MY MOTHER MY CHILD
The meadows were purring in tune with my mind, occupied in recognising the perfumes of the night. How alive was I!
The sun finally bowed into the sky on fire, my body crouched under a tea-tree, a tear of joy tickled my nose- “ I exist” I cried out.” Today I am free. A bright new day." In the distance, the humming of the ocean.
“Mary dear, wake up.” I sit up in my bed, what a shock, to realise it has been just a lovely dream. My mother calls me again, from under my bedroom window. I don’t feel like facing her, not yet, so I stay quiet. “Mary dear, there is water everywhere.” “I am coming”, I yell and my day begins. She must have forgotten to turn off one of the taps again. She is always soaking something and I am always washing her things.
I am sad to see her deteriorate day after day. I feel guilty at times for not always being patient and understanding, but at times it is all too much. Mind you, she still has many good moments, when life appears full of fun and excitement, like the day before yesterday. A small plane was circling above our home and mother, dressed in her nightie, over which she then put a long dress and a large shawl, was madly waving at the pilot. You see, she is fascinated by pilots, wants to meet one ! She once told me that because a pilot knows how to keep these big and heavy birds in the air by touching the right buttons, he would surely know how to make her happy, with the right touch!
You have to agree this is a very clever deduction.
“You know, I really would appreciate if you put an ad in the paper and find me a pilot”, she told me. “Well, then I will. Should he speak your language, since you cannot understand English?” She smiled like a naughty little girl and shook her head: “It is not essential that we talk. Just to be happy together, in each other’s warmth.” “Sex??” I teased her. “No way; tenderness, my dear, tenderness! Your father did not even know the meaning of this word”. Poor father. He loved her so much, but never knew how to make her feel his love. “O.K. let us write it up then, you can help me”.
“Write what up?” The magic is gone, the moment forgotten, the pilot forgotten.
Tears come; she looks at me and I see fear in her eyes: “My God, how terrible it is to forget all the time.” I try to reassure her that the important memories are there, about her homeland, and her children and grandchildren. Her face brightens: “Let us find some photos, shall we?” we enter the long memory lane.
“Listen to this one: On a clear winter day I hugged a tree on a mountain-top and his long arms lifted me into his crown so close to the clouds I could hear the raindrops laughing…do you like it?” Serene now, sitting on the balcony, listening to my poetry and watching the photos of her baby grand child. Mother dear, I wish I could stop the time; I wish you could be young and healthy again.
But our lives are all on borrowed time, and chains and wires strangle your brain, and all I can do is use my poetry to ease your pain…
And I know, if I were a little cell in the corridors of your brain, this is what I would see and hear and feel: ‘I am afraid of the monster in my head. The other me. It is horrible to be like this. One part of me wants to have a shower and get dressed, the other part stays dirty and sleeps in the same dress for days. The monster in me destroys my self-esteem, my hope, and my dreams. My daughter Mary looks at me at times like I am just a nobody. My son, well, I am sure he is ashamed of me now. I am forever misplacing money and glasses and dentures. I am scared, so scared, of having to go into a home. I hate the monster in my head! Is my life over? I have not even begun to live.
I have no memories of anything really nice except having the children, especially my son. If I could only be near him, with him…all the young men remind me of him, that’s why I touch them all and try to hug them, but they don’t like this. What’s wrong with people, why don’t they like being caressed and embraced?! My daughter Mary tells me we don’t touch strangers in the street or in a shop, I don’t see why not? My daughter does not understand…I wander why her husband left her? Flames lick at me, flames in my brain; I am scared…nobody understands me. My daughter tells me not to worry, as long as I know who I am and as long as I recognise her and my other children, all is well she says. Which indicates that one day, as my illness progresses, I will not know them.
What horror, not to know the ones that are most dear to my heart. When my little grand son comes, he fills the house with a bubbling laughter, the perfume of youth and health. In my head, there is a storm, a wind, and it shows in my eyes, and the little one is scared of me; “Babi don’t touch !”, he scolds me if I want to embrace him.
Two dark lakes are my eyes, and he hides away, afraid of this grand other that behaves like a mad woman at times, forgets to get dressed, eats one lunch after another and cannot even tell him a nice story. I am bursting with happiness, when my son and his son are visiting; I am bleeding with loneliness, when they leave. If only I could live with them…”
“Mother, what are you thinking of?” My mum is far, far away, I can see the drifting smile, I know she is remembering something distant, something we once shared, maybe? We were never very close…I left home at 15, and lived in so many different countries, running away from a sad childhood. NEVER did I once envisaged caring for my aged parents, NEVER did I once consider capable myself of so much love and compassion towards them…but God helped me to change.
I now understand my mother’s life, back then, and her endless monologues. If one could die of loneliness, she would have died a hundred times.
“On the dark side of the moon I can see little men dancing. The evening is mild, the scent of mint geranium intoxicates me, gin and tonic in my hand, an unfinished letter in my lap. The village is drifting to sleep, daughter dear, I close my eyes and see you reading my letter, on the bright side of the moon. Why do you have to be so different? Why did you have to rebel? I really think that you are but a reincarnation of myself even though I am still alive, or, JUST! My life could have been like yours, had I not been too silly, too married, too old too soon. Help me! Last time you came for a holiday to your homeland I really hoped, I nearly believed that you were close enough to feel my fear, my sorrow, and my abandon. I felt like a sheep, lost from my troop, following your father, looking like a de-sexed cockatoo, the two of us swallowing the tears and shaking your hand.
We did not kiss or hug in our family, did we?! You took your suitcase upstairs and came down for a few words and some supper. We never really talked, there were no bridges between our worlds. Was there never a time in your life when you wanted to know me? And what is there of me to know now?” My life has been an acclivity, all I needed was to survive my own abandonment.
When mum left me at the age of six. Came back into my life here and there, a woman lost to depression and alcohol. And now, after all these years, like a little spider in her brain I feel with her, I read her thoughts. She has fallen asleep. I see a few tears on her cheeks, but do not know what memories hurt her now…I don’t really know her well.
I left home when I was very young and she came into my care when she was old and in between mother and daughter exchanged empty letters with basic news.
I remember telling her one day, many many years ago that “lies are cheap and tears are useless what really matters is reflected in the touch”, yet touch we did not. The veins on her hands are deep rivers of loneliness. Her monologue sometimes reminds me of the flapping wings of wild geese. Her tears are like the perfectly predictable spring showers. She swallows her sorrows as if they were chocolates.
If only I could chase her demons away.
Will she never comprehend how the sirens scream in my head when I see her so old, so lonely and so afraid? We could cry together, then… Although, I don’t even cry any more. When I write, I write about dementia, when I buy new books, they are on dementia, I am obsessed with it. I know there is no cure, but I cannot accept that this woman, who still adores being well dressed, wearing rings, and lipstick, this little naughty girl who loves to talk of men and love and sex, this mother of mine who never knew how to be a mother, who never knew how to give, only how to take, I cannot accept that one day, one day soon, she will become a shell.
In the song of the wind, surrounded by hundred of daily tasks, I am more unreachable than the sky. When have I last loved a man? When has a man last kissed my trembling lips? Oh, what silly thoughts, when you care for a parent with dementia, life has to wait.
I can but dream, of breakfast in bed, silence mingled with the humming of the ocean and our moans of pleasure; bush walks to the rocks where we intertwine with black cockatoos. Our bodies getting rounder, softer, my man and me, leathered faces, love sparkle in our eyes. How can I find him? When I don’t even have energy to live.
Where, why would I find him, when all I can think of is mother, dementia and surviving a day at the time. In fact, there may never be a man in my life again. Maybe after years of caring for a loved one, my need will be to find myself again, love myself once more.
“Can’t you hear me?”
“Sorry mum, I was thinking of something else.” “You are a good mother to me, you take such good care of me”.
I look at her in disbelief: she thinks I am her mother?
Well, why not; after all, our reversal of roles happened 7 years ago. “Shall we go for a beach walk?” “Yes, lets go and find some shells.” She takes my hand, full of trust, full of joy.
She knows she has nothing to fear.