My parents refused to let me be at the hospital when my mother was scheduled to have extensive surgery on her spine.
“You’re busy,” my mother said.
“I don’t need you there,” my dad told me, almost annoyed that I would even ask.
Though I’m in my forties, they see me as just a kid, and my presence would be as big a pain in the ass as if I were still a toddler.
So I stayed away, as instructed, knowing that they’ve been doing this dysfunctional dance for 46 years, each of them feeding off the mad spins and dips of neediness, cruelty, and guilt.
I’m used to being drawn into and cut out of the dance as needed.
But, at long last, I’m realizing my role in this deranged dynamic and taking stock of the precious pieces of my life that transcend the dysfunctions of my childhood, which obviously have intruded into my adulthood.
My mother is the kind of person who will surprise me with offers of astonishing generosity and then accuse me of using her if I accept them.
She’ll drown me in love, but if I disagree with her over a paint color she’ll withdraw in silence like a chunk of broken cement.
The back surgery was the beginning of yet another long, twisted ordeal that was an ice pick to my sanity.
“No!” said she to entering a rehab center following the surgery (“I’m not goin’ to no nursing home!”). At home instead, she wandered about in the post-anesthesia delirium that I now know is common in the elderly. Falling flat on her back at the bottom of the stairs and rushed back to the hospital.
“She seems a little confused,” was the professional diagnosis.
As they wheeled her away on a gurney for a CT scan, her face and half her body bruised purple, she shouted back angrily, “I’m not in any pain!” as if to prove her resilience.
Another week later she orders dad to come get her. “I’ve had it! I’m goin’ home!”
This time another fall broke her hip.
Watching all of this go on, one terrible decision after another and both of them refusing to listen to my advice because I’m “the kid” and couldn’t possibly have any kind of knowledge that they don’t have – was like a magic wake-up call … things became so clear to me.
How is it possible that I’m just some stupid, silly, childish loser yet I’m the only one in this family who is happily married?
How is it possible that I have so many friends who love me so much but my parents don’t seem to like me?
I’m here as a fairly well-functioning adult, trying to be helpful and patient and having to watch them just. keep. doing. the same shit over and over and over for no better reason than that this is what they do.
How does an adult child extricate herself from that without abandoning these crazy people altogether?
How do you keep loving people who are really pretty unlovable?
I do what I can for them, cleaning and taking them meals – when they’ll let me.
But I know this isn’t going to end well. Sooner or later I’ll get that call, and I’m sure I’ll be devastated by the finality of things that can never be changed or saved.
At the same time, though, I’ve stopped seeing myself through my parents’ eyes.
I know, finally, that being their daughter doesn’t mean I have to be their dance partner.
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