My mother turned 72 this week. I should be happier about that than I am.

My mother has Alzheimer’s. Every day, she vehemently denies that there’s anything wrong with her. “I’m better than I was,” she always says on the phone. It’s a lie; she’s getting worse, not better. Watching her rapid decline after the death of my sister five years ago has been difficult for me. I don’t do well with situations that I cannot fix, and God has made it very clear that I am absolutely powerless against my mother’s illness.

Powerless against my mother? That’s the tip of a very large iceberg.

Suffice it to say, Geneva and I have never had a mother-daughter relationship. What we have at best is a painfully bad rendition of a façade. Geneva loves to perform for an audience, and she needs a stooge to humiliate and degrade in order to get an audience reaction. For many years, that stooge was me. If both of us are in a room together, Geneva will use up all the air around us to be the center of the universe–and the tension level between us jumps off the scale.

Even in the throes of dementia, Geneva is still able to do this, in full awareness that it bugs the snot out of me. It makes her happy. She makes very deliberate attempts to get a rise out of me. My discomfort makes her giggle like a schoolgirl.

I don’t know how to feel about that. I can forgive 47 years of abuse and betrayal that she’s put me through, and I would love to forget it, but I can’t. I also cannot pity her; I don’t have it in me. I’ll tell you what I do pity: that Geneva and I will never have the mother-daughter relationship that we should have had. I pity that it was never worth it to her to even try.

These days, I can only love her from a distance. I stay in touch on special occasions—by phone. The above picture was taken on Mother’s Day, and I bit a very big bullet to go see her. I hadn’t seen her since way before my surgery—in fact, I never told her about my condition. Yes, she used that very rare visit to pick on me and the man she now lives with. When she called him “retarded”, expecting everyone in the room to laugh with her, I had to leave.

I called her on her birthday. I sent her a printout of the above picture. She loved it. The man she lives with said that she’d been carrying it around all day. The only coherent part of our “conversation” was when she said that getting old “isn’t so bad”. I had to look at the phone; Geneva is so vain, she’s lied about MY age. Through her babblings and repetitions, I remember saying, “At least you’re still here, Mom.” “At least I’m still here.” I went numb when she said it…because I’m having a hard time considering that a good thing.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

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