Sunday, February 27

my existence can't be kept in a box

Good news: after a week of a tube down mom's throat and a painstaking wait for lower intestinal noise, it's finally happened. The bowels have gurgled, bubbled, and, um, "relaxed" and proven that they recall how to work properly after a week off. Today, the tube came out. Mom's got a slow recovery ahead of her but the important thing is that she is recovering. I've spent time with her each day since my arrival last Tuesday and have had the joy of seeing her come back from the dead. And, believe me, last Tuesday she looked like shit.

(Lost? Find back story here.)

Tomorrow I have the rare opportunity to bond with her as only mothers and daughters - women - can do. I get to help her beautify herself and find the comforts therein.

And I get to love her in a way that she has never let me before - in a personal, intimate manner as a caretaker.

While my mom's been laid up in hospital, I've been looking after my 85 year-old legally blind step-dad: shuttling him where he needs to go (mainly to hospital and home), helping around the house, lending an ear and comfort as much as I can, and otherwise filling in for my mom. None of it has been too enjoyable - with the exception of the housework. (shock!)

And it's not because I'm not my mom. It's because I'm not my mom.

I have often wondered, even after years of healing on my end, why there has always appeared to be this great divide between my mother and I; why we can't exactly bond; why we can only be so close and why sometimes we feel so far removed from one another.

After a week of day-to-day dealing with my dad, however, I now see what's in that great divide.

Choices.

I could never make the choices she's made. I could never choose to live the way she chooses to live, to love the way she chooses to love, to lose so much of herself.

She does it all for him. Because that's all he'll allow her to be.

This is what I've known my entire life. (They married two days after my first birthday.) Now that I'm here at their home, at this age, years-removed from this experience, I can look at their relationship with much less subjectivity. I'm no longer part of his target.

I don't know how better to sum up my step-dad than to say he's like a five year-old except ten times louder and outside of my jurisdiction - and he's smart, charming, and loving until he's suddenly overwhelmingly not. He has numerous "rules" that he boxes himself in with; rules of how everyone should think, act, say, feel, or do anything. He has rules for everything. Any behavior outside of his "box" is just unthinkably appalling and very very wrong.

You can imagine the abrasiveness that I've been up against these last few days, especially since I've had years to create an existence outside the box. In the last seven days, I've gotten the opportunity to be immersed in and re-experience my childhood relationship with him from a completely different perspective. This time I have tools, weapons, protection. This time around, his box doesn't equal my existence.

Tools, weapons, whatever - having those makes this no more enjoyable. To an extent, one of the tools has been a fading memory - I had forgotten what it was like to live in a fishbowl and have all my actions questioned. This week had kind of just brought all that right back to the surface though... it's not been fun, the constant "I guess you just do things differently" said in a condescending (rather than a-ha!) tone. The persistent "are you sure?!" after I've clearly stated information. Or how about the "and when do you think you're going to do this?!" - "this" being anything that isn't waiting on him to tell me what to do. 

I can recall an array of moments growing up where I was warned by his escalating temper, voice, and presence that I was outside his box, that I wasn't following the rules. My mom, however, has adopted these rules and fit herself into his box - most likely to enable herself to co-exist with him, and, I'm certain, because that's what we do when we love someone, no matter how it constricts us. Walking on eggshells, sidestepping cowpies, and scrambling to put out my dad's raging fires has become what she does in everything that she does.

Case in point: from the ICU bed, writhing in pain, she's struggling to exert herself enough to tell me, visitors, the nurses, everyone that "he's jealous" if anyone else takes care of her, spends time with her, talks to her.

That. I can't do that. I can't live in that box.

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