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.

What. A. Day.

To most of you, having to be somewhere at 10 am might not seem like a crisis.  Far from it.  Many of you have “real jobs” and have to be there at 8, or even 7, in the morning.

I have never been a morning person.  If I’m up at 7, it’s because I’ve been working since 4 pm the day before.  I have always crafted my jobs that way.  Since I don’t sleep anyway, it works out for me.

But.  The “not sleeping anyway” part turned out to be part and parcel of my bipolar, so in the end it contributed to my professional downfall and eventual total disability.

Now I do sleep, thanks to the handful of drugs I take at bedtime.  And those drugs take at least 12 hours to wear off.

I have also developed a strict program of sleep hygiene.  I take my drugs at 9:30, am asleep by 11, and wake between 9:30 and 10 am.  Works for me.

But today I had to see the orthopedist about the crunching noise and pain in my right shoulder, due to the fall I took on September 9 in Israel.  The shoulder bit was part of the damage incurred in the fall that also gave me a nice concussion and a scar that runs from my elbow to my wrist.  Very nice.

So I managed to drag my sorry butt out of bed at 8, and got to the orthopod’s office right on time so I could wait another two hours during which I could have been asleep in my cozy bed.

Once again, I chose not to disclose my mental illness or medications on the intake form.  It has been my unfortunate experience that once the medical personnel see that one has a mental illness, they immediately assume that one is a drug-seeking crank.  So I have adopted the policy of disclosing on a need-to-know basis, and they didn’t need to know.  So much for abolishing stigma in the field of medicine.

The ortho examined my shoulder and of course cranked it in a way that caused me to say (actually scream) bad words, but judging by his non-reaction I guess he hears a lot of that.  He confirmed my impression that something is going “crunch” and “clunk” in there–never a good sign.  Then he proposed injecting it with steroid.  I proposed that we get an MRI before performing any interim treatment measures.  I hate to deprive him of an extra procedure charge to Medicare, but hey, I didn’t go to med school for nothing.  My motto is “first diagnosis–then treatment.”

So he good-naturedly signed me up for an MRI, to be carried out sometime in the next few days.  And he wrote me a script for some pain medication that is way, way too strong for me.  He was astonished when I asked for a specific med that is much less potent, and hesitated to write it for me because he thought it wouldn’t be strong enough.  I told him that if it wasn’t, I could always take a Tylenol with it.  So much for drug-seeking.

My next stop was the Subaru dealer.  Ever since my car was stolen and wrecked, careening into four other cars before running off the road, and despite the extensive repairs that had it in the shop for over a month, the steering has been squirrelly.

In the US, I live in a mountainous area.  Squirrelly steering is just not OK here.  In fact, it could mean the difference between staying nicely on the road and plunging down a rocky ravine.  So I took the car to the Subaru dealer where I bought it, on the advice of the insurance adjuster who has been allegedly supervising the resurrection of my 2011 Subaru.

The dealer’s mechanics also thought the steering was squirrelly, but they refused to fix it because they were not the ones that did the original work.  The shop that did the original work is a body shop 2 1/2 hours away, that deals in American cars, not Subarus.  Why the body shop was allowed to do the mechanical work (the entire front end was caved in in the wreck), I will never understand.

So I asked the service manager at Subaru to please call the insurance adjuster and tell him that they also thought the steering was squirrelly but that they refuse to fix it because somebody else did the original work.

The insurance adjuster called me and said that he saw no reason why they shouldn’t fix it, since they are a Subaru dealer and all this and that.  I told him I thought the same but since I seem to be powerless in this situation that I would let him deal with it, since he is the insurance adjuster and all this and that.

So now I am faced with a fair probability of needing surgical repair on my bum shoulder, and further surgery on my bum car.  Quite the pair, we are.

And just to sweeten the pot, I got a summons for jury duty.  What a day.

There’s A Naked Woman In Here!

My dear friends and followers, I admit that my recent posts have been heavy.  Chalk it up to January being World Anti-trafficking Month.  As you know, I take this to heart, being myself a survivor of homelessness, street life, and survival sex, which is a very low-pay form of prostitution.

So today I’m going to give y’all a break.  We’re going to talk about that summer in 1972 when all of us worked at various summer camps in and around Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  Wolfeboro scatters itself around the shores of Lake Winnepesaukee, a magnificent waterscape populated with countless tiny islands, and marshlands filled with grebes, herons, loons, Canada geese, and all manner of small creatures upon which the former feed.

And the camps surround the lake like a string of pearls.  There are private camps for the wealthy, many of which have been there since the 1800s, like the one where Sandy and Keith worked doing restoration construction on some of the older buildings that decrepitude was creeping up on.  And there are summer camps for children, rich, like the one Martha worked at.  And then there was Camp Urban Opportunity, where I worked.  It was run by some philanthropic foundation, with the purpose of getting ghetto children out of the ghetto for two weeks in the summer.

All four of us were students at Elite School of Visual Arts, a small independent art school, the brainchild of a group of survivors of the Bauhaus Movement who had fled the confines of New York City for the broad vistas of small town New England.  We four were chronic troublemakers even in this hyperliberal incubator, possibly because we all suffered from the combination of ADHD and too much marijuana.  But that’s another story.

It was pure coincidence that the four of us ended up in the same general vicinity that summer.  All of us had parents who were not pleased with our progress in some way or another, and for one reason or another we were disconnected from the familial money tit.  Therefore it was necessary to make our own money.

Martha had actually tried turning tricks, but as she was a very large woman (she once came to my Halloween party dressed as a mattress), her market niche was too small, so in desperation she turned to legal work instead, which was much more healthy although less lucrative, at the end of the day.  She worked at Camp Bambi, which catered to the horsey set, and even though no horse could handle Martha’s 300 pound frame, she held up the arts-and-crafts angle of the camp and was accepted as a Bohemian with her hand-made colorful flowing robes and long beaded earrings, her red-gold hair flowing loose down to the backs of her flesh-enfolded knees.

Sandy and Keith were both refugees from wealthy country club tennis families, and had learned the building trade as a means of rebellion and now worked together as restoration carpenters, doctoring New England’s ailing elderly buildings.  They had been hired by Camp Longago, a private family camp, to repair leaky roofs and combat the inevitable dilapidation wrought by time and weather.

My position had evolved because of my previous employment at the YWCA in a down-at-heel section of Boston, where I worked as a breakfast cook for the women who were fortunate to get a $15 double room, breakfast included.  I slung bacon and eggs, pancakes and sausage, from six to eight every morning, seven days a week.  I was allowed to eat the oatmeal if there was any left, and there was always some left.  “The Oatmeal Diet,” I called it.  I certainly lost weight on it.  If you ever want to lost weight, try it.  The problem was, I did not need to lose weight.

So when the notice came up on the YWCA bulletin board for a camp counsellor at the Y camp in Wolfeboro, I jumped on it.  I had a hard time getting out of the clutches of Ms. Hardass, my supervisor in the kitchen, simply because I was a good egg-slinger and showed up every day, but she finally consented to write me a letter of recommendation, and I nailed the job.

I had to make my own way up to Wolfeboro from Boston.  My other partners-in-crime came from other parts of New England:  Keith from Maine, Sandy from Cape Ann, Martha from Vermont.  We all hitch-hiked to our respective camps on Lake Winnepesaukee, and met up in Wolfeboro for one last brewski together before heading off to our summer fates.

My gig turned out to be much, much worse than the Y egg-slinging job.  From 6 till 8 I cooked breakfast for the little darlings.  Then from 9 till 10 I Washed. The. Fucking. Dishes.  Then I went to the arts-and-crafts room, where I attempted to interest the little pigs in jewelry making, modeling clay, watercolor painting, macrame, origami, everything except for the various forms of murder upon which I continually fantasized so as not to actually commit it.  At night I slept in one of the campers’ cabins along with eight of the little monsters.  I never got any sleep because, being thirteen years old, they were continually crawling out the windows in order to rendezvous for the purpose of fornication with the boys from the “brother” camp down the road.  Unfortunately, it was also part of my set of responsibilities to specifically prevent this, on pain of I-don’t-know-what if one of them turned up pregnant after camp.

I got one one half-day a week, and one weekend a month, off.  My weekends were generally occupied in recklessly climbing the peaks of the Presidential Range, alone, without regard to life or limb.  The worst that came of it was a sprained ankle that I got while running full out down Mount Madison in a terrifying lightning storm.  I ended up spending the night rolled up in a tarp next to the road, awaking covered with mud and leaches.  The kindly man who gave me a ride back to the camp shook his head and clucked all the way.

My half-days were my canoe days.  I would borrow a canoe from the camp and slide out into the lake, taking compass bearings on the various islands; there were so many islands, and they looked so much alike, that one could easily get lost and spend days trying to find open water again.  My favorite thing was to back into some back-water marsh and just sit and watch the life teaming around me.  My very favorite moment was when I had gone out very early in the morning, when the mist was thick on the lake, and was sitting still on the water listening to the loons calling, when a whole family of the loons I had been listening to paddled up to my boat, looked at me with their red eyes, and sailed off again, calling with their eerie looney voices to others of their kind.

We did not spend that entire summer in isolation.  Keith and Martha managed somehow, despite Martha’s bulk, to conceive a child in a canoe in the middle of the lake.  Martha’s family was not at all happy about that situation and tried to make Keith pay for it in one way or another; but Martha was extremely pleased with having a child, and paid her family back by removing herself from their circle and arranging things with Keith so that he could be a father to his child, but that Martha retained her independence, which suited both of them perfectly.

Sandy and I had been friends and lovers already for a long time.  We were friends all the time, and lovers when both of us were between other lovers.  It worked out perfectly.  So on a day when my afternoon off began a bit earlier that usual, I took a canoe and high-tailed it over to Sandy’s camp, where he was basically alone except for Keith, who was working on the other side of the camp that day.

Sandy and I got to fooling around, and since there was a camp mattress in the cabin he was working on, we consummated our mutual desire in a most satisfactory way.  Afterwards, Sandy went for a dunk in the lake to clean up a bit, and I puttered about, naked as a jaybird, getting some lunch together.

There was a knock at the door.  Damn, thought I, I must have accidentally locked Sandy out.  So I unlocked the door and opened it.  There stood, not Sandy, but the owner of the camp, who took one look at me and turned his back, muttering inaudibly.  Then he opened his mouth and hollered, in his New Hampshire accent, SANDY? SANDY!  THEY-AH’S A NAKED WOH-MAN IN HE-AH!