Author Archives: elizabeth stokkebye

About elizabeth stokkebye

woman, wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, lover, painter, writer, performer, dancer, spirit, voice, host, community member, traveller, storyteller, scandinavian, american, world citizen

SHEEP

Sitting by the window, her gaze through the glass, landing among the sheep in the meadow, she says, “I wish I could be down there among the sheep. Don’t they look peaceful lying there under the oak tree? So many of them with their thick cuddly fur.”

I look at my mom as she enters her dream. Her dream of being protected and taken care of without a care in the world.

“I think I have counted around forty sheep, but they move about, so not quite sure,” she continues.

We are having brunch at Mission Ranch restaurant in Carmel, just the two of us. My children live in other cities far away and today they sent texts and videos to wish me Happy Mother’s Day. One got through on FaceTime. With families of their own, they are busy celebrating Mother’s Day. I’m happy for them.

I don’t think my mother ever thought that thought: that her children were busy with their own families. Always, she expected our attention, whether from her husband or from her children. And we all complied. Like now, sitting with her, looking at sheep.

She talks about the sheep but also about my father, who died thirteen years ago of cancer after too much booze and too many smokes. Lately, she tears up talking about him and wishes to join him.

I see the association now, between the sheep and my father: the island of safety, either among the sheep or with my father. Being straightforward, he practiced what he knew. He lived hard. My mother, cuddled and free to look pretty and perfect, was naive. She hated competition and did not want to live in the city among peer girlfriends and moved us to the country among farmers, where her status remained unchallenged. I get her life long strategy now: always placing herself where she felt superior.

We toast our glasses of sparkling wine and smile. And I see it: with me she’s back with my dad, enjoying life, admired and carefree. Right now, her reality, real reality, are her memories and when she lives her memories, she’s happy. Everything that takes place now, around us, is not her reality; that is a dream to her. I feel dizzy. We don’t share the same reality. I look out the window at the sheep. They do have long hair, so long that it’s hard to see their feet. Must be time for shearing.

I bring my mother her plate of salmon. And I get an omelet with mushrooms, bell peppers, onions and cheese for myself. I’m hungry. Afterward, I get some salmon, too.

“So, when are we leaving tomorrow?” my mother asks.

“You are not leaving tomorrow, mom, you are not leaving until a couple of weeks from now,” I smile.

The plan is that she’s going to visit my brother in North Carolina for a month, and he will be in California on a business trip and able to escort her to North Carolina. She was there at this time last year, too. But he will deal with yet another mom this time. More frail, sadder, more afraid.

I let her drink. All her life she’s been drinking with my dad. Martinis and wine for her, bourbon and ginger ale primarily for him but also, wine, beer, cognac, Bloody Mary’s and Manhattans. She likes to have wine when I have wine. I let her because she asks me and craves the liquid like me.

The next day she can’t get out of bed. Hangover. Migraine.

She calls me. She’s wondering about her sister-in-law who died of a brain tumor last year.

“But when they scanned my brain, it was okay,” she says.

“Yes, mom, you don’t have a brain tumor, you have a hangover!”

During the last ten years with my dad, she complained of migraines but I’m sure she had hangovers. With my mom inching closer to the grave I discover her and must absorb who she is and was. The Alzheimer’s reveals her true self. I don’t like her. Her wishes surface uninhibited, her cravings and her needs. My father had his hands full. I had my hands full. He as the provider of luxury and I as the caretaker of all her kids. No, I cannot engage in her suffering, that is my challenge…after all these years, I see through her, behind her mask of make-up, behind her dreams, behind her lies, and behind her fear.

I see our relationship as superficial and ‘pretty’ and not authentic or real, as I understand real. She fits into a box and she sees me fit into a box. I have exhausted all compassion and that is cruel but I feel it deeply. Hurt, I only want to protect myself.

“Let’s go outside and sit in the Adirondack chairs to be with the sheep. I’ll take pictures of them,” I suggest.

“Yes, good idea,” she smiles.

I collect her sweater and her purse and escort her outside.

Mystic Strings

THE concept of mystic strings has been with me for a while. String, strand, cord, rope, twine, and twist are expressing the idea of individual threads being roped or twisted together to form a stronger unity. Metaphorically, the idea suggests that an individual is part of a community, whether a family; a string of friends; a working professional group; a writer’s group; a sport’s team; a theater group, etc. – the list goes on and on – and this is the concept that interests me.

I do not write about heroes, nor do I write about gritty individuals; I write about humans as they live their lives, with and without each other and further, about the impact of their choices and actions. Every day is a struggle to be the individual you want to be; yet, we all do it, fight for the person we like. And in our fight, we experience love, loss, revenge, and redemption, invariably united with people in our lives that make up our piece of twine and therefore, messing with our sense of individuality.

This is the conflict I like to write about and to me, it is mysterious. Driven by conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious forces, our fight is not ours alone.

Nora, the woman who can…

NORA

Nora, the quintessential female character of breaking free – from the play A Doll’s House by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen – is a favorite of mine! That character of a Victorian wife at the end of the 19th century, leaving her husband and three children as she slams the door at the very end of the play, got under my skin and has lived there ever since I read about her in my Ibsen class at Cal Berkeley.

Parallel to her I was married with three children, only I was older, 40-something to her 20-something. However, I, too, had broken free: gone back to school to help me figure out who I really was. This character of independence (against all odds) and of free spirit (as shown through her dance in the play) is forever fascinating. She lives a hero’s journey; however, we do not get to know her new normal after her trials, as the story ends with the slamming of the door and therefore stops at her forthcoming pursuit of a new Nora.

This is the character I want to write about: the new Nora. What does she do? Where does she live? How will she cope? When will her past catch up with her? I will start developing her by answering these questions and surely, a story will come of it.