by Susan Gibb
“We found her in a gentleman’s room. She had undressed,” the nurse said.
Alzheimer’s a bitch, a twister of minds. So I agreed to the restraining belt that kept her dressed and in her wheelchair.
It takes some getting used to, this slow mish-mashing of brain cells. Scary. I wondered what she was thinking. Was she twenty years old again and answering the call of some internal trumpets that blared in her head? Was all life reduced to the basics like sex? I decided that she was probably stuck in her wedding night, waiting for my dad. Yes, that felt the best. On the way out I peeked inside at the man in 303.
Data in, data out. Incoming reports from the Home vied for worry space with Jim’s grumpy days at the job where daily downsizing was more common than a coffee break. Clots that clogged the pipeline of my functioning being. All sorted and stored in my brain cubicles like naughty children sent to their room.
I realized one day I was lonely. After a while Jim had just stopped talking about things at work. “Too depressing,” he said, though I figured it would be better to get it all out. But that’s Jim, and most men, I guessed. Data in. Data in. And my job was to tiptoe, picking up clues like daisies to avoid an explosion of data out. I tried hard to prioritize, learn where I was most needed from one moment to the next and Jim was not as vulnerable right then as my mother. Or maybe it is time mixed with events that makes the decisions. Crisis by crisis I learned to adjust, to jump to the moment, to cope.
My mother was a rose bloom four days old. Shriveled a bit at the edges, perfume starting to turn, her center stigma exposed with no new stories left to tell except the few that she clung to and I’d heard over and over and over again. The only good side effect of dementia is that it gives you time to adjust. Though just when you think you get it, know how to deal, you’re faced with another plateau. It came to a point where she didn’t talk at all.
“Hi Mom,” I’d say, eyeing her room, her clothes--at least she is dressed--and focus in on her face. I would search for the difference, whatever had been lost in the twenty-four hours since my last visit. Like I said, it’s gradual and you have to look hard. I wouldn’t see it and that worried me though I suppose it should have made me feel better.
Once, she grasped my hand, pulled me back and hugged me hard. She was even smiling! I was floored and couldn’t help the tears. She hadn’t known me for a couple weeks. I took it as a flashback. I believed she was my mother for half a minute there.
The days were filled with mental, emotional visits inside my mind. She comes back to me as I’m making tomato sauce for dinner and I shut my eyes tight to hold the image, erase the wrinkles, the wheelchair, the blank stare on her face. I captured that instant when she pulled me close.
Then all my worlds collided with the rolling groan of the garage door pulling open. But the clock said it was only three-thirty and he doesn’t get home till...
The answer settled like a stone done skipping, sinking to its logical end. The clock did something funny, spinning backwards till the hands fell off and it hung there with an unstrung banjo face. And then it all made sense and I shut off the burners.
Right there I undressed. I kicked off my panties, dropped my bra on the floor just as the door slowly opened and I greeted him with a smile.
published 16 July 2011