As inconvenient as it was, I had my first pre-mid-life identity crisis a few weeks ago.

In the wine section.

At Whole Foods.

I’d picked up a bottle of pinot grigio because – and I am not making this up – it had a label with an owl on it.  And I liked the owl.  So I grabbed the bottle to take a closer look at it, participating in the illusion that I know anything more than jack shit about wine, and that physically handling it would miraculously bestow me with insight.

And instead of insight, I was suddenly backhanded by truth.

I am a middle-aged white woman, wearing yoga pants, holding a bottle of wine at 11 in the morning.

At Whole Foods.

I froze in the wine section, strangling the pinot grigi-owl.

Who the FUCK am I?

How did I GET here?

Last I checked I was rocketing through my life, ready to save the lives of the needy and impoverished, ready to vanquish disease and suffering wherever it reared its ugly head in the world.

Of course, getting slapped in the face by the sudden awareness of my own racial privilege and deeply entrenched, societally-ingrained racism and classism, PLUS the horrific awareness of the perpetuity of racism within the medical field certainly pumped the brakes on those ideals a few years ago…..


So now I’m a middle-aged white woman, wearing yoga pants, carrying a faux-ethnic purse she bought off Amazon on the back of underpaid-non-union-represented-labor, wondering about performative allyship, holding a bottle of wine at 11 in the morning.

At Whole Foods.

Who the FUCK am I?

How did I GET here?

Does it make any difference that I’m wearing yoga pants because I just finished up a session with my trainer at the gym?  That I’m trying to stay strong-ish in order to someday once again do the things I love?  Like hiking for days on end into the national forests and parks with a 40-lb pack?  Like maybe someday achieving my dream of climbing the volcanoes of the Cascades?  I’ve had a lot of training.  

I know how to handle myself in the backcountry.


So NOW I’m a middle-aged white woman, wearing yoga pants, carrying a faux-ethnic purse, wondering if her ability to use a Wag Bag and cook ramen over a JetBoil while camping on a snow field at 6,000ft somehow legitimizes the fact that she’s holding a bottle of wine at 11 in the morning.

At Whole Foods.

At this point all I have left to hold on to is that I didn’t get accidentally pregnant at 19, I didn’t vote for Trump, I did get my COVID vaccine, and I’m unbelieveably fortunate to have enough disposable income to buy the owl wine, plus another bottle that’s got flowers on THEIR label.

I cling to all of those things desperately, and get the fuck out of Whole Foods.


Of course, I know why I’m having an identity crisis.  I’m heading home to it.

I’m a middle-aged gleefully-unmarried devoutly-childless white woman living with her parents because her mother has Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and will forget her entirely within the next two years.

Maybe even within one.

Maybe within six months.


My mother is home, drifting around the house, picking things up and putting them down somewhere else.  She is strangely fascinated with shoes.  She puts shoes on, takes them off.  Pulls the laces out.  Ties them in knots.  Puts on two different sets of flip flops.  Carries her sneakers into the kitchen and puts them in the freezer.

I take them out of the freezer and put them back by the front door a few seconds later.  She doesn’t notice.

She has deteriorated significantly over the summer.  Her memory is mere seconds long.  She can no longer follow verbal commands.  If we want her to do something, my father and I have to take her by the hand and physically guide her along.

She can barely form a sentence, and the words she strings together are unrelated and unconnected.  She talks to herself, quietly, all the time.  We don’t know if she’s hallucinating or thinking out loud.  Sometimes she thinks someone is calling her, and yells, “Yes?” out loud, and then looks concerned when no one answers.

My father and I speak in code.  We never mention leaving the house, and we don’t say “bye!” out loud when we head out to run errands or pick up the groceries.  If my mother thinks someone is leaving her, she dissolves into panic.  Weeping, hysterical, doubled-over-on-the-couch panic.  She is utterly terrified.

And sometimes she dissolves into panic and fear for no reason at all.  And there is nothing we can do to help her.  

Because nothing makes sense to her anymore.

Her sense of identity is shredded, tiny wisps of paper being carried about by a violent, raging windstorm in the remaining fragments of her mind.

She exists moment by moment, and in random flashes of memory, lost again seconds later.


I unload the groceries onto the kitchen table, and sit down on the built-in bench.  My mother redesigned this kitchen, had it renovated, and then decorated it herself.  She has no memory of this, and in her worst moments of fear, she begs us to take her “home.”

It is heartbreaking every single time.

I am tired, existentially and physically.  I lean back against a few overstuffed cushions, and mentally plan for the dinner I’m going to make tonight.

My mother shuffles into the kitchen, and makes her way over to sit down next to me.  She knows who I am a few times a day, often first thing in the morning.  Other times she knows she knows me, but she’s not exactly sure how, but it’s still OK that I’m around.

Occasionally I am that bitch who is trying to take her house.  Her hate is a tangible presence in those moments, and she would tear me apart if she were a more violent woman.

But she isn’t.

She’s a caregiver, a nurturer.  That part of her identity still persists, even as the other aspects fall away.


She sits down next to me.  Looks at me.  Smiles.

I lean gently into her, and bonk her on the shoulder.  We’ve been doing this to each other in greeting our whole lives.

“Hi, momma.”

She grins as she looks down at the table, and then leans over and bonks me in return.

“Hi, my daughter.”

“A Woman Of The Empire,” Walter McEwen, c. 1902