deep relationship that left a delicious taste when he departed, enhanced by the salt of my tears.

So, he having gone to his Place, I no longer have a reason to be here.  I am making plans to leave, and soon.

And when my mother asked a second time if I was avoiding her for some reason, the answer was “yes,” but of course I said “no,” because I knew what sort of scene would follow if I said “yes.”  So I said, “of course not,” while avoiding the laser gaze.

“How about a cup of tea?” She asked.  I obliged, and she made tea.  We sat down, and I wondered what in the world we were going to talk about.

“Well, are you still planning to…go galavanting around?”  She smirked.

“Are you talking about the RV?”  I am in the process of buying a small motorhome and living in it for who knows how long.  I have been a virtual gypsy all of my life, so I’d like to see what happens if I do it on purpose, with intention.

“If you’re talking about the RV, it’s in its final stages of the purchase.”

We chatted about the whole RV thing, and I allowed as how I would be back through here every 3 months or so, to check on her and see how things are going.  I didn’t tell her that the truth is, she’s showing signs of dementia, and I want to keep my finger on that pulse.

Oh, no, that isn’t necessary, to come all the way across the country to check on her.  She’ll be just fine, she says.

“Yes,” I said, “And I’ve also got a son…”  Didn’t get to finish that sentence.

“Oh, and where was he last week?  I thought he was supposed to come here for the weekend.”  My parents have always had this thing about my son, that he never took it upon himself to call or visit them.  They took it very personally.  God knows, if I took it personally that he never calls me either, I’d drive myself crazy.  That’s simply who is is: he’s an Aspie like his mom and dad, and if I want to talk to him I give him a buzz; he may or may not answer depending on what’s happening at the time.

“He’s at his father’s family reunion.”

“Oh yes, his father always made sure that he went to HIS family reunions.”  Not that WE ever had a family reunion.  No, I’m wrong.  Last year they had one, the family of my mother’s generation, but the children and grandchildren, all of whom are adults, were not invited.  By that I mean, they were explicitly told they were unwelcome.  Me too, and I thought it was a shame, but I don’t like to go places where I am not welcome, so I let that go.  BUT her side HAD had a family reunion, and none of us cousins and grandchildren were welcome.  So what’s to argue about?

Then came a volley of accusations on my part regarding whether my parents had bothered building a relationship with him, and of course she said they did, but I know for a fact not much. Perhaps she forgot how he came on birthdays, holidays, art show openings, and every other important happening on my side of the family.

Plus, I reminded her, he has a lot of cousins on his father’s side, and they are such a large family that having reunions is part of their tradition.

“Yes, of course HIS FATHER makes sure he has a good relationship with his family.”  Meaning, clearly, that it was MY fault that my son did not have a close relationship with THEM.

Then she started in on him in general, how he’s just inconsiderate, selfish, etc. etc.

That’s when I lost it.

I unloaded on her with both barrels, so to speak.  How she had no right to insult my son.  How the reason he doesn’t come around is because she belittles me right in front of him, and he won’t see his mother abused.

“Stop screaming,” she said, using her smooth persuasive courtroom voice (she is a guardian ad litem, which in her case means she specializes in taking children away from their parents).

By that time I was in a state I have never been in before.  Part of the gall that I have carried around with me for 61 years came pouring out.  I thought I was going to vomit.

“I am not screaming!  Every time I open my mouth you attack me with your sarcasm, your mocking, your belittling–you want to know why I avoid you, that’s why!”  My head felt like it was about to blow up.  My brains would spatter all over the spotlessly clean furniture.  Ever since my dad died she’s been compulsively cleaning the house, trying to rid it of his former presence.

“You stop your fucking screaming!”  She screamed, casting a furtive glance upward, worried that the three carpenters who were in the act of replacing the roof had heard.  I don’t know how the could not have.

“That’s it!  I’m done!  Good-bye!”  And I picked up my walking sticks, my dog behind me, and stomped though the gravel back yard, spewing obscenities that I’m sure the carpenters heard.

I made my way down the path to the studio, watching out for the knees of rhododendron roots that stick up out of the path, waiting to trip the novice or the careless.  I got “home,”–every time we move I tell my dog, “This is Home now,” so she will know to go “home,” if we get separated for any reason.  I guess this is more “home” than any of them, because it is my dad’s and he gave it to me.

I wonder if she’ll think of the motorhome as a home that has changes of scenery fairly regularly.  I guess that’s how it’s been for her anyway, except that she will get all territorial about this new home on wheels.

I grabbed half a joint and a little bit of wine, and sat out on the deck with my dog and watched the river for a while.

Time Slave

Dearest Readers, I don’t know where to begin.

Everything in my life is a cliche.

Meekly I cave in to my mother’s demands, even when it means harm to me, physically and emotionally.  She publicly denigrates my role as my father’s caregiver.  The Hospice nurse coordinator visits.  I try to explain my situation as a person with spine injuries who cannot physically help my now paraplegic father.  I can’t transfer him from wheelchair to bed–“I can do it,” my mother interjects, with a snort, a face twisted with disgust.

I explain to the nurses how many, many times my father has fallen during my mother’s attempts to transfer him–how many times the on-call nurse has had to find their well-hidden home in the middle of the night, because once my father is on the floor, she can’t get him up.  How many times EMS has had to come, to check him for injuries and get him back into bed.  How many ER visits, before he went on Hospice and no longer goes to the hospital unless he has broken a bone or something else fixable.

Her glare reminds me of her intolerable cat.  He was re-homed three times before she got him at the shelter.  You know what they say about pets resembling their people….it’s that people are attracted to pets that share their personalities, is all.  That’s clear.

I see what her body language (and her face, twisted with disdain for me) says:  the same thing it said so many years ago, before I left with the intention of never returning to the parental hell-hole: “You’re useless,” she used to say then.  Now she says it again.

If I mention my disability, I get a “Hah!”  Which means to say, “You’re just lazy, a parasite on The System.”  No amount of stuttering defense on my part that I worked very hard in my career, that I loved my work, and would never have left it except for my disability–her head turns, face twists–my stomach climbs into my esophagus, I feel sick but can’t do anything about it.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, from 11:30 am to whatever time she gets home in the late afternoon, I take care of Dad.  Yesterday was Wednesday, and he had a dentist appointment at 1:30 pm.  We usually call for the rural transport van to take us to appointments, but this time she decided that the caregiver who comes in the mornings to get him out of bed, shower him etc. (this she cannot do) would help transport him in my car.  I was not consulted, but told, with a large dose of sarcasm, that this is what would happen.  She said she had called the transport, as she said she would do, 48 hours in advance of when we needed them.

They were full up, she told me the morning of the appointment.  That has never happened before.  She was lying, as she often does.  She sees no evil in lying, if it suits her purpose.  She probably forgot.  Why else would she choose to pay the caregiver $12 an hour over the transport, which costs $4 for door-to-door service with the wheelchair and assistance getting through doors, etc.?

So to the dentist we all went, Dad, the caregiver, and me.  It was a quick appointment, so we were home within the hour.  The caregiver said his goodbyes and headed off.

His tail lights were still visible going up the drive when Dad announced he had to go to the bathroom.

This is a hard one for me.  I was trained up in extreme modesty.  I have seen my mother not-quite-naked once, my father never.  So now I’m expected to take care of his intimate needs.

But a need is a need.  Right now I’m more worried about getting him from wheelchair to toilet and back, than I am about what to do regarding the bodily functions and subsequent clean-up.

So I get him into the bathroom in his wheelchair, which is already a difficult job.  When it started becoming clear that he would no longer be climbing stairs to take a shower, some 3 years ago, I designed a wheelchair-accessible bathroom for downstairs (I love designing bathrooms).  I purposely designed it with a lot of open space for safely turning and maneuvering the chair.

My mother, who can’t stand open space, immediately filled it with chairs and bookcases for storing towels, even though I designed a closet area, convenient yet out of the way, into the layout.  I guess she needed something else to complain about, because of course the steam from the shower is warping her bookcases.

Anyway.

I got Dad into the bathroom, moving furniture along the way.  I got him to stand, unsteadily holding onto the commode frame I installed for just such occasions (and to keep him from falling off the toilet and getting wedged between the toilet and the sink, which happened twice before I put in the grab assist bars).  Dissociating quick, I pulled down his sweat pants and diaper so I could get him on the john.

But not quick enough.  He lost control of his bladder all over his clothing, the toilet, the floor, and–me.  He was mortified.  I was dissociated.

He apologized profusely, and I felt helpless.  We both felt helpless.  He said he was finished.  I saw he was soaked.

The next task was to get his sodden clothes off him (even his socks were wet!), wash his wet legs, and give him a washcloth so he could clean up his “delicate parts,” as I told him, which got a laugh out of him, at least.

Then I had to get dry things on him.  While he was cleaning his delicate parts I had laid out clean things for him: sweat pants, diaper, socks.  Draping a towel across his lap for modesty, I got his socks on.

But that was all.  I got his diaper and pants as far as his knees, but then he had to stand for just a moment so I could pull everything up where it goes.

He was too exhausted by the effort of standing the first time to get himself out of the chair.  I was too exhausted from the first time to pull him up–and I didn’t want to risk dropping him.   Why didn’t I think of myself, my disintegrating spine, which is on the same trajectory as his ruined vertebrae?  Why didn’t I just leave things as they were for the moment, cover him up, and go watch Westerns and have a Scotch with him in the living room?

My mother, is why.  I was afraid of the consequences of being too disabled to haul Dad around.  So I did my best, and hurt myself again in the process.  Today I am one hurtin’ puppy. My neck is in such a spasm I can’t turn my head.  Shit.

Why don’t I get it, and stop acting like a slave?

So back in the bathroom…after a couple of tries, Dad and I both called it a day.  I got his bathrobe and draped it over his lap, and we wheeled into the living room.  I put on the Westerns and he watched Bat Masterson shoot ’em up without breaking a sweat while I cleaned myself up as much as possible.

I wonder if Bat Masterson has trouble controlling his bladder now that he’s old.

I dreaded the arrival of She Who Must Be Obeyed.  Trigger, trigger, trigger….faster trigger than Bat Masterson.

Luckily She had had a good day out, and didn’t humiliate the two of us on the spot.  But it will come, believe me.  It will come.

The hell-cat, who never makes an appearance when She is out, came down the stairs demanding food.  She clucked over him and fed his already bloated body, while Dad sat half-naked in front of the TV.

Bunny Boiling Close Call

If you aren’t yet familiar with it, “Bunny Boiling” is a term referencing a scene in the movie Fatal Attraction.  The movie stars Glenn Close as a person who is supposed to have Borderline Personality Disorder.  (I don’t agree with that assessment, but that’s the consensus.)

There’s a scene in the movie where Close’s character, Alex, in retaliation for a perceived slight from the object of her affection (Michael Douglas), takes his family’s pet rabbit and boils it on the stove.  No, I haven’t watched this scene.  I would freak out or throw up or something, so I leave it to others to write about it.  I learned about the term on the excellent site Out of the Fog, which provides support and resources for people in relationships, whether chosen or unchosen, with people with Personality Disorders.

What it boils down to (sorry, bad pun) is that the disordered person, for whatever reason/non-reason, takes something that is precious to the person they want to hurt, and breaks/destroys/kills it.  It’s not a pretty thing.

And that’s one of the reasons I don’t think “Bunny Boiling” is a feature of Borderline Personality Disorder.  In my experience, Borderlines rarely if ever take out their anguish on other people in planned, complex ways.  Borderlines turn their pain in on themselves, via self-harm that may either be physical such as cutting/overdosing, or in exposing themselves to danger, usually subconsciously.  Some Borderlines have rage attacks and level their explosive anger at people they love, and some hit or throw things.

But they are usually contrite and filled with self-loathing after these spontaneous outbursts, and that’s when self-harm becomes a risk.

Please note: The characterizations of Personality Disorders you will see here are a combination of my own clinical experiences, cross-checked with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V.

Contrast that with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, where the person does not feel disordered at all.  Rather, s/he expects the world to put her on a pedestal and worship her.  If she thinks she is not getting enough adulation, she will attempt to emotionally cow everyone in her inner circle, using an arsenal of weapons such as intimidation, gaslighting, temper tantrums, physical and/or emotional abuse, and disregard of boundaries.  She is not above stealing from her own family, and she is not above….Bunny Boiling.  Outside the family, she is all smiles and sunshine, usually a pillar of the community, craving (and getting) admiration and accolades at work and in the community.  The family is powerless to gain support from the community, because if they try to get help no one believes them, because the disordered person is SUCH an angel, anyone who speaks against her must be the devil incarnate.

I’ve noticed some overlap here with Antisocial Personality Disorder.  Both Narcissists and Antisocials tend to have no remorse for the sometimes heinous deeds they do.  They will willingly steal, and feel that it’s merely what they deserve to have, after all.  They both use others for their own designs. They lack empathy.  Neither type has any problem with destroying things belonging to other people, although they do it for different reasons.

Narcissists will destroy things belonging to loved ones because they feel they are not getting the attention or adulation they deserve; therefore they will steal/break/destroy/kill something of special value to the loved one or family.

Antisocials don’t need a motive.  They do destructive acts because they enjoy it.  I have had some horrific experiences with Antisocials, and have observed them torturing animals and getting sexual pleasure from it.  I’ve had Antisocial children in my pediatrics practice as young as five or six, who purposely set the house on fire or set the family cat on fire, etc.  Therapy did not help.  It’s tragic and terrifying to see this developing over time in a youngster.  I know that some of you who are reading this will be angered by my characterization of Antisocial Personality Disorder, and accuse me of demonizing it, but what I am describing is from my direct experience, so I can’t soft-pedal it.

I have written a lot about my mother and my anguish at trying to escape her abuse, only to get sucked back in.  I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself around this, and I am starting to see the way the roles have played out over my lifetime.  My mother is the Disordered One who has absolutely no remorse about tormenting me, kicking the dog, breaking precious fragile one-of-a-kind handmade objects, and saying shockingly denigrating things about my father in front of selected other people.

I am the scapegoat, the one she takes her anger and frustration out on, and then is furious that I don’t adore her the way she envisioned being adored by her child.  For my part, I desperately seek ways to appease her and make her love me, or at least accept me, or at least stop treating me like a contemptuous piece of shit.

My father is the “Winged Monkey,” a term taken from the Wizard of Oz.  The Wicked Witch of the (East or West, can’t remember) had a band of Winged Monkeys that she sent to retrieve Dorothy and crew when they escaped.  In a Personality Disordered family/relationship, a Winged Monkey is the person who, after the scapegoat has fled, goes to her and explains that Mom really didn’t mean to say what she said, she was tired, she was aggravated about something at work, she had her period.

And the scapegoat, not wanting to believe that Mom is such a mean person, capitulates and returns to the abusive situation, hoping that this time will be different, and resorting time and again to appeasement behaviors to try to make Mom proud, so that THIS time she’ll be as nice to me as she is to everyone else.  And since this is just another cycle-of-abuse situation, there is often a “honeymoon” period where everything is lovely, because Mom really didn’t want me to leave–she just wanted to throw me out.

I’ve tried all kinds of strategies to get away from my mother.  I’ve been in therapy since 1984.  I’ve utilized the Geographic Solution, even moving to the other side of the world to get as far away from her as I could.  Hell, if they offered a one-way trip to Mars I’d jump at the chance.

There I was, on the other side of the planet, enjoying myself immensely, assuaging my guilt for enjoying life by calling Mom on Sundays and Thursdays.  Then the Winged Monkey struck again.

He didn’t mean to do it.  He just got awful sick, and they are awful old, and I couldn’t just let them flounder.  Could I?  So I packed up my stuff and came back to the States after four glorious years abroad, and moved into the barn.  No bathroom, no kitchen, but it’s a roof and it has heat, and I’m damned well not going to live in the house with THEM.

Except now, as of about a month ago, it’s not THEM who live in the “real house,” because my Winged Monkey has moved into the nursing home, and it looks to be for the rest of his life.  It is a tragedy.

Last Tuesday I was visiting him, as I do every day, and I brought along Noga, as I do every day.  She has become the unofficial Therapy Dog at the nursing home.  When we finally get to my dad’s room, after greeting all the residents and staff along the way, she cuddles up to him in his bed,

Noga, the Angel Puppy

Noga, the Angel Puppy

and he buries his hand in her silky fur.  Sometimes he cries.  If nobody stops her, she will lick his ears till he convulses with laughter.  She is his angel.

Last Tuesday Mom was looking distracted and a bit agitated.  She asked me if she could take Noga for a walk in the park that adjoins the nursing home.  I didn’t see any harm in that, and I thought it might be therapeutic for Mom, as it was a beautiful day for a walk.  I handed over Noga’s leash, and turned my attention to Dad, who was having a rough day as well.

Half an hour later, Mom came striding into the room with Noga gunny-sacked under her arm.  Her hair (Noga’s) was a mess and her harness hung around her neck.  I took her–she was shaking and grabbed onto me with her claws, terrified–and I noticed that the part of the harness that was hanging from her neck was a part that normally goes over her leg.  The harness had been completely off, and hastily thrown on–not put back on properly.

“What happened?” I asked Mom, keeping my voice even.

“I don’t know, she got out of her harness,” says Mom, avoiding eye contact.

“Did she get scared and pull back?  Did she see a rabbit or something?”  I was hopeful there would be some rational explanation.

“No, she just got out of her harness,” Mom repeated.

I got a chill in the pit of my stomach.

First it was a group of four little shot glasses my dad had made, that he and I used to use every afternoon.  They disappeared, and I found them behind the refrigerator after much grilling.  Two of them are still whole, but the fridge is huge.  I’ll have to wait for someone to help me, but for now they’re safe.

Next it was a really beautiful porcelain vase that my dad and I collaborated on–he threw the vase, and I painted it.  It disappeared from its place on the shelf, and all the other pieces of pottery have been rearranged to fill the gap.  She “doesn’t know” what happened to that either, and she’s not budging on this one.  I think she sold it.

And now, I can only be grateful that whatever occurred to induce her to bring Noga back to me intact–whether it was a moment of remorse, or fear, or whether Noga simply would not leave her–she brought my Angel Puppy back to me.

Although I don’t fool myself that there will be no more “Bunny Boilings,” I will do my best to keep Noga safe, and not to let my own pattern of appeasement deliver her over to….her.

 

Narcissism and Slavery

As the festival of Passover approaches, it’s a tradition among some of us, Jews and non-Jews alike, to start thinking about the Passover story as an allegorical reference to how we limit ourselves, and how we can use our inner resources to liberate ourselves.  We think about our Inner Pharaoh, and what we need to do to get free of him.

The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim.”  The word can be broken down into its roots: “Mi” = “from,” “tzr” or “tzar”=narrow place, tight squeeze, trouble, “yim”=masculine plural ending.  So you could say that our own personal Mitzrayim is the narrow, tight places in which we find ourselves.  Our challenge during the spring season of new growth and opening is to do just that: to split the Red Sea, to walk through scary tight places in order to remember who we are, and to grow past our narrow-minded presuppositions, to give birth to our newly liberated selves.

The other day at the nursing home my mother commanded (not asked–commanded) me to appear before her, at her house, at seven PM.  She refused to give me any details, just “be there.”  So I showed up at 7:30, since I had something to do prior and she had not asked me if that was a convenient time.  Did it give me pleasure to know that she would be annoyed?  Perhaps, yet I also know that annoying her will eventually come back to haunt me.  Sometimes it’s worth it.

I got there, and she is sitting in Dad’s recliner, which instantly puts me on guard.  There is this thing in Jewish culture where a person’s chair is part of their personal sacred space, and intentionally sitting in someone else’s place is considered an act of disrespect.  So I am on guard anyway, and this just confirms that I better stay there.

As I perched on the arm of the couch, not wanting to sit in HER place (and besides, it gives me the creeps), she pronounced clearly and with authority:  “I am NOT asking your permission.”  

“OK,” I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Then she tells me in great detail of her plans to bring Dad home from the nursing home, how she and I will care for him with the help of whatever aides she can find; that she’s located a couple of them and they only charge $14 an hour, and besides, we would only need them for showering….on and on.  Apparently she has not taken into consideration that it takes two young strong people to get him from the bed to the wheelchair, to the toilet, to diaper and dress him…and he’s been discharged from Physical Therapy because he’s not made progress….and his meals are now put through a blender so that he doesn’t choke, which had been one of my big concerns even before the nursing home.

And She Who Must Be Obeyed is NOT asking my permission.  That means I don’t even have to bother voicing my concerns, because they’ve already been summarily dismissed.

I decide that I don’t have to have a “dog in that fight,” as they say here in the mountains.  I keep my mouth shut.  Poor Dad will be the one who suffers, and I hate that, but since “my permission” has not been asked, I won’t ask a lot of permission to be out of the country when I need to be.

And I’ll need to be, because that scenario is so excruciatingly painful to me that I will have to give myself a lot of space, knowing that injuring myself in order to try to further Mom’s follies is not going to help Dad, in the long run.

A few days later, I am told that “we” are taking Dad to the dentist.  The aides at the nursing home will help us get him in the car.  Who will get him out?  Oh, they have a wheelchair at the dentist.  She already checked that out, Stupid.  

I don’t like this.  I’m just getting over an episode of seriously-bad-back caused by catching Dad as he was on his way to the pavement, after taking him to another appointment.  Mom had, in her trademark style, strode around to the driver’s seat, leaving me to somehow get Dad into the back seat.  He collapsed, and I was holding him up calling for help, when one of the familiar Viet Nam Veteran street people came and helped me get him into the car.  I gave him all the cash I had, and I wish there had been more.  But it was too late for my back.

So I told her my back won’t take it, and she sneers at me and says that hers will.

There is a county transport service that has wheelchair accessible vans.  I told this to my mother, who immediately denied it.  Then she called about it, and wonder of wonders!  Of course it was her idea now; but at least.

“You will be there at 12:30 to meet the van.  You will ride in the van with Dad to the dentist.  His appointment is at one.  My appointment is at two.  So you have to ride in the van with Dad.  DON’T BE LATE!!!”

OK.  I will be there at 12:30, and I will go into the appointment, because Dad has been hallucinating lately and I worry about the dentist’s chair and all the noises, and his trouble swallowing, and the fact that he will not be able to hold the little saliva sucker thing that you now have to hold yourself.

Isn’t it funny how it really is the straw that breaks the camel’s back?  Here’s mine (my latest, anyway):

Friday afternoon, my mother shows up at my door with my mail.  She knows I don’t want her picking up my mail (we don’t have mail delivery here, so we have to go to the post office for it), but she had some excuse this time.

After an uncomfortable moment standing at the door, I decide to show her dinner in progress.  I always cook them a kosher meal for Friday Nights, and I bring it wherever they happen to be.  Nowadays I’m bringing it to the nursing home.  So I thought I would show her the kosher chicken rolling around in the kosher rotisserie, the pans of veggies, the potatoes…..oh, I do it all the time!

“See, Mommy, see what I did?  It’s for YOU, Mommy!  I picked these flowers for YOU!  I cooked this food for YOU!  Aren’t you happy with me now?  Won’t this make you love me and stop saying those horrible things to me?”  Says the little girl Laura, tears brimming but not falling, for that would make her laugh: “You need to grow a thicker skin.”

My kitchen is very tiny.  Very tiny indeed.  In fact, with my mother in it, I found I suddenly could not breathe.

“Let’s move into a bigger space.  I’m feeling claustrophobic,” I said.

Her little malevolent eyes glitter.

“Claustrophobic, eh?  What DON’T you have?  I think you’re a hypochondriac.

“Hypochondriac?” I repeat, shocked.

“Yes, hypochondriac.” She says emphatically.

I see her to the door, slam it, and collapse in a heap of raging tears.  As soon as her car leaves the driveway I start screaming.  I beg G-d’s forgiveness as I curse my mother, bringing down all of Hell’s fires on her head, into her belly, wishing her as painful a death as she engineered for her own mother…..and then I stop suddenly, realizing what has happened, that I have absorbed the poison from the wicked Queen’s apple, and if I continue in this manner I will, G-d forbid, become my own hateful mother.  My own personal Pharaoh.

So I have been praying for some enlightenment, some clarity, some “how-to” that will get me through this piece of time surrounding my father’s death.  My very own Mitzrayim: stuck in the narrows, whichever way I turn.  Face-to-face with Pharaoh, a smirk and a sneer and a twisting of the guts.

Here is some really good advice on learning to open one’s mouth from The Invisible Scar, a blog dedicated to healing for Adult Children of Narcisists (ACON).

But I am not ready to deal with the backlash that always comes with opening my mouth.  I am mortally afraid that if my mother escalates (a certainty) or lays hands on me (a distinct possibility), that I might “lose it” and do something violent, G-d forbid.

So I am keeping my mouth tightly closed, which I know is part of the Narcissist’s Weapon Arsenal.  I don’t want to emulate her, I don’t want to BE her–and I know that’s a danger here.  But right now I can’t deal with another knife wound.  Figuratively, that is.

Tomorrow, at the one o’clock meeting (DON’T BE LATE), my dad’s fate will be decided: does he stay in the nursing home until he dies, or do we bring him home to die, however long that takes ( he estimates two years, and I believe him).  Although I have been told I do not have a voice in this decision, I damn well do, and I will use it.  I plan to make my case very clearly that there is no way that he could possibly get the care he needs at home.

Feeding, changing his diaper and his bed three or four times a day, dressing him, getting him showered, all without any assistance from him, because he is so debilitated……these things cannot be done by an angry 87 year old harpy, and aside from feeding him, my arthritic body barely allows me to hold his head up to drink from a cup.

My voice says NO.  We CANNOT bring Dad home.  I WILL NOT see his last days sullied by that screaming harpy cursing him for being an old, debilitated man.  I will make that clear, in an unemotional, measured way: that is MY way, MY voice, because my voice has been crushed since I came out of the incubator at one month of age.

I did make contact with a regional Veterans’ Administration representative–my Dad is a WWII combat veteran–who is doing his best to get funding to pay for either nursing home or home care.  She, my mother, had been telling me with that “you stupid idiot, you should know better” tone of voice, that the VA would never give them money.   Well, guess what: they will be getting around $2000/month in Veterans’ Benefits–“For Dad and me,” she emphasized, as if I would want a single cent from them!  And of course she takes credit for the VA angle.  But at least it will take the financial incentive to take him home off–otherwise she would have to “spend down” her own money before Medicaid would pick up the nursing home tab.

Speaking of money, before Dad had his last fall, the one that landed him in the nursing home, I had been caring for him two days a week, plus making dinner for them (my own money, and let me tell you, kosher meat is not cheap) on Friday nights.  The county Social Services worker told my mom that there was money available to pay me for my work as a caregiver.  My mother turned it down on the grounds that a child should not be paid for taking care of a parent.  Thank G-d I have money to live on now, but I am furiously saving for the day that that source of funds dries up, when I turn 65, in 4 1/2 years.  That money would have come in right handy, to stash away for the desperate times that will follow the cessation of my private disability funds.

It is a terrible thing to say, but I am looking forward to the day that I am free from this elephant sitting on my heart.  I know what that will mean.  He is not yet ready to go; he needs to rectify some issues inside himself.  I don’t want to rush that.  But one thing I have learned in my chaotic life is patience.  I once heard that the best way to victory over an abusive parent is to outlive them.  I don’t know if I will outlive my mother, but in a way my death preceding hers would also be a victory.  I just don’t want to see her sneering face on the “other side.”

And since I have a feeling that that would be a very effective form of Hell, I had better be careful not to “become my enemy.”

Somehow I must do the work necessary to face down my Inner Pharaoh and in doing so, lose the fear that has kept me in slavery for 60 1/2 years.

And Here Goes The Other One…What Will I Do?

As my regular readers know, life with my mom has always been far from pleasant.

And now….Dementia Case #2.

I had suspected it, even before I left Jerusalem in 2011 (January 11, 2011, to be exact) to come to the US and help with my dad.  Fears out of proportion, throwing screaming fits in public and not just in private, arguing with the carpenter about whether or not she had paid his bill (she hadn’t).  He even came to me and asked if I had noticed anything wrong with my mom.  He’s been working for us for years, and never saw anything like that.

Interesting how dementia brings out a person’s true character traits.  Take my dad: soft, sweet, gentle, kind.  Very occasionally grumpy or moody, but who isn’t?

My mom, on the other hand, is selfish, angry, suspicious, and nasty.  And she lies.  In fact, she likes to say, “a little white lie won’t hurt.”

The hell it won’t!

But one or two of you might know her personally, and you will say, “Oh, but she is just the sweetest person!  How can you say such things about her?  It must be YOUR misperception.”

The hell I say!

That’s the way people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder operate.  They bask in public accolades, while conducting a Reign of Terror at home.  But the abused ones are in a pickle, because if we try to get help from anyone who knows her, they will shout, “How can you say such a thing about your lovely mother, who is such a gift to the community, such an angel, has dried so many tears and started so many non-profit charities!?”

So in general we just shut up and take it, and marry someone equally dysfunctional.

That’s the way I grew up.  And my dad was terrified of her and hopelessly in love with her, both at once.

Think “Mommie Dearest.”

No, she never dragged me out of bed to scrub the bathroom floor, but plenty went on, and I won’t elaborate here, because today I got the confirmation of a growing suspicion: she’s got dementia.

I’ve been too caught up in the emotional tempest surrounding Dad’s plight to really pay attention to her acting-out.  I’ve been mightily pissed off because she threw a bunch of pottery items that my dad made (he’s a potter) behind the refrigerator.  Right.  And she somehow disposed of a beautiful porcelain vase that Dad and I collaborated on back in my painter days.  It just “disappeared.”  And like the little cups that ended up smashed behind the refrigerator, every inquiry about my vase gets an “I don’t know” with averted eyes and a little smirk.

She’s been on a gaslighting campaign regarding my memory, accusing me of forgetting things that she never told me, such as important appointments.  Gaslighting, if you don’t already know, is when someone tries to make you think you’re crazy by setting up situations that don’t really exist.  It’s a power trip, or it can be used as a coverup for someone’s own mistakes.

Last year I went to the trouble of having a complete cognitive workup–lasted two days and cost me $1200.  And it turns out that I do have one very specific hole in my memory: reconstruction of long and detailed stories–which is distressing for someone whose job used to be collecting and reconstructing long and detailed stories, as a physician.  But my long, medium, and short-term memories are perfect.  So it ain’t me, babe, as someone once wrote in a song.

So this whole business of Dad being in a nursing home has brought out some interesting (heh) and instructive situations.  On a couple of occasions she has asked me to bring something from the house, and when I bought it, she would scold me for bringing the wrong thing, citing my “terrible memory.”

Today, in fact, she called me from the nursing home, asking me to bring Dad’s slippers and a couple of packages of pull-up diapers.  When I reached their house, though, she was already home, having lunch.  The slippers were sitting on a chair.  I picked them up to put them in my backpack and she screamed with her mouth full, “No, not that!  Those are his Pads.”  “Pads” are the brand name of the slippers.

“Didn’t you put these out for me to take?  Did you mean a different pair of slippers?”

“You don’t know what you’re doing.  Go take your shower.”  The building I live in does not have a bathroom, in the usual sense of the word, and I was in fact planning to take a shower at their house before going to the nursing home.  So, cursing under my breath, I did.

I hoped that by the time I finished my toilette that she would be in a more reasonable mood, but no luck.  As soon as I landed downstairs she began screaming at me about my terrible memory, and shoved a bag of stuff in my general direction.  It contained a couple of packets of diapers, with the already mentioned slippers on top.

“Wait a minute, Mom,” I said, trying to control my temper and not doing a very good job.  “These are the same slippers that you said were the wrong ones.  These are the ones that were sitting on the chair, and I picked them up, and you said they weren’t the right ones!”

“No I didn’t!  I told you to get the Depends (diapers).  You don’t know what you’re talking about.  You can’t remember anything!”

At that point I put my coat on, gathered up my stuff and the package, and sailed out the door cursing, not so much under my breath, and not caring whether she heard or not.

When the blood stopped pounding in my ears, I realized that my suspicion is dead-on: she’s sliding into dementia.

Now what am I gonna do?

My dad is safe where he is, but she is a loose cannon and could do anything.  She’s already made some disastrous financial decisions that I am powerless to reverse, because at this point it would be very difficult to prove her incompetent.  That may change very quickly.  But what am I going to do in the meantime, having to interact with her on a daily basis because of my dad, having her living in a place that is now completely inappropriate for her, and having her seething anger aimed in my direction?    Granted, part of the anger is due to the grieving process for my dad.  But that does not excuse her leveling it at me.

I can’t go to the Social Services people, because they all know her in her “public face” and none of them would believe me if I tried to tell them what’s going on.  And of course if they approached her about it, she would tell them all about her mentally ill daughter with the “terrible memory.”  She even has a story about how my memory got so terrible: it was the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation treatments that have saved my life over the years.  That’s her explanation for why I can’t remember anything.  And of course the Social Services people would shake their heads and cluck their tongues, because they KNOW her and they know she’s a competent person, a kind, sweet angel.

So what am I going to do?

Denial is a River in Egypt

Pam Tillis co-wrote the song that goes, “Just call me Cleopatra, everybody, ’cause I’m the Queen of Denial.”  If you want to see her video, which is just wall-to-wall packed with cultural stereotypes  (somewhat embarrassing) but pretty funny, look here.   It would give Edward Said, author of Orientalism, an epileptic fit.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I took a graduate-level seminar in Cultural Anthropology.  There, they liked to throw around words like “hermeneutics.”  When I asked what that meant, the professor grew red in the face and told me that if I didn’t know, then I shouldn’t be asking.  Hmm.  Kind of like my mother’s favorite retort when I’d ask her what I’d done to deserve punishment:  “If you don’t know, then I’M certainly not going to tell you!

I don’t believe they knew what the word “hermeneutics” meant (it’s the theory of text interpretation, especially Biblical or scholarly).  I found out, though, quite by accident.  We were supposed to read Orientalism and write a paper on it to discuss in seminar.  So I read the book.  I thought it was a pompous, reverse-racist take on the “Western” ideas in art, music, film, and literature supposedly misrepresenting the Arab world.  But I have a nasty habit of reading footnotes and actually reading the original sources.  It takes a bit longer, but you can discover amazing things: like, for example, that the primary sources cited in the footnotes say something quite different than the author, in this case Said, made them out to be.

I brought a stack of these primary sources (we had libraries full of real books back then) to show my “hermeneutics” professor what I had found.  But oh dear, it seems I had shot a sacred cow!  For the sin of debunking Said’s theory by means of his own references (not to mention proving that he had committed a crime by misrepresenting the references as supporting his theory, when in fact they often said exactly the opposite of what he said they did), I was hauled before a tribunal (hauled before a tribunal!  I am not kidding you).  I was only a nobody undergraduate, but they didn’t want this accidental discovery of mine to get out.  I had to withdraw my paper and promise never to mention it again, if I wanted to get my degree from that venerable wellspring of hermeneutics.

Last week I wrote about the deplorable scene that erupted when I came out to my parents that I had been forced to resort to prostitution when I ran away from them at the age of 16.  So far, neither of them has asked me why I ran away.   I take that back: my father did once, when he thought he was dying, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him.  I have wondered ever since if I did the right thing or not.  I tell myself that I didn’t want to distress him when he was so ill, but I really think it’s fear.  In fact, I know it’s fear.

The result of my revelation was a major catastrophic scene, blaming me for depriving them of their only child, and therefore I deserved whatever I got.  Not surprisingly, I had a major meltdown as a result of all that, and a flareup of physical symptoms as well as some serious PTSD flashbacks, nightmares, what have you.

I got an ugly email from my mother the next day, accusing me of accusing her of putting me out on the street to work as a prostitute (huh?), and of committing the crime of saying such things in the presence of my father, a “sick old man.”

Rather than engage with her and start a war, I rolled over like my dog does when she thinks she has done something bad, in appeasement, so I won’t scold her for peeing on the carpet.  I wrote her back and said I was sorry that she had perceived such things, that I never intended that she should perceive such things, and that I certainly never intended that she should perceive that I had accused her of such things.

Indeed, I did not roll over so far as to say that I was sorry if I hurt her or sorry to deprive her of her only child, etc., because those are delusions.  I am in no way sorry for crimes I did not commit.  I am in no way sorry that I read Said’s primary sources and exposed him as a liar, and I am in no way sorry that I came out and told my parents that I was forced to prostitute myself when I ran away from them.

Here’s what I am sorry for: I’m sorry that I don’t have the courage to tell them why I left.  I’m sorry that I don’t have the courage to face my mother and tell her that her screaming and her name-calling and her gaslighting and her growling “I can’t stand you” time and time again, drove me to the brink of suicide and I had to get out of there.  I’m sorry that I can’t tell her that for those reasons and more, I preferred to live on the street and get raped again and again.  At least that was an honest danger.

But everyone loves her.  Just today someone came to visit and was gushing about how sweet she is.  I had to get out of there.  Yes, I know that’s the way people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder operate.  They are just so sweet, such pillars of the community, such advocates for the underdog–on the outside.  But on the inside of the book, there’s a rat stinking.  A living lie that never gets past the door, and nobody is reading the footnotes.

And so, the day after the messy tribunal,  and after the non-apologetic apology, I was expecting the cold shoulder, the “silent treatment” as she likes to call it.  That’s what I can usually expect after an outburst of honesty. But wonder of wonders, she was just as cheerful and chipper as can be!  We can’t afford to actually deal with this, because I’m needed to help care for my dad, who is indeed a “sick old man.”  And it seems that we can’t afford the possible consequences of driving me away again with insults and gaslighting.  So I was spared the usual aftermath of a moment of honesty.  I can’t say it’s not a relief.  But I’m still spooky, waiting for the other shoe to fall.

So for now there is a lull in the action.  I’m debating whether to dive back into anonymity with this blog.  I’m terrified that sooner or later, she or one of her friends will find it and out me.  I mean, I’ve already outed myself, but I’m starting to regret it, because of the possible consequences.  I’m trying real hard to stay in the footnotes and not be afraid of the tribunal.  But I don’t know if I can hold out with this fear and tension much longer, because she hasn’t read the references, and wouldn’t believe them if she did.

On the other hand, what’s the price of living in fear?

Rage Can Kill You

First it was Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which I got through mostly by dissociating.  I thought I wasn’t, but I was.  My past homelessness and survival prostitution still haunts me, and although I have forgiven myself, I can’t forgive my parents for not rescuing me, nor can I forgive the shameless bastards who raped me when I was a naive little girl trying to survive on the streets.

Then it was Child Abuse Awareness Month.  I really thought I might get through that in one piece, but after the pieces on emotional and psychological and verbal abuse started coming hard and fast, I have to say I took a pounding.  I grew up with a relentlessly abusive mother and an absent, codependent father who played the sympathetic one and passed me his handkerchief while explaining that Mom wasn’t feeling well, had her period (he described her as a “wildcat in a hatbox” when she was menstruating), or any of a million excuses for her evil behavior.

Since my chief drive as a recovering Adult Child of Abusive Parents is still to try to mollify my mother and protect my now-disabled father from her wrath, I moved to the US from my beloved Jerusalem to try to help them in their old age.  He is 88 and she is 86, although she claims to be 85.

They live in what my dear friend R_ in Jerusalem affectionately calls “East Bumfuck.”  Their house is in a remote hollow, and the road leading to it is so steep that the UPS man refuses to drive down there–he parks at the top and walks down, except in the winter when their access road is a bobsled run and utterly impassible.  Then he leaves the package at the post office, which makes the postmistress frantic because they’re not supposed to do that and what if she gets inspected etc., but there’s nothing to be done about it.

Because of the nature of the road and the ice in the winter, they are often housebound for weeks.  Several years ago when Dad was still healthy he slipped coming down it and broke three ribs.  My mom broke her ankle on it.  My dad broke his wrist on it.

The power goes out frequently.  Since Dad has been losing his balance and falling a lot, I pitched a fit about the kerosene lamps they used to put around everywhere when they were younger, and they finally caved in and got a generator, which has made life easier in that area.

I moved here in a panic, in the winter of 2010-11, when there was storm after storm and they were completely snowed in.  My mother was putting on ice cleats and crawling up the hill to gather firewood.  My dad tried to help her and slipped on the ice and got another of the three concussions he racked up that winter.

I had been calling all the neighbors to please go and check on them, since if anyone asks my mother if she needs help she will say no, whether she does  or not.  Please, please, walk down there and make sure they’re all right and have what they need.  Since they only have one neighbor, I didn’t have many to call, and he never did go down there.  So I packed up my house in Jerusalem and three weeks later was on a plane to East Bumfuck.

I had a hard time getting there because it had just snowed three feet, so I rented the biggest SUV I could find and put the fucker in four wheel drive with the towing gear on and managed to get down into “the hole,” as the UPS drivers call it.  They were in pretty sad shape, and mighty glad to see me.  I had brought groceries and eight gallons of spring water, since the electricity was out and they didn’t have the generator yet.

Well, that was two and a half years ago, and the winters since then have been mild, and my dad’s dementia seems to have stabilized.  And now is the time to start talking about the fact that East Bumfuck is no longer an appropriate place for them to live.  My mother has a million reasons why they can’t move, which I will not enumerate here.  None of them is insurmountable.

Then comes the question, where will they move to?  Their first thought is to move to the nearest small city, which is a lovely artsy place with all the amenities and museums and theatres and lovely architecture.  I remind my mother that Dad is not going to get better, and she is not going to be able to handle him herself for much longer, since she is no spring chicken.

“Well if we move to Hip City, what will you do?”

“I will go home to Jerusalem.  I miss my home.

“But this is your home!”

“No, mother, this is YOUR home.  My home is Jerusalem, and my soul cries for her every day, all the time.”

Her mouth twists with disgust.  I get triggered.

Anger starts to brew.  What does she expect me to do, spend the rest of my life taking care of her?  Dad won’t be around much longer, although his own father lingered in a pitiable state till the age of 91.

I get hold of myself.  “I’ve sent for a packet from Lovely Hillside Retirement Community, where you can live independently until you need more help.”  She is a geriatric social worker and knows exactly what I mean, and knows the place.

“We can’t afford it.”

“I believe you can.”  I outline the plan.

“But what will you do?”

“I am going back to Jerusalem, and will visit frequently.”

Silence.

It’s obvious that HER plan for me is to be the caregiver, so that she can live the way she wants, with no regard to my life, my needs, my health…

Anger starts to brew.  I will not go into the childhood abuse issues that started coming up, because I don’t want to go there again.

Anger brewed into rage.  I live in a separate building, so there was no chance of confrontation, thank G-d.  Rage filled me, overcame me, and every time the sonovabitchin’ trains across the river blew their infernal horns, I was screaming with them.

I started feeling exhausted.  My exercise tolerance was for shit.  I started having these vague, vapory headaches, and I am not a “headache person.”

My blood pressure has been creeping up in recent months, to 130’s over 80’s, which is not good for a person who usually hangs out in the 120/60 range.  I felt so weird that I bought one of those home BP monitors:  150/100!  Fuck, I’m gonna die, and it’s all because I feel trapped by my guilt at not being able to fulfill my idea of filial piety without ruining my not-so-good health and sabotaging my future, which I hope will contain a home and a partner.  I went to my internist, and now have yet another pill to take twice daily.

At this point, my plan is to get them into someplace appropriate for their now and future needs, which is going to be a shrek in itself, since their house is a fine art museum which will have to be turned into money in order for them to afford the new place.  The property will be sold, so that means no inheritance at all for me because they failed to plan for retirement.

And they planned to use me as an unpaid caregiver, room and board included of course, with my social security for pin money.  But now I’ve come and thrown a monkey-wrench into the works, by coming to the realization that I deserve to have a life.  They also deserve to have a life, a pleasant and comfortable life.  But I’m a person too, and I sure don’t plan to live out the best years I’ve got left caring for people who made my whole life hell, and would continue to do so, if I let them.