I stood next to my mom in the cashier line at the run down Macys. She is 87, battling dementia, and growing weaker. There is only one cashier and she is moving slowly, so the line doesn’t really move. I tell my mom to move back a little from the people in front of us as Covid is raging through the community again. My mom doesn’t have the wherewithal to navigate social distancing and masking without me.
A little girl, probably 4 years old, is twirling around with her mother in front of us. My mom is watching her closely and can’t take her attention off her. My mom says to me “she’s going to be a dancer” and when I don’t acknowledge her familiar comment, she says to the little girl “you’re going to be a dancer” and the little girl looks uncomfortable and then away as my mom can’t take her gaze off her.
I suddenly feel shame pouring into my body as my mom attempts to give this unwanted attention to the little girl. I know I can’t stop her, so I begin to dissociate just a little to try to pass this moment. But the line seems to be taking an eternity.
Time passes as I ease back into the present and find that the line has moved just a little. The little girl is doing her best to entertain herself while her mom waits to buy her the outfits she picked out for her.
I honestly am not looking very closely at the little girl other than to admire the cool shoes she was wearing. In a slightly dissociated state, I find myself only minimally present in the line with my mom. I am doing my very best to tough out bringing my mom and her boyfriend to the mall to get her a Bra and him a belt.
I have been trying to set boundaries around being with my mom. She was recently verbally abusive toward me, which had stirred up a lot of parts within me. I was doing a good job seeing her less at her assisted living home. But, she had called one of my little parts the day before.
Calling a little part is not something I am used to her doing. This is a new thing she is doing to “motivate” me to do whatever it is she wants. She had called on a part that she used to sexually abuse when she would have one of her episodes of drunkenness and despair when my father would disappear on her.
My sweet little part knows that it is the present, but they are still stuck in thinking like an abused child who has to take care of their mom, no matter what.
My therapist did her best at trying to help the little one with the way they were thinking, but these beliefs are strong and certainly not going to be undone in a 50 minute therapy session. The little one was in a significant amount of distress over these boundaries and us not doing more of what my mom wants from us.
I gave in and pulled together my protector parts who know how to be around my mom without any emotion. I stood there without emotion as my mom is talking to me without me really being present. Then, I heard it. I heard the sick words that weren’t quite right for my only halfway present brain to keep pretending like everything was normal.
“Look, she is already acting like a woman.”
My brain swerved to come present. Sounding angry, I said “what are you talking about??” At the same time I knew exactly what she was trying to tell me. She says with a smiling gaze, “you didn’t see it, but she is doing things to let us know she is ready to be a woman.” I glance at the little girl and she is only sitting there playing like a 4 year old.
Shame fills my body. The lights seem to go out for me briefly as I next found myself shopping for pillows while she was still in line. I see that she is finally about to reach the cashier and I come over because my mom has trouble remembering how to do things, so I help her pay for her bra.
I look to the exit at the Macys and wonder if we can make it that many steps without something else happening. I just need to pull it together and pretend like we are a normal family. No one can tell the perverse sickness accompanying me. I try to push the shame far away as I know I need to get us out of there and get her back away from me.
To someone else, her comments may have seemed benign, but I knew better. I grew up with this woman sex trafficking and abusing me and others, so I knew these were the words of a perpetrator who forgot her moment in time and was experiencing pleasure imagining taking the little girl’s innocence from her.
It is so weird because in my mind I think I can’t go back to the past and understand the how and the why of my abuse. And then this woman with dementia shows back up in my life. And with this dementia comes parts of her who are from our past. They are ugly and familiar. They are twisting up my dissociative system something good.
I want to believe that because I survived this day and didn’t go off the rails that some good will come out of this. Maybe I am in fantasy, but I try to be hopeful. I mean, I have been so afraid of this woman my entire life, and now I can stand next to her and realize she is sick and twisted and can’t hurt me unless I let her. I am the adult. I have more power than her. I just need for all my parts to believe this new reality.
I didn’t see this coming, but my part “Wisdom” did. They told my therapist last week that maybe the ordeal I am going through with taking care of my abusive mom may be a blessing. Maybe so, but I am left feeling like I need to die a thousand deaths after today.