They say as we age we don’t leave our younger selves behind, but that the selves that we were just have layers of years and experience added to the mix. So when the 60 something women I knew in my 20’s said, ‘you know I don’t feel 60- I still feel like I’m 20 inside’' they meant the 20 year old still lives on just in an older body and with a little more wisdom. I recall politely validating their observation nodding in agreement, yet callously thinking they should look in a mirror.
I know what they meant now. Karma got me for that thought.
But my memory seems to be different than many, in that there are slices of time that have disappeared. Not an early Alzheimer’s memory loss, these memories have been gone for a very long time.
From what I understand, dementia or Alzheimer’s start with your more immediate memory but your long term is unaffected for a while.
I have gone through the opposite in recollection. My memory loss in the now is a matter of forgetting where my glasses are or why I came into the kitchen- normal aging or just brain fog stuff. But I have lost years of my youth- and they were lost more than 30 years ago, and more slips away as time passes. It’s like having a drawing that is being erased in sections by the artist- or an old black and white photo losing its silver.
My father died when I was very young. He was a pilot, an extremely experienced pilot and expert in his field who mysteriously crashed into a mountain in West Virginia when I was only 6 years old. I was told that it was thought he must have had a heart attack in the air to have lost control. He was 38 years old. I remember his funeral, not fully understanding what it meant for him to be dead and I remember looking around and seeing everyone crying and feeling like I was supposed to be sad too. I have exactly 2 other memories of him. There must have been more. I can remember other things before his death, but then- maybe those aren't my own memories. Maybe those are someone else's who recalled times spent and told me about them.
I have three older sisters. So many times we have spent visiting from our scattered and states-apart-homes and they will sit and tell story after story of each other and things they did. Memories of us as children and we laugh so hard- the stop talking I'm going to pee my pants kind of laughter. Those moments are shared and added to by each of them-one correcting the other, sometimes igniting a sister squabble but always ending in laughter and that melancholy yearning for time lost .... and love.
I listen. I love stories-even now, in my chosen profession I am foremost a storyteller. So hearing stories by others is part of that process. We gather information, sort through the feelings inspired by others, ask questions on google when intrigued by a topic and mold our opinions or change ones we had based on what we now know. The stories of our lives, our history...our celebrations, achievements, losses and failures-both our own and that of our loved ones and not so loved ones, are what shapes us as individuals.
So I listen. Not purposely to adopt someone else's history, but to uncover my own. Because I know I was there. They confirm that with the occasional, 'remember that time when...?' No, I don't. But I want to know. Please tell me more-tell me what happened after that.
It's like when you read a book and the author has detailed all of the circumstances and surroundings, given you distinct personality traits of all of the characters-enough so that when an incident occurs you can presume the reactions based on what you have learned of them. And because I know who I am now, how I react to things as an adult, I just presume how I reacted then. But is that true? Am I the same or did I drastically change due to this trauma I experienced? Who might I have been?
When I don't remember, my sisters seem sad. They don't quite know how to respond and we move on to another story. Sometimes I find out things I should have been told years before and I have gotten angry or felt resentful. And in reflection, I don't even know if those were things I knew before and have lost, or if it was something they just assumed I knew. At first they were likely just trying to protect me, I am quite a bit separated in years from the three of them, and they may have felt they should wait until I was older, then it just slipped away.
I was the baby, And according to my sisters, our mom treated me that way. Not that she babied me, but she knew I was her last and kept me close. I do remember being a momma's girl. I missed her when I was away from her- not even able to spend the night with a friend without needing to be picked up in the middle of the night. My world revolved around her. I don't remember a single cross word from her, I wanted to always please her, and she was the source of all of life's information for me. In my eyes, she knew everything and I loved her so very much. I felt like I was connected to her.
My mother died 4 years after my father, when I was 10.The last two years of her life were spent in and out of the hospital. In those days, children weren't allowed to visit in the hospital rooms, as we were thought to be such a source of germs, so I really didn't see her much those last two years. I didn't find out until I was in my forties that she weighed 68 pounds when she died, as they didn't give her so much as a glucose drip due to her condition. Though cause of death was listed as septic shock, she died of starvation. She begged my sisters for food, they said. And why didn't they just give it to her-why?? (Yes, this was one of those tidbits of info I was resentful for not having been told.) Not that I could have done anything more than they could have. They were only teenagers, minding doctor's orders. But I couldn't have listened to her ask for just a bite of chicken- just to taste it and she would spit it right out. Maybe it was better I wasn't allowed in- I would have given her the chicken.
During those last two years I lived inside of TV shows. I assigned different sitcom stars to my family members and these became the company I kept. My mom was Lucille Ball, sweet and funny, and the center of my world. My oldest sister was Mary Tyler Moore, and my next oldest was Cathy on the Patty Duke show and my third sister was Sissy on Family Affair. It was a safe space that I created where nothing bad happened, or if it did it was all resolved in just 30 minutes.
The Christmas a year before my mother died, I remember my sisters and I were talking about the gift we were giving her together. There had been a time when we were all calling her for something we needed. Mom- can you do this? Mom, I need that. Mom-she took my sweater without asking. And our mom said that's enough, don't call me mom one more time! Dumfounded by this outburst, we asked what we should call her she said, "I don't know- call me Henry or Moo Cow, I just can't hear 'mom' one more time!" So our nickname for her was born and we bought her a stuffed cow and we were going to put 'Moo Cow Henry' on the wrapped package. I don't remember if we were talking about who owed who money for the gift or what, but I remember asking why we didn't just ask Santa to give it to her. My oldest sister snapped, 'because there is no Santa'. I guess not realizing that I still believed or feeling it was time I stopped. I know I had friends who had long since stopped believing and I simply had refused to listen to them. I was really upset, I know I cried. But I was angry too- because their telling me meant mom had lied to me. And I wasn't mad that she lied, but that they had uncovered it.
So this is what I mean.... I remember that conversation in detail (or at least my recollection of detail) and can see us all sitting by the Christmas tree....but I have spotty memories of that entire 4 years between my parents' deaths and very little before, and even less after until I was in college. My high school years are all but gone.
My mother's funeral was much different than my father's. Though somber, I remember people coming in and out all day. I was crying and feeling so sad. My sister closest to my age told me that I am being selfish. Our mom was with Dad now and no longer in pain, to stop crying. Great, alone now laced with guilt. My uncle joking with me and making me laugh to distract me. Then a classmate visiting and admonishing me for not crying-what was the matter with me, my mother died-why wasn't I crying. Well I did then! I began to feel like I was spiraling.. my sisters took me by the hand as it was our time to go say goodbye to mom at the open casket. It was like the hallway scene in the wizard of oz- walking arm in arm, leaning against each other with everyone watching us. When we got there- I screamed and fainted.
I think that was my moment. That was when my world changed forever. Oh, there have been many life-changing moments since, this was not even the most traumatic. But I left a little girl there. Sometimes in my visual thinker's head I see her kind of peeking around a wall, not sure if she is looking to see what she isn't a part of or hiding so I won't call her to the front to be included. It's like she lives on the set of Desilu studios, content to stay in that safe place created for self-preservation. But, when I aligned my family members with TV's iconic characters, I didn't create one for myself...so that little girl remains in the cocoon, but just watching.
Maybe that is why the memories fall away-because the person they happened to just fell away as well.
Of course I should have gone to therapy. But things weren't done then as they are now. We all went through things and came out on the other side. I actually did go to a therapist once. After having lived with two of my sisters, and finding in my 13 year old wisdom that they were too young to be saddled with a teen to raise, and I couldn't bear to go live with my grandparents who I felt never liked me, I went to live with my aunt (my father's sister) whose husband attempted to molest me repeatedly for several years, then going through 2 failed marriages and finally losing another relationship... I took a friends advice and went to see a local therapist. I even told her about the little girl peeking around the wall. She pronounced quite assuredly that I was suffering from abandonment and we began sessions where I was using a light board to explore regression therapy. After about 3-4 sessions, she told me she needed to go to Florida as her father had died the year before and they were having the unveiling which she explained to me. But would resume our sessions in two weeks. After a month went by and I received no scheduling call, I stopped by the office and was told the doctor was not returning, they must have missed my name when notifying patients. Sorry...did I want a referral?
Wait- my doctor who was treating me for abandonment was abandoning me?! No, thanks- I don't want a referral. I am sure there may have been someone else to have helped me sort it all out. But at the time I had two kids to take care of and a business to run, I really had no time anyway. And I have regretted that decision at times. Maybe things would have been different if I had taken time for me-maybe I would have been a better me.
Now that I am older, I think I wonder most how life would have been different if my sisters and I weren't scattered physically. If our parents had lived would we have stayed in a closer proximity to each other so our families could grow up together. So more than mourning the memories I have lost, I yearn for the ones that we didn't get to make. My sisters are closer to each other than I am to them and part of that is our age difference, part the distance I create by putting those I love at arms length to avoid hurt, but certainly a lot from the physical distance between us. I have nieces and nephews I have met only once, others not at all.
Maybe a lot of this is my age- for you know, whether you think you will do it or not, you assess things as the years go by. You look back and weigh the decisions you've made, the paths you chose. Some things you vow to correct or at least try to make better. Like, relationships...cross words...hurt feelings. And there is always time to do better for some things, for others you just have to let them go.
In the end, life-changing moments, traumas endured, achievements that opened doors, shortcomings that slammed them in our faces-all shaped who we are...who we were meant to be. I don't think there is a parent alive who would go back in time if they could to right that wrong, or finish college, or tell the guy how they really felt-if it meant they would not have the children we do. Everything happens for a reason, and while we don't always get to understand it at the time-it is what makes us whole.
So even though some of my puzzle pieces are missing- no matter what pieces were ripped away from me, I am still a whole person.