Wednesday, April 15, 2009


[image: Improbable sunset]

Yesterday morning I dropped the coffee cream - the carton just slipped from my hand. Only a little cream spilled on the floor. This is the result of peripheral neuropathy, nerve damage in both feet and hands, which often occurs with kidney failure. But in the quietness of morning, I heard my father say accusingly, "Why'd you do that?"

Once a therapist tried to convince me it was my own voice in my head. Wrong. I don't own this voice, I don't think that way. It is the deeply engraved memory of things said a thousand times, the deep memory of being watched and criticized at every turn. Every action. When I was a child there was no escape. Now - he has been dead twelve years - there is still the voice. His monument. As for me, at least I can notice it and examine it.

"Why'd you do that?" as if I dropped it through some fault, some failure of attention. That was my father's take on life. He believed that one had an individual will that should be able to achieve anything, and certainly never make small mistakes, like dropping the cream. In his last years, after he experienced abdominal surgery, and found recovery very slow, found he couldn't do everything, this belief led to huge, embodied frustration, and the kind of violent talk he learned from Rush Limbaugh. I remember at the last, horrible Thanksgiving dinner at Cassie's house, him talking about "sand niggers with dishtowels on their heads." The rest of the family had this way of responding to excesses like this without demeaning him or arguing. My brother made some joking remark and burst out laughing, and everyone else laughed along. I suppose I just sat there straight-faced. I was not able to think that his growing racism and verbal violence ("Ah, shoot them all, mow them down") was funny. He didn't mean it to be.

I seem to have strayed far from what I want to talk about, but not really; I am learning how the rambling talk of the blog is really a kind of essay that includes the right brain. So the above informs the reader a little more clearly what my father was about, and how he dominated the family. After he died my sister went manic and talked like him, his sayings, his voice, for months. As for me, a slide show of memories began to run in my head, visual memories of a much worse abuse. Remembering sexual abuse after a death is not uncommon, since it is not safe to remember while the abuser is alive. Seems very strange; seemed strange to the psychiatrist I saw, who told me there was no documented case of repressed memory coming forward after fifty years. It did not occur to him to document me. Fortunately, I finally turned up a therapist who was deeply learned in working with this issue.

You can't rank it, what's worse, sexual abuse or the constant verbal abuse. They are intertwined. The verbal abuse was turned on me much more than my brother and sister; men often scapegoat the child they are abusing. And it's common to have a scapegoat in an alcoholic family, to target the child who is The Problem. It diverts attention from the real problem. It works for everyone but the scapegoat. Blame.

So yesterday I found myself nervous about going to the doctor. It was clear to me that it was related to my knowledge that I had really messed up, and not been compliant with his treatment guidelines. Too much else going on health-wise, a confusion of specialists and tests. I told Tom, "He won't be mad at me, he's not like that." I was afraid of this doctor, who has never been anything but pleasant and on the task. In the end, our psychology is simple - I was trained to be afraid of disappointing any male in the position of authority. Afraid of being blamed. Insight does not undo all that training.

I like the clinic, the atmosphere there - they actually help people. I was examined first by a doctor in training, who did an excellent exam of the muscle spasm in my back (yes, it's a muscle spasm, not a disc problem). He verified that the focus of pain is my ankle, as I burst into tears when he pressed on it, not something I usually do He went out and in a few minutes came back, with my musculo-skeletal doc.

He was entirely matter-of-fact, explained what he had hoped the boot would do, and why he had prescribed the walker. He asked if I could do an MRI, which I can as long as no contrast dyes are used. We talked about resting, really resting the ankle. You know, this means the dumbest things. Like right now it means not popping up to get a little more coffee, which I'd really like to do.

On the way home, we stopped at the church to pick up the walker that sits in the cloakroom. I was amazed at how it straightened me up, how it eased my limp. It alarms Tom that its brakes don't work. Today we are going to go fill the prescription, buy me a walker.

I get to relive what Tom went through six years ago when his post-polio syndrome weakened his leg muscles, so that he kept falling down. The clinic we went to in Boston gave him a Lofstrand, a type of crutch, and the difference was miraculous. Of course, he didn't want to use it. He was very reluctant to accept his "new normal." I didn't understand. I thought he could do better.

Now I am the one unconsciously resisting assistive devices. It's amazing what you can end up having in common. How we would be for each other in old age was not on our minds the summer night we sat on a hillside and watched the sun set and the moon rise.

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