When I was in school we read Lord of the Flies. It was some considerable time ago, so please forgive me if I am sketchy on the details. It is a book about a group of school boys who are shipwrecked on an island with no adults to supervise them. At some point an airman lands on the island by parachute, but is injured and unable to look after himself. The boys have the intention to look after him, but they just kind of ………… forget. A willing, collective amnesia. The reader forgets too. They are too wrapped up in their own lives. Until eventually, nearing the climax of the book, his corpse is dragged across the island when wind catches his parachute and the boys think he is a ghost.
This is the image that keeps coming to me when I think of my parents. Mum is in a care home, Dad in a nursing home. I haven’t abandoned them by any means. I phone, I visit, I make sure the bills get paid and their house gets sold and my mother is kept in a constant supply of the revolting substance known as Cinzanno Bianco, or simply ‘booze’ in her vocabulary. But any time I forget about them for an hour or maybe even half a day, because I am living my life, the wave of guilt and fear comes to knock me down. I have forgotten to look after them. I have forgotten that I should be suffering too.
I took Mum to visit Dad in the nursing home. When we arrived she told me to unfasten her seat belt. I asked why she couldn’t do it for herself. She said she could, but she ‘Didn’t go through the agony of childbirth and having you, to do this for myself when you can do it for me.’ I am failing in the purpose for which I was produced. To care for my mother.
When I was a child I used to have repeated nightmares that I had bought a pet and forgotten to look after it so that it died of starvation. In my dream I would find it, dead, partially decomposed, maybe having tried to eat its way out of the cage I had put it in. Of course this had never happened. I had many pet rodents, and they dined on the finest pellets money could buy, lounged in hammocks and one even had its own pot plant after I discovered it enjoyed digging it up. Now I realise the dreams were about my mother, not about my pets. Every day when she was ill I would fear leaving her to go to school … and fear what I would come home to. I guess she didn’t know this was how I felt, because she said I cared more about the dog than I cared about her.
On days she was sick I would sit outside the bathroom door, barely breathing, listening for her. Scared in the silence, terrified by the crying, praying and vomiting, relieved if she coughed or blew her nose, because to my child’s brain, these seemed like normal noises. The noises of someone who wasn’t going to die.
I have never not been responsible for her and I’m tired. I have 34 messages on my answerphone – all of them her telling me to do something. She doesn’t even bother with hello anymore. As she is fond of saying ‘Why keep a dog and bark yourself?’ She laughs and tells people I’m like Anthony out of ‘The Royle Family’. I’m not laughing. It was only when I saw that no one else was laughing either that I began to think that maybe that isn’t how everyone lives.
Every time I see a carer portrayed on television just lately, they seem to be on the path to sainthood. Caring, compassionate, battling against all the odds for the person they love to have the best life possible. I want to see a program about someone else. The tired, resentful carer who fights with every fiber of their being not to tell their Mother to piss off on a daily basis. The carer who has considered doing a runner from their own lives just so they don’t have to endure the 6th phone call of the day from their Mother. The carer who when their Mother asks them what she did to deserve being treated this way, has a better answer than the one I do. I’d watch that.
Thanks to Book Club for reminding me to write x