Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It was a Stroke

Just 20 hours after I swore off writing, here I am:  back again.  And most of you show-offs predicted this would happen.  Why?  Probably because you've been there before.  Someone gives you a bad review, or they yell at your cat, or whiz on your car tire, and suddenly, you've given up the ghost; decided it wasn't worth it.  Those were expensive tires!

I often watched my mother behave in this way--and am sometimes convinced that this is where I honestly learned it (you know:  nature vs. nurture)--when something didn't go as she expected or someone didn't like what she did.  She was also an artist.  She was an amazing writer, and had wonderful potential, but her abilities were cut short too soon from a stroke in December, 2002.  Before that, she was a wood-carver.  She made beautiful wooden sculptures that she sold at fairs and craft bazaars.  And all during that time, she sang.  She had dreams of becoming a country-western singer since the time her mother flatly told her she was too ugly to become a dancer--a Rockette, specifically.  I guess it's true what they say:  families are good at handing down the love.  I've never heard the family say, but I suppose my own great-grandmother had a hand in creating the monster that resided in my grandmother.  She probably squashed her dreams, too.

All while growing up, well, from the time they discovered I was a musical and artistic prodigy, I've been at odds with my mother.  At age 10 when I learned this truth about myself, is roughly when the trouble began.  She never supported anything I did.  In fact, it was always her first instinct to simply force me to live in the real world.  "I'm only doing this for your own good.  Get in there, put the oil paints down, change your clothes, and meet me back in the yard so we can weed the garden.  You can't live inside your head all the time."

Oh yeah?  Trust me:  my passengers in here like me better than anyone out there.  And it's easier to make friends.

But I digress.

I spent a lot of time growing up fighting for, and defending my desire to work as an artist.  And another portion of my time fighting with my mother.  It wasn't until I was out of the house and on my own for many years that I began to understand the nature of her behaviour.  In a word?  The big green monster.  In four words?  The big green monster.  Jealousy.  Allow me to put on my armchair psychologist hat for a moment.  When children are denied the basics of survival while growing up, they tend to become very competitive adults, and unfortunately, daughters are not out-of-bounds.  She just didn't know how to support me like I needed.  Once I realised this, I let her off the hook, after being angry at her for so long.  I finally let it go, and began to feel empathy for her.  I began to understand that it wasn't an inherent hatred of me that caused her to become threatened.  It was an automatic response that she neither understood, nor could control.

About six-months before her stroke, however, there was one day when I sat down with her to talk.  I saw that she was a very changed person, but I couldn't understand the change.  She explained to me that she suddenly awoke one morning and realised she had been blaming the entire world for her bad choices; she had been angry that she had left too many regrets in her life, and she was now on a new path:  she vowed to never again live her life of middle-age with any regrets.  When I pressed her for details about what this meant, she informed me that her one, golden dream had been to become a singer, so she had already formed a rehearsal band and had set a gig date for early December.  I was amazed!  I couldn't believe this was the same, whiny, self-deprecating woman that had raised me.  She was so full of confidence and joy.  I'd never seen a look of real joy on my mother's face like that except the day when Luke and Laura got married from General Hospital.

So then what happened, Carla?  Well hang on, I'm getting to it.

On December 4, 2002, my sister woke me at 4:30 on a Monday morning to tell me mum had suffered a stroke.  It wasn't until weeks later upon questioning my dad, that I found out that on Friday night of the previous weekend, she was sitting at her computer in the afternoon, and was complaining of numbness on her right side and a slight headache, but she didn't worry about it.  She was only 58, why should she?  She went to band rehearsal that night as usual, with the headache.  By Saturday night, she still had the headache, but was stoked enough to play the show, and she was so high from it that she barely noticed the headache, continuing numbness and now the slight drag to her right foot.  Then on Sunday after her adrenaline levels returned to normal and the pain of the headache really set in, she had my dad take her to hospital, where they wanted to do an MRI, but my mother, having the sensibility of a cow, told them no, just give her the usual shot of Demerol to calm the migraine.

That was at 10:00.  At 11, she kissed my dad good-night, went to bed, and when he went to bed at 1, she was sitting on the edge of the bed, unable to speak and looking through him.  He called my sister, a registered nurse, who called the ambulance for him.  When they got her back to hospital, they began administering the blood-thinners, but you only have a 2-hour window from the time of the first symptoms to administer them for any hope of reversal.  She'd been suffering with the first signs of the blockage for 3 days.

When I spoke to the doctor that morning, he told me 75% of her left brain lobe was fried.  She was in for a long road of therapy.

So.  Long story short, how is she today?  Still not great.  She can speak a little, but can she still sing?  Like nobody's business.  In fact, since the stroke hit her primary language center, it affected her speech.  But somehow, she can sing on beat and in pitch, better than she can string together two words to form a sentence.  That's my mum--always doing it her way.  And visiting that farm is a regular sitcom, what, with my dad's grunts and whistles and mum's clicks and hand-gestures.  They seem to have found a creative way to communicate.

And who's now my biggest fan?  Yup.  My mum.  But not just a fan, a supporter, too, which is what I never had before.

So now that my crisis has passed and I've learned something from it, I can move on.  One of the two manuscripts on which I've been working, is a dark comedy about the relationship with my mum, both pre- and post-stroke.  Hey--might as well put this crap in my head to good use somewhere, right?

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