I actually said this to my mother today: “No Mom, you didn’t cause my eating disorder”, really, she didn’t. Last week, I made the mistake of telling my mother I was bulimic when I was younger. I didn’t mean to tell her. I knew if I did, it would turn out just like it did. And yet, when it happened, I was unable to stop myself.
A Little Backstory
For those of you who are new here, my mother is in a nursing home, she has been for 10 years. She experienced cerebral hypoxia when I was 4 years old, due to pneumonia. It resulted in severe brain damage with memory loss and physical disabilities. She has a horrible short term memory – think Dory in Finding Nemo, except not as funny. It actually can be funny at times, but mostly it’s just aggravating. Growing up my mother asked what time it was every five minutes, or she’d ask if I had done a chore that I’d completed when I got home from school, over and over again. In addition to the memory issues she also had physical disabilities – mainly difficulty walking, grasping things and anything having to do with coordination. You can read more about my mother’s disabilities here – My Mother has Dementia and it Sucks, and I Made My Mother Cry…Again.
I Am Not Carrie Fisher
Every since Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died, my mother has been obsessing on my book. Again for those of you who are new here, I wrote a book, a memoir actually, called Minnesota Nice. I have not published it yet, for a variety of reasons. The main one being that my mother asked me to wait until she had passed away before I publish. My father asked me the same thing except when he asked me I hadn’t written it yet. Anyway, my mother now confabulates our mother/daughter relationship with Carrie and Debbie’s. There are surprisingly many similarities between the two. Regardless, she has decided that I must publish my book so I can capitalize on the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Mom would have been an awesome blogger if she could type faster than two words a minute.
It is Confusing
I know, it’s confusing. What does my book have to do with my eating disorder? My memoir is about growing up in a fucked up home. My mom had her disabilities and my dad was gay, but shoved so far back in the closet only the family knew about it and we weren’t talking about it. Well, except my mother was, to me, when I was way to0 young to understand any of it. She mostly drank Manhattans, smoked Benson and Hedges cigarettes and cried to me how my father was out banging all the cabana boys at the gay bar. In addition to those concerns, I was a below average student in a school for above average children. Oh, and I was fat.
Even though my mother says she wants me to publish the book now, I don’t believe her. She has changed her mind about this for the last five years, or as long as she has known it existed. For the longest time she was convinced she wrote it and that Merv Griffin was going to turn it into a movie. According to my mother, Merv was a resident in her nursing home. For the record, he was not, he died in 2007, and as far as I know, never lived in Minnesota. Wow, this all sounds crazy! Anyway, she goes back and forth about me publishing it so I figure since I won’t be able to put the genie back in the bottle I’ll wait.
The reason I want to wait, is because there are a few things about my younger years that she doesn’t know about. The eating disorder was one of them, the very least troubling of them. She thinks I want to protect her from sharing the story of my parent’s marriage so publicly. I don’t, it was messed up, but there was a deep connection between them. And besides, it turns out everyone knew about my dad. Turns out he wasn’t very good at hiding things.
I was. I was very good at hiding my bulimia. So when my mother challenged me the other week – when she said she knew everything there was to know about me – I threw out my eating disorder to test the waters, so to speak.
I knew it was a mistake right away. I could see the words hanging there in front of me, practically, and yet I couldn’t pull them back.
Of course, her first response was that yes, she did know about it.
And suddenly I was 14 years old again and ready to go to battle with my mother.
“What do you mean you knew about it?” I asked, “why didn’t you do anything?”
She didn’t know, I know she didn’t know, but there I was ready to fight. My blood pressure rising and my fists clenching at my sides.
My mother would often cop to knowing something she did not know. Partly because of her memory loss. She couldn’t remember what she couldn’t remember so she often confabulated or just outright lied. It was about pride more than anything. She hated to admit she had any disability and she was needed to be in control of things.
That was last week. The visit ended and I didn’t think much of it, I just hoped she’d forget about it in a few minutes like most things.
Of course the big things she shoves into her long term memory as quickly as possible.
When I arrived this week all she wanted to do was talk about it.
It’s really old history to me. I haven’t been bulimic since the mid 90s. I don’t want to go down that memory lane. And yet, I opened this can of worms – so there I was.
No Mom, You Didn’t Cause My Eating Disorder
Mom had decided that she was the cause of my bulimia. She wasn’t, I don’t know how she made that leap, but she was sure it was her fault because she “ruined my life”, her words, not mine. I tried to convince my mother that she hadn’t caused my eating disorder and that she had in fact, not ruined my life. We have a very complicated mother/daughter relationship and a difficult history, but, I tried to explain, it was character building.
“If we didn’t have such a screwed up home, I wouldn’t have a book” I told her. “If you want to blame anyone for my eating disorder blame the school I went to, it was a pressure cooker and I wasn’t the only one there with an eating disorder, in fact it was quite common.”
She laughed at that, at first, and then she started crying again because she sent me to that “god awful” school, her words, not mine.
I didn’t want to tell my mother about my eating disorder because I didn’t want her to feel responsible – she wasn’t, but also because as a mother myself, I know how difficult it is to hear about your child’s pain and be unable to do anything about it. I’ve changed history for her in a really shitty way. She’s helpless to help because it isn’t an issue anymore.
As I left, she was smiling.
“Say hi to Carrie for me,” she said.