My mother called. While I was digging the gizzard out of a chicken, or whatever that nasty nauseatingly brownish-gray innards thing is.
“We need to talk about this. Why you would do such a thing.”
Do what, Mom?
“Take the locks off all the doors. Why would you do such a thing?”
I didn’t, Mom. I only took the one off your bedroom door because you lock yourself in so your aide can’t get to you and you can fall….
“It’s not just my door. You’ve taken the locks off all the doors in the house, so anyone can come in and murder me.”
She often thinks to call now at dinner time, when I’m simultaneously gutting, then skinning the fat off a chicken; yelling at the boys to stop shooting Nerf bullets at the living-room mirror; shoving the dog away from the overflowing garbage can; and cradling the phone on my shoulder so I can get the chicken into the oven before the next full moon.
Mom, why would I do that? Take all your locks off?
“Because you think I’m crazy and might wander off.”
If I thought you would wander off, wouldn’t I be sure that the doors were actually locked? I tried to laugh. Anyhow, I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense for me to actually bolt them from the outside?
I was relieved then that she actually laughed too, although I wasn’t sure whether she was laughing because she actually finally did see this as nonsensical, or because she didn’t actually understand what the hell I was talking about.
But then she said, “Well, I guess your mother is going crazy.”
I reassured her–tepidly–that she wasn’t going crazy, and we went on to talk about more sensical things; she asked me about the boys, and I told her about how Big Bro refuses to help me clean his frog’s tank; Little Bro leaves his dirty underwear lying all over the house; that I was about to roast a chicken, and she reminded me to chop up an onion to put in the cavity, and then she said, “But you do need to put the locks back on the doors. When are you going to do that?”
The featherless, naked, headless chicken struck me as exceedingly sad and pathetic prone in its cold baking pan. I’d forgotten to preheat the oven.
On another evening, she called just as I’d remembered the morning’s laundry I’d forgotten to put into the dryer, around 7 pm – wondering why “they” hadn’t brought her breakfast yet.
I’ve given up on the argument about the “they,” that there is just one aide whom my mother thinks is several different aides, some of whom she likes and some she despises because they’re “always telling me what to do.”
I’d burned the rice while remembering the laundry, and was salvaging whatever hard crusty grains I could scrape from the pan, when she said, “I’ve been waiting here all morning for my breakfast and I’m hungry.”
It’s dinner time, Mom.
“But it’s so light out.”
It’s light out earlier now because we’re going into summer soon….
“Well then what time is it?”
Seven, Mom. At night.
“Oh, I am going crazy.”
No, you’re not. But each time I can say this, I sound all the more tepid.
“I am! But I don’t know why they haven’t brought me breakfast!”
When my mother isn’t worrying over the door locks or whether it’s breakfast or dinner time, she might be hearing things. She can hear people mowing her lawn in the middle of the night: “Oh, they make such a racket!”
I try to reason with her then too, as I do about the door locks and the time day–that no one is going to mow lawns at 2 am, never mind the fact that it is too early in the season for lawn mowing. That her lawn is mostly mud and scattered gravel anyway, where the snow plows mistook the lawn for the driveway.
“They were mowing. Don’t tell me they weren’t mowing.”
I don’t know why I keep trying to reason with her on these things. I’ve read enough articles at this point, about all the things you should and shouldn’t say to someone with dementia. And I fail in every way. I can’t help it. I continue to try and reason with my mother because I want my mother back.
“It’s the disease,” her aide likes to remind me. As if I need reminding.
Though maybe I do need reminding. Because when I’m with my mother she can still be my mother: “Your sweater is not buttoned correctly,” she can say when I first arrive on my weekly visits, and no doubt she is usually right.
And she can still worry about me as only a mother can: “You don’t need to worry about me, honey. I can take care of things myself.”
Which of course, only make me worry more, as she can go on to say that, if she fires the “staff” she has now, she can hire someone herself, from the local job-wanted ads, and I think how I have to start taking away her newspapers…and then I want to cry. Because I wish so badly that this were the truth. That she still could be in control of her life. Like a hot potato, I’d gladly toss that control back at her in a second.
And then there are those moments–new moments now–that I’m not prepared for; when she is still my mother. But my mother from the past:
Yesterday, when I was visiting, she asked, “So what classes are you taking now?”
“You’re going to college soon.”
We were sitting out on her deck. The first day warm enough for her to actually be outside.
We were sitting in the sun. She was lying on a lounge chair piled up with two layers of cushions as otherwise she would be unable to rise up off of it.
I was facing her in an upright chair. Sipping bottled water to keep hydrated, as often by the time I’m back on the road at the end if these visits, I am depleted and dehydrated.
My mother can accuse me of taking off locks and insist on lawn-mower racket at 2 am. She can confuse the time of day.
But this was the first time she was confusing me with myself in another time and place.
I said, “Am I in high school?”
I waited. To see whether she could reorient herself.
She didn’t. Or couldn’t.
So I laughed and told her that if I were still in high school, she wouldn’t yet have her two gorgeous grandsons.
She laughed then too. At least she can still be reoriented — if only with reminders.
But then she said: “I’m beginning to wish now that I’d died before this. Before my mind started to go.”
I had to look away from her. Down at the splintered deck. No, Mom. Please. The only words I could muster. As if tugging up tangled bed blankets against an ice-cold breeze.
“I’m scared,” she said. “It’s frightening.”
I couldn’t speak.
But then she did. Looking out at her yard. At the white blooming dogwood tree. The yellow daffodils brilliant against the deep green of the woods.
“But I still do like this…spring…”