Last week, whilst being not entirely gently mocked for tacking pictures of a family gathering–“oh right, like you’re really going to look at those again”–and restraining myself from whipping out the Alzheimer’s hammer on this woman who pretended to know how much memory mattered to me and mine, I realized that people who don’t feel the need to archive such events are either foolish or lucky. One can be read as the other.
Last month, suppressing a strangled sound on a bus full of people when an errant purse fumble brought up a work email I hadn’t yet read, where my boss jokingly signed a team stats email “Love, Mom,” I realized that despite having to listen to everyone’s unhelpful soliloquies about their own tangential experience with the disease, despite answering the same damn questions about my mom time after time (can you please get it though your head that she’s not going to get better, so stop acting shocked when I tell you the truth which is no?!); despite every phone call or conversation with my family ending on that dark twisting self-pitying note, part of me still crashes toward the memory of how she used to be, and the momentary blindnesses that let me think she might come back. It is this part of me that enrolled in this degree program, because my boss who reminds me painfully at times of my mother seems proud-ish of me for doing so, and then next year she’ll retire and I will once again be bereft of any older woman to give me any kind of praise. Which praise is what I have wanted, in some fashion, forever. From Mrs. O’Brien the assistant kindergarten teacher turning up her nose at the peppermint-scented stuffed animal I offered her, then at my crestfallen expression lying and saying she was just allergic; to attaching most of my self-worth to whether my 8th grade English teacher thought I was a good writer or not; to spending most of 48 hours in a kitchen trying to bake food that my MIL will respect, I have been trying with middling success to obtain the accolades of older women for most of my life. But I get that at some point there won’t be any older women left. I don’t know that I will ever know enough for that to be okay.
Tonight, flipping through photo albums at my in-laws’ and pointing to the year the happiness left my husband’s boyhood face in favor of self-doubt and the misery of puberty, I realized that the biggest barrier to my having children isn’t money or my fear of becoming like wrecked couples I’ve known. It’s not even the terror of having to widen my very narrow circle of love and vulnerability to include more people who will never ever leave it. It’s that no story, not from any novel or religious quackery or from my own heart even, can make plain enough how ugly the world can really be but how worth it the soldiering-on through the shitty parts is. You can cut as deep as you want and you won’t get there; you won’t make that message clear enough. It must be lived. And I couldn’t bear that learning curve. Watching some new creature I love learn; hoping they do in time. Before they do something they can’t take back. Watching the happiness die there in a face, for the years of shitty learning and trying and failing and disbelief and fervent devotion and shattering after shattering after shattering….people want you to think that’s beautiful, watching your kid evolve, but that only happens by them going through dark periods where you can cast no light.
And don’t you get it? The lights we throw for my mother grow dimmer and dimmer to her each day. One day she won’t be able to make them out at all. You think I want to watch some new person I am hopelessly bound to love go though that, even for a little while? I can’t commit to that kind of helplessness. Not again. I had no choice in the case of Alzheimer’s. I do on this.