I watched a biopic on Joan Crawford the other night on TCM. It was a conglomeration of interviews of co-workers, friends, and family members mashed together with some old footage and a faceless narrator making vague connections and awkward puns. What hit me about this show was the conflict between how she was represented by her peers and her children.
I think most people have read the book or seen the movie Mommie Dearest, but I had never seen Christina Crawford actually speak before. Some people say she made up or embellished parts of her story, but if she did, she's very convincing. She talked about how Joan wouldn't let her or her siblings keep their Christmas presents, or how they all had to scrub the floors over and over, or how she smacked them up for no reason. Compare this to how directors, actors, and friends spoke of her, as a woman who was very particular, maybe even harsh, but certainly no one worth reproaching.
The real crazy part was, towards the end, I noticed several of the interviewees mention that, even if Joan had been a terrible or abusive mother, it was sad that people only remembered her for that, and not her craft. But is it? Even if someone is the best ever at something, does that mean their inner monstrosities should be overlooked?
I'm not sure it matters either way, though, since I'm pretty sure one of the only people still watching Joan Crawford movies is my mother. We even have a Mommie Dearest joke in my family regarding wire hangers, but I never really understood it until a few years ago. Almost everything ends of a joke eventually, I guess.
During the brief period of time where I went to therapy, the therapist inquired as to whether or not I had ever been abused. My nervousness, my loathe of human physical contact, everything pointed, in her eyes, to some sinister actions of my parents long ago. I told her I hadn't been abused by anyone ever, which is true, but she didn't believe me. She kept pushing the issue, and that's why I don't go to therapy anymore.
My parents have always been so supportive, even if what I'm doing is giving up. When it got really bad last December (in about four months it will have been a year, how odd) I called my father and told him how I just didn't know anything anymore and he said it was okay. Then he came and got me. Then, when he saw how much worse things were than he thought they'd been, he said that was okay too and let me lay in a ball on his couch until I felt safe enough to uncurl. Without that person always saying it was okay back then, I have no idea if things would be as okay as they are right now.
But I am lucky.
Joan Crawford adopted four children, two of which claim to have been abused. The younger two, however, deny that any abuse ever occurred. That's not saying that it didn't, because children living in the same house often experience completely different lives. My brother and I had the same parents, but we are fourteen years apart. How much does a person change over fourteen years? In a way, I'm sure it's like being raised by totally different people.
My grandfather lives in a veteran's nursing home. We went to visit my grandfather at the nursing home last week, just me and my mother. It was strange to see him looking so small, because he was always so strong-willed and just plain strong when I was little. Now he has dementia and spends most of his time not knowing where anything or who anyone is. More often than not he thinks he's still in his own house. He still remembers my mother, though he sometimes mistakes her for his wife, and sometimes I think he remembers me. Other times I can tell he doesn't but won't say anything because my mother seems to like me so much.
The nurses told us about how someone else came into his room one night and wouldn't leave, so he chased the guy out with his cane. Now this is hilarious, but it's also really heartbreaking. This person used to be someone people respected, were afraid of, even. Now he's an old man swinging a cane. And the person he was chasing is the same, a great big someone who withered into a shuffling wanderer of hospital hallways. What can you say?
We're always laughing at things that are only funny because they have to be. The reality by itself is too hard, so you have to twist it until it detaches from everything else and becomes a lone act, like some lady yelling about wire hangers, or two old guys in a fight. Then you laugh and ignore all the other things you are supposed to feel.
I have do decide how I am going to remember my grandfather, as big and intimidating or funny or weak, and I don't know what to do. Which parts of him should I prioritize, which parts underplay? How do you decide what matters most about a person?
I just don't know.