I used to hold faithfully here to my “Tale Tuesdays”. And I still have so many tales to tell. The telling has become painful. I no longer seem able to keep much distance from the “scenes” that have been my inspiration for so much of my blogging. But after some wine, plugged into Pandora, I find myself buffered enough to write. I will persevere. To do just that: write.
Post Halloween, there were plastic skulls blowing around on my front porch:
Windy but not too cold, I sat in our weathered rocker, sipping a glass of wine. Our trees looked different–not just because of the change of seasons, amplified crimson leaves. But because my life is no longer an entity I recognize. It is a plastic skull blowing around in a November wind.
My mother. I used to talk to her every day at lunch time. If I didn’t call her first, she’d call me. And we’d share reheated leftover rice and beans or soups, whatever was left in our separate fridges, long distance. I would complain about a new wrinkle and she would laugh.
She no longer calls me. I don’t remember exactly when she stopped calling me–when exactly she forgot my phone number. When she forgot where I live at all. When she forgot I’m 20-plus years out of college, and that she has two grandchildren – that I no longer am taking “classes” and having “boyfriends,” or need to plan ahead to when I’ll be having “babies.”
Yesterday I visited. I lit a fire in her fireplace she no longer recognizes as a fireplace in the same house she has been living in for 30 years. She as a crick in her neck, so that she no longer can move her head; her eyes darted around the room as if trying to peer into distant corners. What astonishes me is that she doesn’t seem to mind. This. The stiff neck. The tremor now in both arms since her stroke. Being strapped into a wheelchair.
“I’m a lucky woman,” she said. “To have two such wonderful daughters.”
As this dementia reshapes, transmutes, I can’t help testing it, poking at it like a washed-up jellyfish: “Oh? And is there a sister I don’t know about?” I asked this jokingly, suggesting she might have some other child from a distant illicit passionate affair….
“What’s her name?”
“Well…I don’t remember at the moment but I do have another daughter…” She ran a crooked, arthritic finger across her dry lips, thinking. Or trying to think, to follow a single thought.
She giggled, as she can now, at her own confusion, when her thinking leads nowhere. Because this she does know: her mind is not right. This she does know: she no longer knows where she is at any given moment; she could be lying down to “rest” on her own bed before her “long drive,” worrying about the fact that it was raining and she’d left all her windows open “back home.”
At the worst of times, she’s been kidnapped. She will plead with me to go check on my long-dead father to be sure he is not kidnapped as well. Or she’s locked in a cell at the police station and begs me to come get her out, railing at how unfair it is to be arrested just because she had been “volunteering.” Or she is being poisoned by her aide who is only trying to wash the sticky thickening stuff off her tongue as, since her aspiration pneumonia, she no longer can drink liquids.
Best of times: Well, I don’t know. When she’s calm, I guess. When she may not be oriented, but at least she is not afraid. She is not panicked. She is just…waiting. Sometimes “for hours” at the doctor’s office. Or sometimes, just sitting in a “lobby.” Or at church where everyone has left, and she is alone in a pew, wishing she’d caught a ride home with another parishioner.
And when she doesn’t have another daughter she has, besides two real cats, an imaginary fish tank. I’ve never known her to have fish. Except for the tank she surprised me with when I was a child. I remember that, waking on my birthday to a tank of angel fish, rainbow fish..and one dead swordfish. But it was a tank of love.
When I talk to her, I can’t help it–I want to know what it feels like. This confusion. So when she tells me she’s been out and about, at an “event,” I ask where?
“Well, I’ve been so many places today…”
“Oh? Tell me about one of the places. The event.”
I want to know.
“Well, I don’t know, it can get confusing, but it’s nice to be back in one place again.”
Though that one place rarely now is home; I am dumbfounded daily, that she no longer recognizes even the rustic old buffet holding the same china for over fifty years, back from my childhood in the house I grew up in.
“So how are things? What have you been doing?” She asks daily now when I call her.
This is how our conversations go now, general. vague. Flat barren fields.
What have I been doing she asks? I want to cry to her about my ten year old’s recent football injury that resulted in a displaced hip and surgery. Now 6-8 weeks homeschooling. Home physical therapy, then outpatient therapy.
I want to cry to her about how I have seen her mirrored in my tiny son getting up on a walker for the first time, in the hospital after surgery, crying in pain. My following closely behind him, tying up the hospital gown in back to cover his fanny, as I would tie my mother’s.
The way my mother had cried. After she’d fractured her pelvis. On her own walker.
I want to tell her about how the hurt of seeing my mother reduced to a wheelchair is tripled, at the very least, by the image of my own child in a wheelchair.
I want to scream and cry to her. I want her to hold me in her lap. To rock me, as I did my own son last night when he fell asleep crying, “Why me? Why me?”
Instead, when my 96-year-old mother asks me how I am, I say simply: “I’m fine. Things are fine.”
Last time she was in the ER, for that aspiration pneumonia, she was sepsis. Blood pressure 50/30, erratic extremely low pulse rate. I had to sign DNR papers. I turned down “extraordinary measures,” invasive IV lines into neck arteries. I settled for antibiotics which the doctors agreed to administer, really, only to appease me–they were frank in their prognosis that she had 24-48 hours.
I sat in a private room alone with her. I held her thin veined hand. I stared into her wide-open mouth as she breathed loudly.
“I love this earth,” she would always say, before her last stroke, what precipitated this pneumonia. That was back when she still could recognize the cherry trees outside her bedroom window as the ones in her own yard. When she still could express how much she enjoyed the simple but bright window box I’d made for outside her bedroom window.
“Oh I love, love, love love you so much,” she often says now. “I want to buy you something really special. What do you want for your birthday?”
She can obsess about my birthday–which is not until February. I showed her a new handbag I’d treated myself to, as we used to always enjoying sharing those shopping things, and she said, “Oh I want this to be your birthday present!”
It’s not my birthday, Mom.”
“But I want to give this to you for your birthday!”
So the handbag I’d bought for myself became my birthday present to me which she forgot all about within five minutes of my leaving.
“What can I give you that’s really special?” she still can ask.
I resist smoothing her thin grey hair back off her forehead as I do my son’s messy bangs, when I try to soothe him, when he wants to get out of his own wheelchair.
She doesn’t want me to muss her hair.
My son doesn’t want me to pity him, as much as he does, very much, want Mommy.
So I restrain myself. But only out of love.