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.

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?