Friday, October 21, 2011

going home again

The T.V. in my mother's new condo is always on -- even when there is no one home to watch it. A wall-mounted flat screen, I imagine the high-definition faces exist to greet her when she walks through the door after another 16-hour shift. When I arrived home on a recent Friday night -- my mother still at work, my brother asleep -- I was welcomed by The Long Island Medium, warm and glowing.

"I fell off the bed last week," my mother tells me the next day over lunch. It happened like this: home from another long day/night at the nursing home, she sits on her bed. Reading one moment, the next she is on her back, a sea of white wall-to-wall carpeting keeping her afloat. "I must've fallen asleep sitting up. I could've cracked my head on the nightstand. I was lucky."

She told my brother the same story, and a few days later, a pillow appeared on the floor near her bed.

"Sounds like he's worried about you," I said.

"He does what he can."

What he can do isn't much these days. Out of rehab and newly fired from another job, he mostly hangs around the condo sleeping or smoking or watching T.V., not paying rent, intermittently taking drugs and then trying to quit them. He says he's moving to Vegas next week. Somehow, he's driving an Infiniti.

I didn't want to be in Phoenix, but a sense of duty had pulled me east. The older I get, the more inexplicable it seems that this is my family. My mother: naked, gaunt, her body looking, somehow, like it's trying to swallow itself. With every visit, she appears smaller. Is this the same woman who used to read "Are You My Mother?" to a four-year-old me every night before bed? Who taught me to roller skate? Who used to drag me down the hallway, screaming, by my ponytail? She is disintegrating, and I never feel more alone in the world than when she looks at me, her eyes brimming with raw pride and affection. We speak different languages. This is the person who loves me more than anything, but I do not trust her.

We went shopping together, a play at being functional. I don't think we'd shopped together since I was a kid. Then, she used to steal things in front of me, but she doesn't do that anymore -- at least not that I've noticed. We went to only one store, Pier 1 Imports, my maiden voyage to this strip mall port. Walking through the automatic glass doors, my nose was assaulted by scented candles, a cloying stink cloud permeating the air. Everything here was glittering, ornate, overwrought, often without function. For Halloween, displays of animatronic witches cackled at my mother, and she smiled in return, her new bridge twinkling among decaying teeth. How many animatronic Santas, snowmen and bunnies had she seen before this one? But there she was, enchanted, as if seeing it for the first time, a child.

"Isn't this one neat?" She kept thrusting bejeweled picture frames in my face, soliciting my opinion. I squinted, repeating the same phrase I'd uttered a thousand times already. "It's not really my taste."

When it came time to pay, Mom couldn't find her Pier 1 credit card. With a line of people behind her, she poured the contents of her purse onto the counter, scavenging among the envelopes and rubber bands and prescription bottles. With a tight smile, the cashier offered to look up her credit card information.

"Can I verify your address?" she asked.

"I don't know it," Mom said, frustrated. "I just moved."

It had been three months.


Crystal Lee said...

Snide, I wish you'd try and change the way you perceive your mother, so you don't have to be so sad. You don't have to pity her. She chooses to work such long hours. She chooses to enable your brother. My mother did the same thing. She grows old like all mother's do, it's hard to watch, but this is life. I was my mother's pride & you are your mom's. I know that's a lot of responsibility, but I look back and am filled with happiness that I could bring such joy to my mother's heart without even doing anything except be myself.

Judy Gloom said...

i wish i could too. honestly, i only started talking to my mom again after that last conversation we had. i'm just so frustrated b/c she's killing herself (overworking, the pills, taking care of my brother) and i'm the one who will need to swoop in and pick up the pieces when she starts to fall apart for real. the writing is on the wall. and, yeah, i'm bitter b/c it's not like she did much in the way of taking care of me when i was a kid.

Adriana said...

"Are You My Mother?" is a wonderful, sad book. I would make my grandma read it to me over and over again.