Thursday, January 03, 2013

Stumbling Towards Enlightenment a.k.a. The Universal Chokehold

This month has been a strange one for me, as on top of what the holidaze bring with their expectations (no matter how what you tell yourself about having none) I turned 40 a few days before Christmas. I'm still not quite sure how to feel about that, it's just a number to be sure, but it is the half-way number of life in many ways -- although I'd always categorized "middle-aged" as like, you know, 60 or something, a balding man in a Porsche with his penis issues -- not me, at 40, with plenty of hair, driving the sensible Toyota Yaris with my ovaries really shriveling now, struggling to make sense of how we are all supposed to keep going in a world that often makes no sense.

And indeed, the world has made little sense to me these last few weeks, from where I'm supposed to put my feelings about being 40 and all it brings up -- marriage, babies, owning a house, really committing to a color scheme in the living room, does this mean I need to learn how to garden? ditto fancy Asian dishes with lemongrass and curry?, understanding there has to be as yet uncovered more interesting ways to prepare chicken, realizing that life is often repetitive, dull and boring, yet finding comfort in that most days, reconciling that days spent alone can be lovely or they can be terrifying, ditto days spent with other people -- all of that. Not to mention how to keep being a writer and the impending death of my mom.

This past Sunday, all of the above made me want desperately to be anyone but myself, to crawl outside of my consciousness, my bones and skin in a way that I could be reborn as someone else. Someone simpler, less effected, someone a bit dead behind the eyes. I could feel this useless blackness overtaking me, and I tried to stave it off - I went for a very long run in the Northern California sunshine, I tried to take in the beauty of a low flying Pelican, a flock of baby geese. Yet when I got back home, what I encountered simply enraged me beyond proportion. There was my sweet, darling boyfriend, Matt. Sleeping. Peacefully snoring with football on in the background. The football that had been on since 9 am and would be on for the rest of the day. Have I mentioned that I really hate football?

At any rate, I could have killed him. Smothered him with a pillow and been done with it. The fact that he didn't psychically sense my mood, wake up and comfort me, while somehow magically reversing the brain tumor that is erasing my mother bit by bit, well, I thought -- fuck that guy. You can imagine how the rest of the day went. I had to get out of the house and away from any good size pillows and kitchen knives. But none of it helped. Not even after watching the inspirational Argo by myself later that afternoon, with its themes of good people rising up against the bad and the impressive nature of Ben Affleck's abs, which we are given a very nice glimpse of, ditto his deep, caring, brown eyes, did I feel any better. Matt, to his credit, did what he could, which was a lot.

Everything I'd been fighting against this month came to the surface on Sunday, in all it's ugly messiness. Mainly, it's the simple fact that since my visit home in early December, there is a heaviness about the size and weight of a small child that has taken up residence in my chest. It is blob of sadness, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, rage and terror. It has to do mostly with my mom being trapped in a bed for the last six months, without autonomy, without language and now, officially, without the ability to read. If you knew my mother, you would understand fully how devastating this is. Reading, in so many ways, is who she is - her endless curiosity for the world, her compassion, her intelligence, her insight, her spiritually, her essence. Reading saved her life as a kid, let her know there was somewhere else she belonged. It helped her leave a marriage that was no longer working. It gave her permission to raise my sister and I differently than the way she was raised. It was also her last real connection to the outside world, a world outside her room, something that kept her entertained in these last 3 1/2 years when everything else she loved to do has been slowly taken away. It was everything.

I realize now she has been pantomiming reading for months, not faking it for anyone's benefit, but struggling, trying in vain to grasp this or that sentence each time something new was put in front of her. I'm sure she thought each time, today will be different, today will be the day that I can read again. And then, nothing.  I imagine the inside of her brain to look something like the bookstore scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- she is standing there, helpless and scrambling, watching the words on the books' spine disappear, whitewashed to nothingness, to white, to grey, to black. She has managed to communicate some of her sadness about this, getting out the phrase, "Hard to watch." At first, we thought she meant Jim having to take care of her for so long, how tired he is, how helpless she feels. But after I dug a little further and asked her about it, I think what she means is that it's hard to be aware of all she has lost and what she's continuing to lose. To remember the life you had, the person you where. To know that you have read all your life, and what it means now that you can't. What this feels like to her, I cannot know, but to imagine it for 30 seconds devastates me.

All I've asked for these last few months is for her to die before this happened, that is, before she could no longer read. For whomever is in charge to let her leave this world with that one thing intact. But no. And so, I struggle to understand why she is still here. I struggle to see the point in a life that has nearly been entirely snuffed out, yet goes on. Hence, the terrible child in my chest that I cannot integrate into something I understand, transform into anything resembling light or good. And so I push against it, endlessly. The only way I can fully describe how I feel is to show you all a drawing from a book my sister and I read more than a few times when she was sick. We were usually very, very stoned when we did, and in those moments, we felt we understood all the mysteries of the universe. It's a little tiny book, called "Stumbling Towards Enlightenment: An Illustrated Crisis Companion."

So here I am, floating above myself, doing a lot of this:

Part of my angst comes from the fact that I thought I'd come to grips with letting go of what is happening to my mom, but I'm learning there is no way to anticipate these two key things: what will happen next or how I will feel about that next thing that happens. It just keeps coming and changing and while I know it's useless to both rage and fight against it, I have to right now, at least for awhile.

Here is another stroke of absurd naivete: I thought if I proclaimed myself surrendered, that would be that.

Ha. Instead, it is like eating an elephant, one shriveled grey piece of flesh at a time.

I have no pithy wisdom here, I have no answers, I am stuck in the phase below, one I know I will grow out of when the terrible child goes on vacation for a bit, and leaves me breathing a bit more easily. When and how are further behind, however, so I rage and I write and I wait.


williwell said...

Hi Abby,

This is a terrible stage, the slow, frozen-in-time waiting, hoping, hating.. My mom died four weeks ago after slowly losing everything that defined her, including finally her dignity. And yet she held on against all reason, and we waited with that heavy brick in our chests. Now there's the relief mixed with loss, and the promise of finally getting passed it to the next reality. Hang in there.

Bill Wells

Belinda Graham said...

Oh God Abby, this is so sad and so beautifully written. Anyone who has a a personal loss can relate to these words. Amazing how much knowledge you have, so much wisdom to articulate the devastation of the loss you are both experiencing.