so, how are you?

she sits in silence, rocking next to the fire. when my dad is away, her compass spins wildly. he’s her lifeline and she backpedals through time to childhood when he’s gone. it makes me dizzy and sick and so i just try to be in it, swimming in the silence with her when she goes there. “you’re not going to make me wear two bras are you?” she asks me repetitively like she’s a kid at camp and i’m a counselor. i kiss her head and say of course not, i hate bras! she laughs and fiddles with her hair, stands up, sits down and watches the window again. sometimes while she’s watching the window i find myself watching her. she is my mom and yet she is not my mom as i knew her. it’s the strangest thing. and if i get caught in that downward spiral of thought i easily get weepy for what i see before me. the now always does battle with the then. present versus past. this is the lesson of the moment. stay in the moment. it’s safe here.

she’s happy, humming to christmas tunes in her off key voice i remember from church on sundays. wooden pews and cable knit tights. when did her skin become so paper thin? her old woman hands surprise me. i’m not ready for any of this. for the place that shifts, leaving me as the matriarch somehow even though i’m the baby. the only girl. the mom. we struggle with christmas, ever since last year when that diagnosis bomb dropped two days before turkey and stuffing. she sits while we wrap presents, unaware of the holiday hustle and bustle. unaware of stocking stuffers or split holidays and air travel and divorce and santa and two christmases and the missing that happens on the other side of the airport. she’s happy as she hums a tune. she’s happy. that’s all that matters.

“why do you always take pictures, that is so boring for me!” river announces this in a pre-pubescent foreshadow of a moment. “because she’s a photographer” she replies. and i smile at her, she knows me. of course she does. this is not alzheimer’s this is pick’s disease. at other times; however, she orbits far far away from me and i can’t get in. from the outside she seems sleepy, but i think she’s conversing with the stars when a question gets only a blank stare for a response.

the tv is on with a movie playing. she and river watch wall e together but she’s uncomfortable i can tell. my dad is gone and she’s literally pacing. “did he go to the doctor?” no, he went to the grocery store. “did he go swimming?” no, he went to the grocery store. “did he go to the dollar store?” no, he went to the grocery store. he’ll be home soon he’ll be home soon he’ll be home soon.

i’m on the computer editing photos, this one. this one i took at the aquarium fills the screen. it wrecks me with its honesty. her child-like demeanor apparent, my father’s fatigue visible as well. she pulls up a chair next to me and says “i’m gonna sit here next to you.” ok, that’s a good idea, i tell her. i smile at her for a long time and she leans in and asks “so, how are you?” it’s almost as if she’s mom again, almost as if i can talk to her and tell her really how i am. hey mom, maybe if i speak so fast the words will fly into your ears and heart and you’ll hear me. god i miss you so much, i just wish i could tell you everything that is in my head, i’m sad, mom because i miss you and our family isn’t the same and neither is christmas and it’s no fun being a grown up, and do you see that boy? he’s amazing and so smart and real sensitive, he’s such a good kid and i’m so lucky he’s mine. she’s lucid for about two seconds and then she’s gone. “i’m good” i tell her “just getting ready for christmas” she nods. “how are you?” i ask in return. “i’m fine” she says with a laugh before getting up to find a new chair.

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