Thursday, January 03, 2008

Discovery delusions

My mother finally sent that box of things from my childhood, things that surprised me when I went to visit my father before he died, because they actually made me feel kind of happy, I mean that's what surprised me: a few stuffed animals -- five or six mice, a pig from when I was really really young so young that I think I chewed parts of it off, a big hippo; seashells that I collected; minerals from my grandmother Rose, like that dioptase I always picture when I picture green; high school and junior high yearbooks; maybe something else. My mother sent the box a few weeks ago, but for some reason it hasn't arrived -- I ask her to check the address, but now she can't find it, she says I haven't transferred all my 2007 addresses into my 2008 book yet -- I hope something didn't happen, that stuff is very nostalgic, to me and to you, it was hard for me to give that away.

She's talking about Henry the hippo, the stuffed animal that made me smile like a little kid, maybe because Henry's big enough to hold and not rotting away like some of the older animals. But, after my father died, my mother decided to sleep with Henry the hippo, she kept saying I can't bear to part with him, he keeps me company. It's amazing the way an abusive parent can wharp and shift the creepiness to suit the moment, even if it's just for their own self-comfort -- my mother couldn't bear to part with a stuffed animal from my childhood, because it was keeping her company in bed. I remember saying that my mother should get her own stuffed animal, there were plenty of options, but she kept saying none of them are as cute as Henry, they don't have as much personality.

Meanwhile, Rose is in the hospital -- she's 90 now, and doesn't eat anything -- when I was there, mostly she ate chocolate candies, which is symbolic in its own way because Rose makes collages out of the metallic wrappers. The collages are gorgeous, layers of color and texture glued together and the light refracts and reflects as the pattern shifts and repeats at the same time. I wonder if Rose doesn't eat because then she has more energy to go in the studio and paint, a little sugar on an empty stomach will go a long way.

For a while I didn't know if I wanted any of Rose’s art because it might just remind me of the ways in which she's abandoned me. Growing up, she was the only person in my immediate family who I believed I could truly look up to -- she revelled in the visual language of someone infatuated with the possibilities of personal creation, I mean time spent with her was time spent dreaming -- she was always stubborn, too, but years later when I decided to leave college, she stunned me when she said that if she could do it all over again, then she would have finished college instead of becoming an artist. She lied like that in order to preserve what she actually believed in more than visual splendor: respectability at any cost, certainly that's only one way that her legacy shaped my father's abuse.

But back to the present, apparently Rose got so nauseous that she stopped eating or drinking for two days altogether, and could barely walk or speak. I ask her what she's doing in the hospital, she says I'm playing tic-tac-toe. I say do they have a nicer set than yours? She has a beautiful one, handcrafted metal x’s and o’s that sit on a metal tray with nine square slots. I want to say that at the hospital they play tic-tac-toe with people's lives, but I don't think that would be appropriate.

I say what happened? She says I had a stomach virus and I couldn't eat, I'm eating here. I say the food must be delicious, but I don't think she hears me -- she wants me to know that she got those collages framed, they're waiting at the house unless my mother took them, she already told my mother to send them, which is funny because my mother mentioned the collages too, but she said I don't know if Rose wants me to send them, or if someone else is sending them.

I forgot to mention that Rose decided to copyright the process of making the candy wrapper collages, she likes to say that she's the first one to think of those candy wrappers, sometimes artists believe in these kinds of discovery delusions. I guess the collages I asked for aren't officially considered candy wrappers -- by my grandmother, that is – she’s the official, in this case. They’re mostly white with tiny colored windows, they're small so I thought I could start with them and see how they look and if I like them then maybe I'll ask for something larger too, there’s this white series of paintings where each square is its own bounded motion, those are my favorites.

Usually, there’s some point in any conversation with my mother where I stop speaking, I suddenly feel sad and hopeless and unable to say anything. This time it's when my mother asks me if I've heard of Lyrica, or another medication that’s supposed to cure fibromyalgia, and whether I've tried any drugs for my sinuses. It's when she's not hearing me, she doesn't want to hear she wants to solve, anything except what I've asked her for -- today she even has a number for a disability lawyer, I mean she gave me that number a few weeks ago but she wants to know whether I've called. She wants to know if someone else will take care of me.


grantatee said...

im glad you got that box of mementos from your past. i hope to see your hippo, if you feel like sharing.

love you,

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

But wait, it's not here yet -- it's lost in the mail, so far... but when it arrives, I'll show you -- it's just that I'll get all teary-eyed like a little kid, actually I get that way any time I see stuffed animals I think are cute...

Love --