Tuesday, 19 May 2009

one day you'll write about me

The other night, someone very close to me reminded me of a story I'd told her about Mum a while back.

Mum and I went through a rough patch in my 20s, as I first disappointed her by coming out as Gay and then by dropping out of University. Almost overnight, I turned from being the star pupil she could hold up as her achievement to a mortifying embarrassment and a source of family shame. Apart from one letter where she scolds me for bringing the threat of AIDS into her home and tells me that I'm "wrestling with devils on the edge of an abyss" I didn't hear from her for over a year and things were strained between us for many years afterward.

Mum was aware that I had ambitions to write. Indeed, as I struggled to define myself I found that writing aided me greatly as a meditative exercise, helping me distinguish feelings that I'd hitherto been unable to articulate, including feelings about my Parents. They were not curious people, however, and showed little interest in what I produced. I kept my poetry to myself, in the main.

However, in later years, whenever Mum found herself in the wrong on some issue, she would invariably try to distract me from her inability to apologise by saying:

"Some day you'll write about all this, won't you? You'll write about your terrible Mother."

And I would insist that I had no intention of doing so, that the events themselves were traumatic or tedious enough as they were, and why the hell would I want to experience them all over again by writing about them? To me, it seemed like Mum was accusing me of a betrayal, and that it was simultaneously somewhat arrogant of her to assume that she merited my efforts as a biographer. Most of all, I didn't like that she was implying that I could be vindictive in that way. I sincerely meant it when I said I'd never write about her.

Only now, it seems that I've made her my subject after all.

Life is one long joke at our expense.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

recycling remembering

Recently, within an hour of joining my local "freecycle" network I saw someone advertising a Dymo label machine which I gratefully picked up. I was at Mum's place yesterday, putting pictures on the walls and adding labels to each picture.

I didn't want to turn it into a quiz for her, so I resisted the urge to put her on the spot and ask, "Who is this?" about each picture, but I did note anything that she volunteered. True to the stereotype about memory and age, she had no clue about the pictures of her grandchildren, but identified her own Father right away. She pointed to a large portrait of her Husband and said that she liked that one of Dad, but then a few minutes later she asked me who he was and guessed it might be a picture of me. I understand her confusion in a way - I fill the function these days of being the provider, the closest family, the most important male figure in her life.

I'd also brought over all our family photo albums which I discovered last year locked away in a trunk and obviously forgotten about for a decade. I encouraged Mum to leaf through them. She was far more intent on demolishing some Turkish Delight I'd bought, but at my prompting she picked up the same album again and again, making the same comments about the same pictures. She didn't recognise herself in the photos from Japan, adamant that she had NEVER tinted her hair in her life so it couldn't POSSIBLY be her. I told her that photographs were great for showing us that all of us can forget the darnedest things.

I was pleased to see that when she DID find a picture that excited her she very much wanted to take the album down to the Lounge and show it to them all. Mum has found a new peer group, a new set of friends, a new family.

I waited around until dinnertime and, whilst Mum was eating a hearty meal, I took out the laser spirit-level, electric drill and plasterboard fixings from my bag and fixed a large Japanese screen above her bed. It's something that I've debated doing for a long while - the screen is ancient and painted on very fragile paper and there's a danger that it will be damaged here. But it's mostly out of reach of poking fingers above Mum's headboard and I feel I need to acknowledge her life with this little touch of exotic luxury. I want to proclaim that this is a person who has lived an unusual life and seen wonderful things.

And if it doesn't outlast her I won't be too upset: it's not something I've felt comfortable having on my own walls these past few years - it didn't feel "mine". If I am going to go off travelling later this year it makes more sense for Mum to enjoy the screen rather than it going into a storage facility.

And perhaps there was another motive behind my decision. By choice Mum has lived within bare walls for the last 10 years. After Dad died, she moved to a newly constructed apartment and got rid of so many family possessions, favouring bland modern furniture over items I'd grown up with, things that we had bought or had made for us whilst we were living overseas. I suspect that she chose this Care Home because it was brand new, too. I often wonder if Mum's memory might not have stuck around longer if she hadn't so willfully scrubbed these physical reminders from her vision. I hope I've done the right thing in trying to put some of the memories back on the walls around her.