Chapter 77: The Wall

I’ve posted a lot of amusing posts in the past.  And I have a few more lined up to come…But this isn’t one of them.  This one is a little more reflective.

To put it kindly, my Mother is entering the twilight of her life…and it’s a journey for my sister and I to deal with this….and to deal with each other.

I now feel the need to reflect on my Mother, who she was and who she became, and question how we all got here..  I need to understand things….I always have to have a little time and distance for reflection…Lisa, my sister, is just damn the torpedos, full speed ahead…

My Mother, Lou,  is a character on this blog, but she is more than a character…she is real.    And I’ve tried to make her as real here as possible.  I’ve been as honest as possible in telling her story, as it’s a part of mine, as I look back to our shared past….

I also “talked” to my sister this week.  I’ve tried, out of respect to her wishes, to minimize her presence on this blog.  That’s hard when you share parts of journey and see that journey in different ways…

Also, “talking” to my sister means text messaging.  She doesn’t answer her phone or meet for lunch, like I would prefer.  Instead she has to have the distance one achieves through text messaging.  I’m not sure she would actually answer her phone if Jesus Christ called to chat…

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a time and a place for texting.  It’s for reminders or “meet me here’s” or “pick up a loaf of bread”.  It’s not for in-depth conversations.  She sees texting differently. It seems to give her a wall of control- a little more distance.

And this has made me more and more aware of the fact that we all have walls- that we build, for many reasons, or that just grow over time…

And there is an insurmountable wall between my sister and I.  One of different levels of education and life experience, one of different personalities, and one of different tools needed to survive and get through life.

A wall of one of you building your life in one place and the other one walling off their life in that same place…

That’s the thing my family has always been very good at:  putting up walls.  We suture things and close things off.  Especially if it might be painful…

I look at our pictures, as we have gotten older,  and see The Wall.   The distance.

It’s interesting, I’ve recently noticed on Facebook neither my sister nor I usually photographs as totally open, relaxed people.  There are things going on behind the eyes that say:  “I’m not totally in this moment…I’m watching, I’m thinking, I’m careful.  People are watching…”

I think that may be because we were both raised to be “presentational”.  To present a certain image to the outside world and keep the secrets inside.  Neither of us looks totally “real” in candid photos.  We hold back…

We have walls of many different kinds and often built on layers of fear…

Fear of people knowing us too well and maybe not liking us….Fear or not really caring if they don’t….Fear of being too honest…Fear of how to reconcile the past with who we are now and how that will impact our lives.

Posed photos are a different story as we knew what image Olan Mills or the professional  photographer wanted us to project and we delivered….

That’s the price of growing up at 338 Lansbury Drive in Danville, Virginia.  Lansbury Drive was all about public vs private faces and we learned to hide the messy parts behind closed doors.  That’s one of the reasons I still hate to go to that house…

But it’s a different time now…We are both struggling, in very different ways, with my Mother’s decline.  We are very different people. And we aren’t doing real well at relating to each other….but we manage.

And I swore I would keep some dignity and privacy and not blog on this….


My Mother is in the final stages of Vascular Dementia.  It’s not pretty.  My sister and I are reacting in very different ways….

Lisa is all in the middle of it and posting almost all the details on Facebook.  That’s not my style.  I try to go on with my life and do what I can-leave as much as possible to the professionals…

I try to maintain that wall of privacy.  Of projecting that all is well and hiding the unpleasant parts of my life.  I learned that on Lansbury Drive….

But, as I have said before, it’s hard to blog and be private. I just try to avoid being too “Jerry Springer.”  And, for some reason, the blog seems more private than Facebook.

I mean, I know untold strangers may see this, but it’s different, somehow, than conversing with friends on Facebook…There is a certain distance or objectivity.

Both of which I’ve always been exceedingly good at….

That said, the past is never too far from the present for me…I was a history major.

I look at my Mother now and am deeply saddened. I hide that with witticisms and detached amusement.  I go on…

Also, I tend to kill people off early…I deal with loss far in advance of reality so I can get through the ceremonies of loss with as much dignity as possible.  I can’t just jump into it all.  I have to have time….

To me, we lost my Mother when she lost her mind and her personality.  We are left with caring for the shell…

And I am aware of the many phases in her life and I embrace them, but I needed time to prepare for the next one.  I deal well with change but only if it isn’t sudden…

And I’m just enough older than my sister to remember my Mother in different ways and at a different time in her life….and I will always have a need to see things in that context.

I remember, and have blogged, on my Mother as a young woman.  Pretty and full of fire.  Climbing to get ahead.  I haven’t said much about how she eventually gave in and gave up….

Instead of rebelling against her mill town background, she eventually embraced it…

Somewhere around age 40, in 1972, a big part of her just gave up.  She knew she wasn’t going to advance socially or be as wealthy as she had hoped.  She knew she was going to live her life in Temple Terrace, a nice middle class neighborhood, in a ranch house.  She gave up her dream of a center-hall colonial house and clothes from the best stores….She gave up and hid behind a wall of disappointment that she created.

She started to live vicariously through my sister….and never thought they might want different things  from life…..

That’s when the woman I knew first started to pass….I was there for the fiery, younger years when she was full of life and ambition.  Before she gave up.  My sister missed most of that….

I was also there when she still told stories over drinks with their friends and talked about her hopes for her own future- and I remembered it all….

But then, she started shrinking her world.  She was never really interested in the larger world anyway, but she really became focused on controlling her own little world and shutting out the greater world.  She didn’t want to travel anywhere farther than Myrtle Beach.

She became more obsessed with small-town slights and small town status.  She became resentful of those who did better and contemptuous of those who saw themselves as “her betters.”

She was quick to remind me, who was still trying to grow and get ahead in life, that I was not one of the anointed ones….

I’ll always remember her telling me, when I was going to see a college friend in Mobile, “It’s dangerous to travel so far.  You should just stay here…”

I think our disconnect was that I was still willing to face the danger and travel a lot farther than Mobile….I think that was the day I said my first goodbye.

In later years, I would call her and tell her I was going to London or Paris or New York or South Africa and her response was always the same: “That’s dangerous. You really shouldn’t do that.  Be careful.  You should just stay home.  Call me to let me know you are safe.”

Safety became her paramount concern…

Like most Southern boys, I was raised to put my Mother on a pedestal.  It was hard to realize she was real, flawed and very human.  Part of me has never forgiven her  for stepping off that pedestal, for giving up and becoming someone other than who I thought she was those first few years….be the image true or false.

The big wall came up when I told her I was Gay and she chased me all over the house having a classic, Southern hissy fit….I had to put up a wall to survive and be happy.  I had to distance myself from her….

But, when I was young, she could be magical- appearing in a cloud of Elizabeth Arden “Blue Grass” Cologne on her way out the door to a function with my Father.  Dark haired and dangling earrings with flashing eyes in a Belk-Leggetts copy of a copy of a copy of a Chanel.

I remember her singing me to sleep, as a child,  with her version of “Summertime”…

“Your Daddy’s rich, and your momma’s good-looking….”

She never felt the need to learn all the other verses….and it never occurred to her it was sung by a black woman in the ghetto…..

It took me years to deal with the psychological impacts and remnants of this subliminal messaging…..

My Mother wanted to see life through an MGM lens in Technicolor from her living room sofa.  And I will always be grateful to her for giving me my love of the American Musical Theatre….but I was always more prepared for the gritty Warner Brothers realism.

But she walled off the rest of the world and reality…

Maybe that is why it’s easier, in some ways, for my sister.  She fought and clawed her way, woman to woman, through life with my Mother.  She saw the real Lou much more readily than I did….They were always equals who somehow knew the rules of engagement better than I.

I put up a wall and walked away…

But, I was blessed and cursed to know Lou in her youthful prime…while she was still on that pedestal behind that glass wall….

When she could sometimes still be all “Moonlight and Magnolias” magic to a little boy in a little ranch house in a little town in Southern Virginia.

Before she gave up and hid behind the wall of disappointment and resentment…

Frankly, I can’t deal well with the deluded old woman she has become. The woman who no longer knows who I am when I visit…It may be residual damage from visiting my Father’s Mother in the State Mental Hospital when I was a very small child.  See the earlier blog….

I only deal with crazy when it’s amusing….or from behind a wall.

Too much familial realism is too much for me….

I remember the old battles too well….

You see, I have my own wall.

I’ve always had it, always known it and many people have observed it.

But, I like my wall.  I don’t let too many people behind it with me…That may be, arguably,  why social media is good for me.

I need some distance, too.  I need that wall…

I don’t use texting to create it….

I blog from behind it….

But I watch, I hear and I remember…

And I tell the stories of who we used to be….

But I will always do my duty to the present and I will always care….

But, only from behind that wall….

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7 Responses to Chapter 77: The Wall

  1. Pingback: New Post up on My Southern Gothic Life | Lost in the 21st Century

  2. vicki knopfler says:

    This is absolutely wonderful.

  3. Nita says:

    It was only after I finished reading this that I realized I was holding my breath. This was so powerful.

  4. suburbohemian says:

    At the risk of being presumptuous, I think I know pretty much how you feel about the need for walls and distance. This really speaks to me. Thank you.

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