Sunday May 14, 2017
The second mother’s day without your mother, etiquette says you’re supposed to keep it to yourself. I was reminded yesterday that I was lucky to have my mother still alive for my 50th year. That’s true. But somehow, you know. It’s a wee bit hard to feel grateful for something you no longer have and which you miss quite a lot….
I’m typing and can’t avoid the fact that my hands look old. A series of tiny little cuts had been opening overnight on my hands and lower arms. After a series of visits to doctor and dermatologists over the last year, and the cat having been blamed by several (he isn’t the culprit), one dermatologist – who is probably 20 years younger than I – basically told me that my skin is pre-pre-cancerous – she said it’s like a field of sun damaged cells – and that sometimes it will spontaneously crack open. Wait – I’m leaking through my own skin? and it’s because of sun damage?. I avoided the sun my whole life, except for a couple of summers when I was 13 – 14, trying to get a tan and realizing after laying out for weeks, that it would never happen. Sun damage after decades of avoiding the sun.That’s like hearing you have second hand smoke damage when you never smoked and didn’t even live with a smoker except for that one year in college…
Also on this Mother’s day, I am sure I am developing quite the cataract. Something anyway making it a pain to see. I suppose I could wear my glasses when I type – but … I have allergies which bother one eye, so wearing contacts doesn’t work when it acts up, and my computer glasses are in the trunk.
I’m sitting here writing in a car, looking over grassy field, trees, bay, and the sounds of traffic like a constant ocean wave. All day long I drove around aimlessly with the cat in his case next to me, stopping several places where he could wander around, sit in the sun, smell and taste the grass. Now he’s napping in his soft carrier on the seat next to me. I had to force myself to get the laptop out and just write something down.
It’s been years since I really wrote anything other than a Facebook post. I had been writing daily, having gotten in the habit of doing “morning pages” (from Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way.”) But after the assault, I couldn’t face my own thoughts, because those thoughts were almost all jumbled trauma flashbacks and there was no way to sit with them long enough to string sentences together. It was the beginning of a series of major losses, not the least of which was the loss of perspective.
Being submerged under a sea of intrusive thoughts and images for years, one loses buoyancy… and then one day out of nowhere you exhale and go shooting up to the surface, and find all the lifeboats left long ago.
So you dive back under, closer to the glittering interface of sea and sky, but looking up from below… Now the thoughts that glide around me are mostly of my mother. Her face, her voice, the way she could still thread a needle when she needed to despite terribly arthritic hands. She was determined and stoic, although she wouldn’t turn down a sympathetic comment, she didn’t seek them out. Somewhere in her center she was pure steel, or maybe diamond – the pressures of life had made her inwardly strong, even as her body began to give way when she was in her 40s…
I have vague memories of her having some mysterious illness, and a woman who came in to watch us from time to time, cautioning us to be quiet so she could rest…. I believe it was a long time before they figured out she had a thyroid disorder. Back in the late 60s/early 70s, when I was a tot, thyroid disorders were difficult to diagnose…. It wasn’t much later before she complained of arthritis. I remember one night, she’d been shopping, somewhere, and had trudged back in zero degree weather from the bus stop some blocks away. She’d gotten mild frostbite on her knees, which gave them a sort of whitish crusty complexion.
She did all this trudging and hauling for us, in the years when she didn’t have a driver’s license. She’d let hers lapse when she was living in NYC as a young woman, after having been in some kind of accident which put her off driving. So when she decided she really needed to drive again, she had a house full of children. I remember the driving school car would come to the house to pick her up, and we’d all tease her. But she did it anyway, got her license, so that she could drive to the store, do errands, and — for one special summer, she got us into a country club. The one we could afford, and fit into, was over the river. I forget the name of it, since we only went that one summer. But she wanted us to have that experience, once, while growing up. A club with a pool open every day, a snack bar, tennis courts, a gym (untouched by us) and a sauna, which we all enjoyed.
And most days that summer, she’d load us into the car, with towels and tennis racquets and a cooler filled with sandwiches and snacks and off we’d go in the red Volkswagen square back that had belonged to her father, and we’d go to the Woodlawn club (I think). I remember she was convinced I was anorexic because I was concerned about my tummy (even as a skinny young girl, I never was slim-waisted) and wanted a more hourglass shape, so I eschewed salty snacks. I remember her in her bathing suit with a long sleeve shirt over it, tied at the waist, and an old tennis visor, holding down our little area on the grass above the pool.
On weekends, my Dad would sometimes come with us, a vision in bad late 1970s Dad-wear: an orange plaid fishing type hat, blue-ish striped office-type short sleeve shirt, red and black swim trunks, an unsightly combination topped off by blacks socks and his black office shoes (it was years before he spent the money on getting himself some sneakers, and that only because of late onset diabetes). The black shoes and socks were high contrast against his super ultra white legs, that only saw the sun 6 days a year; his legs only avoided blinding passers-by because of the thick black hair peppering the white limbs. It was not a good look, more suited to the public beach at Lake George than a slightly upper crust country club, and he truly stuck out like a sore thumb. I often wonder if she tried to outfit him in something more suitable, or just had given up on that by then.
… to be continued….