After the daily newspaper refused to print my mother’s conspiracy theory stories on world population, she said it. After my brother’s allergy was misdiagnosed by our doctor as an allergy to our beloved family cat, she said it.
God, it must be blissful to be the village idiot.
She took a drag from her cigarette, blew smoke into the ethers of World Ignorance and shook her head to the ceiling, to the stars, to the plumes of clouds.Years passed. She was on television – Merv Griffin, Larry King. My parents moved from New Jersey to Florida.
I’m not sure when it began or how long my father hid her dementia from us, but there were clues her world was getting smaller.She got angry if anything in her home was out of place, and my mother wasn’t organized. During one trip to visit her, I saw all our family photographs had been reduced in size and placed in one inch by one inch tiny gold frames, then locked into a very small curio cabinet.
As her world was getting smaller, we all began to disappear from her too as her memories faded. After my father’s surgery, she couldn’t find her way home from the hospital, as if her home had been moved on one of those tiny train tracks.
That year my parents didn’t call me to sing Happy Birthday off key.
That year, my father called my oldest brother and said I need your help, and then we knew something was very wrong, because my father never asked for help.
After my father died, my daughter and I flew to Sunrise Facility where my mother lived to decorate her room. We flew there again when most of the things we bought for her disappeared, even a piece of furniture, and decorated her room again. With dementia everything is on repeat anyway. We travelled from Los Angeles often and stayed in a Marriott twenty minutes from Atlantic City, took her to lunch, to the hairdresser, for long drives to see gardens and birch trees and pine trees and frozen ponds.
By now she had stopped writing fragments of thoughts on tiny pieces of paper and I stopped finding half sentences scattered across her room.
When she finally didn’t recognize me at all, I stopped making the trip to check on her, to bring her tuna fish on white bread, and my dear friend who was living in Philadelphia went in my place. One day I called the Sunrise facility to talk with her, and the nurse said, you are her daughter, the writer!
Yes, I said, can you get my mother? She didn’t have a phone in her room anymore because she couldn’t remember how to answer it.
And the nurse said Your mother loves your late night visits.
I live on Kauai, I don’t visit my mother, you must mean my friend Virginia.
And she said I let you in after visiting hours, because you travel so far. We talk about Hawaii.
You are mistaken, I insisted, I don’t visit my mother.
She loves the poetry you write about your grandmother, the nurse said, as if I wasn’t objecting to her memory. But when she mentioned the poetry, my body heard her. Every hair responded to the truth of her words. I knew in that moment I WAS visiting my mother and that miles were of no consequence. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, I don’t know why this nurse could see me too or how I got there or when I left. I do know which poems I read to her, because they were missing from my binder.
My mother and I were always like this – we showed up in each other’s dreams, in each other’s shadows, shared ghosts nobody else in the family could see. In 1972 were almost abducted by three alien ships in Tom’s River, New Jersey. It was a complicated relationship, but not so complicated I couldn’t find a way to sit beside her, two women who shared more than DNA, two women who were long acquainted with the night.
The exact time of my mother’s death, I woke suddenly from sleep, and felt her whole self pass through my body, as if I was giving birth to her. The pain in my head during this event was immense. I got up and looked at the time on my phone. When the nurse told me the exact time of her death the next morning, I didn’t link the times at first, because it was six hours earlier on Kauai.
And I’m telling you this story, because our words can be like magic, like tiny sparkling diamond fragments embedded in rock, waiting to break out and feed our lives instead of detract from them.
During this time of Covid, this year of the Pandemic, so many of us are separated from the people we love. It’s more important now than ever to stand in the gifts we are given and use them – and if our mind ever becomes like brambles, if the synapsis in our brains stop firing the way we need to move in the world with grace, it’s good to know we don’t have to get on an airplane to sit beside the person who understands us the most.
We just have to get acquainted with the night, a different mode of travel.