Last night I made dinner as I usually do, cooking baked macaroni and barbequed pork sandwiches because the menu is one of my mom’s favorites. Then I set the table, calling her into dinner from her bedroom at the back of the house.
“Who’s missing tonight?” she asked cheerily as she came into the dining area on her mobility scooter, surveying the dinner table.
“What?” I asked.
“You’ve set the table for only two. What about Rosie and Daddy and Jackie…?”
It was as though she had thrown freezing water into my face. Because those people – her father and two sisters – had died a couple of decades ago.
If you want to know the reason I haven’t been writing my blog lately, that’s why. My mom recently turned ninety and she seems to be rapidly dropping all her marbles. I’ve taken care of her for ten years now because she suffers from arthritis in most parts of her body, particularly in her knees, and she has become almost immobile. I moved back from New York City to care for her because she had suffered a debilitating fall, and when I thought about it back then I never imagined that I’d be doing it a decade later.
Ten years of being butler, driver, parlor maid and cook. Ten years of being turned into that most woeful of professions, not to mention one of the least paid – the care-giver. Ten years of being estranged from my friends (she doesn’t like visitors), ten years of making beds and cleaning toilets, of eating at five o’clock in the afternoon (because she has always eaten at five o’clock in the afternoon), and going to bed at 7:30 from sheer boredom. Worst of all I’ve been years out of the job market, neglecting my own retirement needs. I used to be able to go into town and stay overnight with friends, or go away for a weekend. Not anymore.
Recently I went to the movies. I was gone for no more than three hours. When I returned home, I found her terrified. “Where were you?” she demanded. “I was alone all afternoon, and no one called me – not even Mother.” Do I need to mention that her mother died in 1971? Does this mean that I can’t even go to the movies now?
The only thing that made the situation remotely tolerable in these last ten years was the fact that she had remained witty, sharp and intellectually stimulating. She read a book a day and devoured the news magazines, all the while railing vigorously against those bastard Republicans. She swore like a sailor – in fact, she was a sailor, having been in the Navy WAVES during World War II.
I convinced myself that the situation was good for my writing career, and indeed produced two modest best sellers during this time, all the while supplementing my income with museum and exhibit design – work I could do from home. But recently, along with the economy, my writing career has lost its traction. It seems like I am being slowly strangled here at home and my concentration suffers because of it. My life used to be a rich tapestry of color and design; now it’s a gray, disheveled bathmat. As a result, I go through bouts of resentful anger and depression that almost kill me, because now that she’s losing her mind, the only pleasure I could take from the situation is disappearing along with it.
As Stevie Smith might say, “…not waving, but drowning.”
And I’m terrified.