Are You My Mother? Are You My Mother?
Bird "Were You at My Wedding?"

Soon after we moved in, I put out a bird bath and took pleasure in hanging out the laundry after long years of using a dryer.
      Ahh, yes, I am becoming my mother (after years of refusing to be like her); I recognize her in these simple, peaceful gratifications. She did the same at about this time of life.
      Remarkably, I am sixty. My youth happened to someone else, or so it sometimes seems. When I look in the mirror, I no longer see an accurate representation of the me that's inside. When did I lose that? Did it leave suddenly, or incrementally, so that only others would note? The face is tired and the expression not of my liking. I don't recognize it as one of mine--but there it is. It says, "You are old." I respond, "So?"
      My husband is old too. He is sixty six--distinguished with the silver locks that replaced the black. We retired and left the North for the benefits of the benign climate and the well-developed service industry in place in this, "the sunshine state."

Old is a dirty word here. Everyone is sporty and active and somewhat entitled. There's an expression here that's used a lot; "I've paid my dues." Which means, I take it, to be a position statement that seems to attempt to justify an attitude of having earned the respect that one now demands. The expectation is that all will be immaculate, ordered, and uncontaminated by nature running even a wee bit amuck. It is static, stable, and suffocating.
      I guess we're not old enough, because after a few months surrounded by manicured magnificence, "Silver-Locks" and I fled inland to a little town given to the production of cattle, oranges, and grapefruit. While "Silver" works, I fuss around the charmless yet strangely comfortable (or is it comforting?) cottage whose big windows afford me such satisfaction. Why, right now, there are three absurdly wonderful Sandhill Cranes (a type of whooping crane) strutting by. Sometimes they come to the window and stare in at me.
      My mother sees things looking in at her too. Little men with no bodies--just heads. My father explains for the umpteenth time that there's no one there, but she sees them anyways. One day my mother looked at me with an almost triumphant look on her face, and confided in me that she had a bird in her room. My father was in the bathroom, and so was unable to intervene on the behalf of reality. I had the distinct impression, anyway, that she had waited for him to absent himself before revealing her glorious secret to me. She trotted toward her room, beckoning me to follow. I did, vastly amused at her excitement. She pointed to a wall light fixture and said,"there-- it's in there!"

Since my parent's arrival in the assisted living arrangement one year ago, my mother has been described as "sweet." And she is--now.
      She has also been diagnosed as having Alzheimer's. Most portraits of this dread disease focus on the thievery of faculties and the loss of personality involved in this process. In my mother's case, I have to think if she has lost anything of importance, it is that group of demons she used to carry around. Emotionally labile and insecure all her life, she now enjoys quietude and a social appropriateness never before presented. Strange isn't it, that I am able to finally approach her without fear of some form of insinuation or intrusion. My father, forever saddled with and contributing to the poor functioning of my mother, continues in his caretaker role.
      In earlier years, he was perceived as having a difficult wife who drank too much. He drank as much, if not more, but lacked her dramatic flair, which deflected attention away from his own habits. Now they are looked upon as a charming old couple, struggling with his failing strength and her encroaching dementia.
      It's no longer fashionable to speak of Oedipal complexes but, as an only child, I had a good one! This was bolstered somewhat by the peculiar dynamics of the family. Since mother was "difficult," I increasingly was thrown into the position of substituting for her at social functions and as my father's confidante. It took years before I could realize that he was not the victim of my mother. It took yet a few more years before I could fathom his motives for encouraging her weaknesses.

The time has come where none of this, any longer, matters. I have reached finally the age of compassion and acceptance. It is sad, though, to see people old and dependent against their will. I feel bad for my father who finds himself trapped inside a body wearing down, but with a mind intact. My mother is faring better than her husband of 65 years. She is happy; she has her bird.
      And perhaps--just perhaps--she's as relieved to be rid of me as I am to be done with her as she was. It's true that at times she knows who I am, but there are those strange sudden moments when it's all too apparent that I could as well be one of those bodiless heads that she sees. It hits home the moment she comes out with one of her loo-loos like the question she once put to me;
      "Were you at my wedding?"
      The second prize goes to, "Is your mother still alive?"
       I answered "yes" to both questions.



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