My father’s mother died of brain cancer when my father was seventeen, long before I came into existence. She was brilliant and bright and her brain died first. Cancer didn’t hack away at her slowly, it used a sledgehammer. This was not done by a Sculptor, or perhaps her Sculptor was outraged, frustrated by artists’ block.
My mother’s mother died after a near decade-long battle with Parkinson’s. She didn’t go fast like my other grandmother, her mind and body fell away from her, chip by chip, this time a patient Sculptor whittling her away into nothing. She told me the last several times I saw her how ready she was to die. She told me how the worst part was that she could no longer hold a book and read it because of the tremors, that she was condemned to watching television all day, every day, but reading was what she loved the most. On our last visit, I sat with her and read to her. The Sculptor had taken a lot, but not her joy for a beautiful story.
When I was 34, I showed the first signs of Multiple Sclerosis. It’s been six years now, and my mind’s Sculptor works more slowly. It chisels away a piece that leaves my left leg numb. It sandpapers over a spot that was meant to keep me balanced on my feet. The Sculptor turns and twirls and waves his arms in frustration because he doesn’t know what to do next, and then after a while, we just feel tired, the Sculptor and I, the symbiote and parasite. collapsing into exhaustion together for a while. I don’t pay you, I tell the Sculptor. You can stop. This is going to be a long, hard trip, after all. You don’t have a sledgehammer, my Sculptor, you don’t even have as strong a chisel as the other Sculptor in this tale.
And the doctors have gotten better at slowing you down. They inject me with poison every month just to hurt you, and I let them. The label says the poison can kill me, but it’s worth it to slow you down. I’ll take all of their poison to spite you. My brain is not your artistic canvas. As Lana del Rey would say, I ain’t no candle in the wind. Besides, you’re no artist, you’re a murderer. Like a serial killer from a film who poses his victims artfully to confound the police. But destruction isn’t art, pain isn’t beautiful, and fragility isn’t profound.
We have a long road ahead, my Sculptor, my murderer, my tormenter. Is it mercy for either of us to prolong this? I don’t know, but I’m not the sort of person who surrenders.
And neither do you! Lately you’d been taking a fine paring knife to the part of me that remembers things from moment to moment. It happens to everyone, of course,you walk into a room and forget why you’re there. It happens to me every time I go to another place to do something. Every single time. Sometimes all I have to do is stand up and I’ve already forgotten. I forget what I am saying halfway through a sentence.
I’ve gotten better at trying to play rewind in my brain, but it’s getting harder. The Sculptor never surrenders, stubbornly. The best I can do is slow down his progress. Hope that my new way of thinking through things to try to remember them will forge new pathways, ones the Sculptor hasn’t seen yet.
Why do you do this to us, you wicked would-be artists? The world already takes our bodies away from us as women, but the brain, the control, the inside, that was mine, that was my identity. Some women are beautiful and some women are hardworking and some women are smart and I was one of the smart ones. But I feel it, like gold dust slipping through my fingers, the dust of my precious mind that the Sculptor has ground down.
I have no daughters, I will never daughters, the next Sculptor will have to find someone else to take, because my line ends here. My inherited-but-not-really-inherited brain damage will stop with me and I will have no granddaughter to join our club, the club where the real part of us, the brain, the brain that is our essence that is our identity that gives us all our memories and our love and joy, is taken away from us the way the world wants to take everything from women.
It is my gift to my daughter and my granddaughter that they will never exist. I wish you happiness in your nonexistence. I wish you health. You’ll have skinny legs and none of your myelin will be eaten away and you won’t inherit my pains and sorrows.
Lest you think I blame my mother and grandmothers, I do not. They didn’t choose this, either. But my gift to the eggs in my ovaries is that they will die with me, and not in this world that chips away at every woman, even the ones whose brains work fine.