June 1, 2014: The person sitting in the wheelchair at the dining table with her back to me seems to be folding in on herself like a fetus. As I get closer, I recognize her clothing, but not her. There’s a bruised, battered, frail body in my mother’s slacks and shirt and socks and shoes.
I pull up a chair. Her semi-clenched hands are drawn up around her face. I slip my right hand into her left, and lower them together. Her fingers are cool and soft; they curl around mine. I must do her nails. The polish is chipped.
“Hi Mom,” I venture. My tender underbelly speaks; tears threaten. Her “mmmmmmm” is barely audible. There’s leftover breakfast on her chin. Now it’s almost time for lunch. Will it stick itself to her too? Will no one bother to help her clean herself up?
I lick two fingers and wipe some egg from the crease at the edge of her mouth. When I was a little girl, she would spit on embroidered hankies and clean my face in a similar way. I would close my eyes and scrunch my nose and mouth as she scrub-a-dub-dubbed in a rush. We were invariably on our way somewhere; Mom was always on the go, and I with her. That was almost 60 years ago.
Unlike little girl me, Mom doesn’t need to close her eyes as I remove the remnants of breakfast; her eyes are sealed shut. She couldn’t open them if she tried. Fucking drugs. I look up and around, leave my hand in hers. Another woman in wheelchair looks at us from across the table. Sun filters through sliding glass doors that lead onto a tiny balcony where no one ever sits. A few moments slide by. Another woman is wheeled up to the table and locked in, though there really isn’t any need–she’s in the same catatonic state Mom’s in.
“Are you OK Mom?”
Another “mmmmmmm.” Somewhere a clock ticks. It sounds nothing like the one that kept time during decades of conversations in Mom’s kitchen. That clock, her clock, has a rich, deep and meaningful tic toc, tic toc, tic toc. It’s in the solarium at the place I rent just up the road; I write and rhyme to its gentle rhythm. But the tinny sound of the the one I hear in the background now feels as meaningless as tragic lives become in the end.
“Are you asleep Mom?”
“No.” This time her answer, though quiet, is immediate, definitive and clear. Yes, she is not asleep. But neither is she awake. She is suspended in a drug-induced haze, while I am bound and gagged in a drug-induced rage.
“It’s a beautiful day,” observes the lady across the table. It is a beautiful day, a beautiful day in June: cloudless blue sky, warm enough but not overly so, a day full of summer’s promise. It’s a beautiful day to make a beautiful life. “Why are they doing this to you?” I want to scream. Instead, I put my lips next to Mom’s ear and share her lunch companion’s observation like it’s a secret: “It’s a beautiful day Mom.”
“Is it?” Her words aren’t fully formed; they’re more like a breath with a “t” at the end. The secret of the beautiful day stops with her. We sit. Lunch will come eventually, and I will go. In the meantime I try to memorize her, knowing I will lose her to Alzheimer when it comes for me.
But it hasn’t come yet. Today, I know her like like the back of my hand. I was fooled by the hunched and broken body when I first arrived, but only momentarily. I know by her answers to my questions that she’s still very much here despite everything. The system and the people in it want her to sit, obey, and comply. Her ferocity is inconvenient, too much hard work. So they tie her up with drugs and alarms and lies and use her own safety and that of others as justification when the truth is inadequate care is the culprit.
They succeed in restraining her by sedating, reclining and confining her to a wheelchair. Like “change in gait,” her current demeanour is an antipsychotic side effect. But she has not surrendered. Her spirit is alive and well. I see her like I see myself. We reflect each other. We hold space–I for her, she for me–even as we are held captive in prisons we both will escape one day soon.
“I’ll come back later Mom. I’ll take you outside. We’ll have tea on the deck downstairs in the fresh air. In the afternoon. I’ll come back this afternoon.”
Her purple, black and yellow eye remains closed, so does the unbruised other one. The blood-filled lump on her left temple looks ugly and sore. Her fingers stay lightly wrapped around mine. With effort and ease she exhales her reply: “Don’t worry about that.”
We bide for several more heartbeats or eternities–it’s hard to say which–two tethered souls reassuring each other before saying another goodbye.
Then we let go.
June 1, 2014