Over the last 20+ years my mother has been losing her mind… or perhaps more accurately her brain. In the early stages she would repeat herself endlessly, incessantly asking the same question. It was frankly annoying and frustrating… for me! I really wondered sometimes if she was just trying to get to me. It just didn’t seem possible she could forget things that quickly or often.
After that, for many years, she turned dark and paranoid and delusional. She always had an angry side but this phase was almost evil. I was scared. No, horrified. And frustrated as hell that I couldn’t make her make sense.
Then she began slipping into a place that sometimes showed her sweet side and her funny side. Although she would make jokes, the words didn’t necessarily make sense but she would smile. Using her own Martian language she would make references to her mother and father and then suddenly a coherent sentence would get thrown in, like, “I want to go home.”
I never knew if she meant the house in which she grew up in Brooklyn or planet Earth or perhaps she just wanted OUT. That phase made me the saddest and was the most confounding. She would recognize me for brief snippets of time, call me her “curly haired baby,” let me kiss her and then fade away. I tried so hard to connect, to entertain. I would stand on my head if I could to tease a response from her.
For the past three years or so she has been pretty much gone to me. Yet from time to time I can see something move across her face that looks like it might be a thought or a memory. The truth is I tend to invent my own stories, hoping that she has some sort of inner world that is more than just a blank screen. I’ve increasingly come to accept where she is and sometimes look at her like some science project.
Once I developed this sense of distance I felt I needed to create a body of work. Not so much to speak of my own emotions but to identify and depict what it is I observe sitting by the side of someone who I mostly love… who is mostly absent without leave.