When Carolita Johnson became a live-in caretaker for her 87-year-old mother, reimagining this new life as a multi-year writing residency helped her make peace with a difficult living arrangement.

It so happened that my mother, nearly 87 and all alone in the house since my father’s death a year earlier, began making it clear to my brothers that because she was falling down a lot, and also because the house was haunted by my vengeful father playing loud music in the basement (with other miscellaneous spirits tramping through the house at all hours), she wanted someone to live with her.

It went without saying that it wasn’t going to be either of my brothers, not even the one who would have benefited most from living rent-free, and who had been the most devoted to her all his life. Even he, and I quote, “would rather be dead than move in with her.” Our other brother, having finally settled down after three decades of serial monogamy, wasn’t about to leave his long-desired life behind, though, had he been available… Well, let’s just say lucky for him and his partner, it’s a moot point.

I understood. My mother is a monster. By “monster,” please understand compulsively mean, and by “mean,” understand sadistic.

To give credit where it’s due, my brothers had already had to bear the five-year-long brunt of our father’s grueling decline into old age and death without my help, while I lived with my late husband upstate. As for our mother, who never had a nurturing bone in her body at the best of times, she was useless and apathetic by then. Also, while my poor brothers were accommodating our father’s growing needs and ungracious demands, I was frantically trying – and failing – to save my dying husband, after whose 2016 death I spent a good amount of time grieving and trying to claw back toward my life. I’d been in no shape to lend a hand. So, when it came to our mother’s care a few years later, it was as simple as now it was my turn.

She had not had my phone number or address for a good fourteen years, the first six of which were 100% contactless. Why? Her violent, manipulative, and destructive ways had been damaging even when not directed at me.

Read more in Oldster.

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