Oh, my Grace I got no hidin’ place (2)

The psychiatrist is telling me a whole list of stuff that I’ll be expected to report to all concerned by email afterwards. Something about organic based secondary psychosis. Interesting words – especially as I thought she’d got dementia. Well, she has got dementia. This seems to be on top. What is an organic psychosis? Is it something like carrots grown without fertiliser, or bread made of special brown flour like you get in delicatessens? It’s something to do with her hearing loss and long-term refusal to wear her hearing aids. It’s something like people get in intensive care when they’ve been in there a long time. Solitary confinement would do the same, probably.

We need to get Mother’s ears re-tested, he says. New hearing aids might make all the difference. They need to be tried first.

How are we going to get her out of the house and to the hospital? Hit her over the head with a hefty vase and whisk her away whilst still unconscious? How are we going to keep any new hearing aids in her actual ears when she refuses to wear the ones she’s got, and keeps hiding them? How am I going to explain to her why she needs to wear the new hearing aids without reminding her that I can’t actually hear her chorus of sinister voices? She knows such a lot of blindingly obvious things – about the neighbours, about the people standing in the garden, and those who are coming from Gravesend to syphon off her water supply, about the poison in the tapwater – that I seem to be unaware of. She’s recently consigned me to the Dark Side for failing to agree, categorically, that all this stuff is real. If there’s such a place as Double Dark Side – that’s where I’ll be.

And the aids still won’t be in the ears.

It becomes like that dog in the cartoon. Think bubbles and Blah Blah Blah; one’s own name cropping up at intervals. I want to be at home with the Mogglies. I want right now to have already safely negotiated that scary bit of the A249 where you have to filter into a line thundering lorries at such an acute angle that you have to lean right forward to see in your wing mirror, then jam your foot on the accelerator and shoot out fast, usually to a chorus of horn-honking, and be back at home, picking up thirteen empty cat-dishes and refilling them with Felix, changing their water bowls. They will be getting hungry by now. Thought I’d be back much earlier. I miss them. It’s like thirteen elastic bands – after an hour or so away from them I start needing to get back.

Go home and cuddle a cat, my sister advised earlier in the week, at the conclusion of another multicoloured, stressful meeting, one in which we both took part. How does she happen to know that about me? How could she hit on that very thing, yet not know when she is hurting my feelings or making me angry? What is it about me that’s so rawly transparent to other people one minute, so impenetrably opaque the next?

The same way as Mum remembers (and of course tells the psychiatrist) that when she passes on I have my eye on one of the two miniature landscapes Ex once painted for her and my Dad. It’s perfectly true. I never, ever told her this yet somehow she remembers. You can be sitting there dry-eyed and she says Now I’ve made you cry. And she has – just not on the outside. How does she know things like that and yet not how to eat a piece of currant cake or to change that blasted blue jumper?

What’s that she’s got down it now? Some sort of dark orange sauce. Must be one of the microwave meals the carers have started doing for her now. Before, she only ate yoghurt and Ryvita. Those made less obvious marks.

Is there any way of persuading her to have a wash and change her clothes? I seem to be enquiring, suddenly. The roomful of multicoloured people all stop talking at once and stare at me.

That must have been a Wrong Thing. How was it Wrong this time? Probably they were talking about something else and I interrupted them apropos of nothing, which seems to be my speciality. I would have come in from left field somewhere – wherever I was – with this utter irrelevancy.

It’s just that – I hate her to be dirty, I hear myself saying. My voice is now fading into the wallpaper. They stare at me for yet another, separate moment, then continue with the multicoloured Blah, Blah, Blah from before my interruption. Really, I can’t bear that blue jumper. I imagine how such a filthy old thing would feel against your skin – sticky.

We believe in enablement rather that prescription, the social worker says, noticing I’m getting my Away With The Fairies atmosphere again. I look at her, anxiously. She decides she must be using words that are too long. She thinks for a moment. How to make it simpler for this Primary Carer…

We don’t believe in lecturing old people about changing their clothes, more encouraging them. Gently.

Encouraging? A month’s worth of my gentle encouragement has resulted in what? That same blue jumper. At what point will someone peel that disgusting old woolly item off my mother, throw it in the dustbin, preferably double-bagged in black plastic, encourage her into a warm bath – one with actual soap – and encourage a clean jumper onto her? Is that never going to happen?

I need to focus, but the more I try the less I can. Why won’t people write things down as they speak, or give me space to do so? How must their memories work if they can assimilate and store all this guff in real time? I am in a room full of aliens – all but one. I recognised him straight off. He sits at the back by the mirror on a low, cube-shaped footstool – something my mother would still refer to as a pouffe if she hadn’t lost the word. Watching, not saying much. Every now and then he catches my eye and smiles. What are they like, this lot? He’s saying.

My mother has landed in the conversation again, with the usual giant splash, drowning out all and sundry. I’ve got a very, very dry mouth, she shouts, over and over again, making a noise like trying to peel a giant tongue off the roof of a giant mouth. I hate it when she does that noise: it makes my flesh crawl. Shall we go and make a cup of tea? my lifeline asks her. Come on, let’s go to the kitchen. Show me how you make a cup of tea. And off they go together to the kitchen.

Without the heckling the conversation should be easier to follow, but somehow it isn’t. Now that my one and only piece of floating driftwood is gone, alien waters rise swiftly and cover my head.

  • When darkness fell, excitement kissed the crowd
  • And made them wild
  • In an atmosphere of freaky holiday
  • When the spotlight hit the boy
  • And the crowd began to cheer
  • He flew away
  • Oh, my Grace
  • I got no hidin’ place
  • Oh, my Grace
  • I got no hidin’ place
  • Oh, my Grace
  • I got no hidin’ place
  • Oh, my Grace
  • I got no hidin’ place
  • Oh, my Grace
  • I got no hidin’ place

Oh, my Grace I got no hidin’ place (1)

When you were a baby, my mother informs me, in front of a living-room full of multi-coloured doctors, nurses and psychiatrists, you’d sit on my lap – just like this – staring at me – and you wouldn’t let me cuddle you. You were a strange baby.

Maybe you were a strange baby too, I mutter. How do you know? I find myself apologising to the social worker. I’m sorry. I don’t remember anything much before I was three. I don’t know what I did.

Don’t worry, it’s the psychosis talking, says the social worker. But it isn’t. Mum’s been telling everybody that same thing for the last four hundred years.

How many years has Mother been deaf? one of them asks me. I have no idea. Approximately, then? He’s getting impatient, I can feel it in his voice. Other clients to see. Running behind schedule. But even approximately, I don’t know. I don’t remember time that way at all – don’t record dates. I know when things were quite recent, quite a long time ago or a very long time ago – mostly. I can sometimes locate events in time by the scenery. Which room of which house was I in? Was anyone else there with me? Was I still married then? Then I attempt to do the math, but that usually founders since I have no parameters, no start and finish dates to subtract from one another.

I remember how I felt on many different occasions. I remember pain, puzzlement or happiness. I see odd, associated items – an orange balloon trapped beneath a ceiling with polystyrene tiles; a stretch of rails going off into the distance on an icy winter’s day, and me thinking If you followed those rails far enough you might get to Canada; I remember bats in the dusk, moving up and down amongst the trees, like puppets on a string. I don’t remember whether something was five years ago, or ten. I don’t know whether something was a week ago or six. I remember, vividly, but I don’t remember like that. If I remembered like a proper person I wouldn’t be able to write a poem. I wouldn’t be able to dance the Argentine tango in my head and feel that sky-blue dress swirling against my long, suntanned legs, know how that man’s arms feel supporting my weight, smell the garlic on him – or know what the rain’s saying, or what it’s like to fly.

Recently I’ve been trying to ring fence my sense of self; trying to protect what’s left of me from the encroaching tide of her – extricate my inner ‘map’ – of a lifetime’s oddity and different brain-wiring which makes sense within itself – from the carnival scene in front of me: an old lady with a grown-out white perm and food stains all over a blue jumper she first donned a month ago (maybe two, maybe five) and refuses to change out of because “they” won’t let her; an old lady who wobbles when she stand ups and doesn’t wash the teacups properly so they’re all stained. A person who tells you her washing machine must be scrapped because she hasn’t switched it over to “drain” and refuses to believe it is fixed even though all the dirty water’s gone, because only one person can fix it, and that person hasn’t been here yet.

Someone who shouts a lot, and isn’t helping.

You’ve got this ear-whistle thing too, she reminds me. I remember. In ten years time they’ll be telling you about the mud on the windows and the slugs under the foundations. Then you’ll know. Then you’ll know what I’m telling you. But I know already, or at least can imagine. If only I didn’t, and couldn’t.

Why do you have to be so relentlessly depressing? I think. Can I ever have loved you? Why are you jabbing your horrible uncut fingernails at me? Why are you so exhausting? And why won’t you change that jumper? The carers are going to have to remove it with kitchen scissors, I think. Like the ambulancemen do with the trousers of people with broken legs. All the while, the multicoloured psychiatrists are talking. All the while Blah, Blah, Blah.

What is he saying? (Why don’t I care?) Why doesn’t he write it down, for God’s sake? Am I supposed to just know what a Respite Placement is? Is that a home? Is it a hospital? Is it, like, a foster family for mad old mummys?

What is wrong with my brain? Why can other people manage stuff like this? What must they be thinking of me? I did an intelligence test once – scored above average, if not exactly MENSA material. Now I can see them all looking me up and down: this whole professional team, expertly, instantly assessing my shabby, distracted old self and thinking to themselves – this is one of the Client’s Primary Carers? Why is it that being patronised instantly transforms you into a patronisable person?

In my head I am executing an Argentine tango between the pillars of some city promenade. I am that woman in the blue linen dress and my toes point and my hips swing, and my partner is a man with a slicked-back ponytail, co-respondent shoes and several days growth of stubble. I can hear that beautiful music. I can’t stop hearing it. I can’t stop dancing in my head. I can choose to wear his body, or hers. I can wear both of them at once and become the whole dance. The more I try to drag myself back to reality the louder the music becomes, the bluer the dress, the warmer the day, the more absorbing the steps. A turn here, an elegant backward dip …