Dear Mom

I didn’t buy you a card this year. I always spend a lot of time looking through all of the cards, humor cards and sentimental cards alike, but this year I couldn’t find one that worked.

Nothing quite put into words the impact you leave on this world, on my world. There wasn’t a card that said, Your laugh is the best sound on Earth. I couldn’t find one that said I see so much of you in my daughter. She’s wild and fierce and brave and strong, just like you, Mom. There were no cards that described the days when I get to talk to you and how they are a little less stressful and hurried, that I’m more grounded and calm when I get to hear your voice. None put into words the way I feel when I come home, when I sit at your table while we have our morning coffee.

I read card after card and replaced each in it’s little bin, unable to commit to one.

Because you’re bigger than a card and greater than someone else’s words.

You’re my mother, which now that I’m a mother too, I understand how important that role is, and I realize how fortunate I am that I get to be your daughter.

Thank you today and everyday for all that you’ve done and do.

I love you.

 

Mandi and Mom

Advertisements

Be Still and Know

be-still-and-know

I talked to my mom today. I’m sure a lot of you talked to your moms today. It’s probably something as routine as putting on deodorant or brushing your hair.

But I haven’t had a normal conversation with my mom in a while.

She didn’t beat around the bush. I said hello, and she said she might not know who I am tomorrow, and as I heard those words, I sunk down onto the floor of my kitchen. I clutched the phone to my ear while squeezing back my tears, and I sat on my cold kitchen floor and reassured her that she would. That she will always know me, that she is the strongest person I know, and that she’s fought harder battles in her life.

She said she loved me at least three times, like she might never say it again. And I said it back, like she might not hear it again.

The following article has been edited but was previously published on Sisterwivesspeak.com. (No longer available.) I wrote this a year or so ago, maybe longer, and when I reluctantly hung up the phone with my mom, I remembered the words I wrote as they echoed in my head.

******

I save all of her voicemails. All of them. Friends call and say, “Your voicemail is full. I couldn’t leave a message,” and I lie and say that I’m too lazy to delete my messages, but it’s not true. I can’t delete them because one day they may be all I have of her.

I fear losing her. It haunts me.

Losing the mother who I know today, who’s really not the mother I knew three years ago, who keeps changing every year, whose mind might never be “normal” again, who one day might not even recognize my face.

Death would be easier. Death is final and sometimes even fair. But my mother has dementia, and her mind goes through cycles. Sometimes she’s (almost) normal. She’s our now normal, but then there are times when she isn’t. And one day those times will be all that I know.

Glenn Campbell wrote a song called “I’m Not Gonna Miss you,” a song he recorded shortly after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He wrote the heartbreaking lyrics “I’m still here but yet I’m gone…” to help his family understand that the grief would be one sided, that he wouldn’t “miss” them.

I picture a day when I visit with my mother, when she doesn’t know my name, who I am, and it breaks my heart.

Shatters it.

But what’s even more difficult for me to wrap my brain around is that one day, she isn’t going to know who she is. She won’t remember having five kids and keeping an immaculate house. She may not remember how she never met a stranger, how no matter where she was, she could make a friend. She won’t remember that she had the best sense of humor, and her West Texas accent only accentuated her wit. She won’t remember that she could make a room burst into laughter with one of her lines like “madder than a piss ant in a pepper jar.” She won’t remember being a daring child who wasn’t afraid to ride a bull or a horse that hadn’t been broken.

She won’t remember her first kiss.

She won’t remember giving birth to her first child.

She won’t remember all of the funny stories from her childhood.

She won’t remember dancing with my dad.

She won’t remember when she kissed me goodnight.

She won’t remember when she walked me into kindergarten and told me to be brave.

She won’t remember when she whispered in my ear just before I got married that no matter what ever happened in my life I should put myself first. Always.

She won’t remember.

She won’t remember.

She won’t remember.

And what terrifies me more than anything is that she might be scared, and who will be there to comfort her if she doesn’t know who anyone is, if she doesn’t even know who she is?

There’s a song that a friend introduced me to a while back. It often randomly plays from my music library, and every time, it gives me this strange sense of comfort.

I want to comfort her. I want her to know I am always here.

I hope that when she is in that dark and scary place, she can just “be still and know.”

Be Still and Know

I don’t always listen to lyrics. I admit it. I love music and often get caught up in the instrumental parts of the song, dissecting each melody. I rarely ever sing the correct words. I’ve been known to just insert whatever I hear. For example, when I first heard U2’s “Mysterious Ways,” I immediately loved it and went to buy the album. When I walked into my local music store and asked for “Mr. Eastways,” the salesman looked at me like I wore a straitjacket. I sang the line, “She moves in with Mr. Eastways,” and he laughed. True story. Continue reading

The Monkey Chased the Weasel

A month ago, I sent a text to my best friend that said, “Today we had to commit Mom.” Those are words a daughter never expects to type about her mother, but it happened.

It started again, The Cycle, over a month ago, and this time yet again, we as her family, determined to get her help, stepped in and advocated for her. We formed a formidable union, my four brothers, my dad, and myself, and we chose to have her committed. Continue reading

Planes, Pinheads, and People Watching

At 3:15 am, I hear the annoying harp song on my phone, which might as well be screaming, “Get up! Get up! Get up!” I tap the snooze button. Seven minutes later, the song chimes again. I swipe the cover to quiet the annoying ding ding ding and stumble into my bathroom.

An hour later, I’m driving South on the Dallas North Tollway listening to a fascinating discussion about paranormal activity.

I arrive at the airport, pass through the very slow moving security line, and head straight for the Starbucks line which closely resembles the line I waited in for New Kids on the Block tickets when I was twelve…but coffee and NKOTB are totally worth my time. The rich familiar scent keeps me focused on my goal, and though the line is long, I will persevere. Continue reading

Aside

Queen Grimhilde

The snow falls outside my window, a constant reminder of winter, quilting the ground below in a pillow of frost.  As the wind picks up, the flurries rise and fall and whirl in a frenzied tornado leaving the land white from ground to sky.

White.  The absence of color, so majestic.

The forest outside my window tells a story, the howling of the wind, the creaking of the trees in the breeze.  It tells my story.

“I won’t bore you again with it.”

“No, Madame Grimhilde, please do tell your story.  I’d love to hear it…ahem… again.”

“You’re too kind, my dear.  If you would be a darling and fetch me a blanket, and make me a cup of tea, first.  I can feel the chill in my bones today.”

“Yes, Madam, of course.”

“I once was a beautiful young woman, you know,  full of hope and promise, with skin so fair, my mother would say she could see my blood coursing through my veins.  We had little money, my mother and I, and she often would have to beg for food to make it through the week until our next pension.  My father died young in a brutal accident, or so my mother said.  I remember very little of him, but Mother persevered and made me promises of a grander life. She always said that my beauty would win me a prize of a young man, maybe even a prince.  She forced me to stay inside the house, never to meet the sun and suffer its damage.  I spent my days trapped in our cottage. Alone.

“As a young girl, I spent most of my time reading.  I started with the fairy tales wrapping myself in make believe stories of happily ever afters, but as I grew older, the darkness in our little cabin sunk into my soul.  Fables no longer entertained me.  I began to crave more mystic stories, and found them hidden in my mother’s chest, the one I was strictly forbidden to touch, stories of black magic and spells.  Eventually, I learned the craft, but I’m getting ahead of myself, dear.

“One afternoon, I was in the kitchen attempting to brew a love potion  when my mother came bursting through the door.

“‘We have a visitor, Hilde.  Do go and put on your best gown, and please, wash that muck off of your hands.’

“I scurried to my room and retrieved the only gown I owned, the one my mother wore when she married my father.  I brushed off the dust from the capped shoulders and slipped it over my head.  My mother came in and helped me fasten it from behind.  We stared at my reflection in the mirror as she smoothed the silk folds.  Her warped fingers bent like gnarled tree branches around my waist, a testament of the hard work she endured to keep us alive.  I held her hand there, and together we admired my reflection.  She pulled my long black hair into a low plait and fastened it with a red ribbon.  My alabaster skin stood translucent beneath the obsidian silk.

“‘I think I’m ready, mother.’ We heard the hooves and neighing of horses outside.

‘”My dear raven girl,’ she said, ‘Your prince awaits you.’

“My mother greeted our visitor as any peasant greets a lord and bowed as he entered our tiny cottage.  Introductions were made, and we sat at our table.  Before I knew it, my mother poured the young man a cup of the brew I had created.  I pushed my chair out and lunged toward him when I realized what he was about to do, but it was too late.  He took a sip.  And then another.

“He knelt down in front of me and took my slender fingers into his.  ‘You will be my queen,’ he said and kissed the top of the hand he still held.

“I never had a choice in the matter.  A few days later, we were married. My dearest mother died the next day.   I moved into his castle where he lived with his daughter, a little petulant child, plump with being fed too many cakes and given anything her little heart desired, beautiful though with skin as white as snow and lips the color of a ripe red apple.  My husband adored her, even more than he adored me, which was quite a lot.

“The fucking fat bastard wouldn’t keep his hands off of me, always wanting to prod me with his tiny fucking cock, breathing his rank nasty breath into my face as he thrust himself into me night after night after night.  On nights when I refused, my face ached where the tender purple marks littered my skin. Eventually, I stopped struggling.  I thought that maybe one day the gods would bless me with a child, but unfortunately, every month I received a reminder of a body that could not produce life.  Broken.  Barren.  And stuck with that little bitch, Snow White, and her fat disgusting father.

“I could only take it for a few years.   One quiet evening, I fed my husband a beautiful feast.  We were alone in the castle, and I watched his cock swell in appreciation at another excuse for gluttony  just before he fell face down in his plate.  We buried him the next day.

“Snow White was beside herself with grief and a healthy fear of me.  I kept her around as long as I could.  She grew into a beautiful teenager, with a slim waist, full plump breasts and a big round ass that brought all of the princes to our castle to adore her.

“I spent most of my time in my bed chamber with my little pet bird I called ‘Raven’ because he reminded me of Mother. But I could not ignore Snow White and the attention she received from the princes that came from all across the land to get a glimpse of the girl with the fair skin and the red lips.  I noticed more and more that the princes never even looked in my direction.  One day, one had the guile to ask me if I was Snow White’s grandmother.  He fell from his horse to his death on his journey home.  Stupid little man.

“I often stared at my reflection in the only mirror we kept in the castle and eventually moved it into my secret room where I made my potions.  One day, as I looked at myself, the mirror revealed the lines beginning to form round corners of my lips and at the creases of my eyes, the silver wiry hair peeking out around my temples.  The mirror saw the truth and told me I was no longer the fairest in the land.  Filled with rage, I ordered a huntsmen to take that damned child into the forest and kill her, but the noble prick couldn’t do it and came back to the castle begging my forgiveness, which, of course, I could not oblige.

“I learned of where she stayed and followed her about the forest one day, cloaked to keep my skin from the sun, and watched her as she talked to the birds and the rabbits as if she’d gone mad.  That was nearly enough until I saw she she was pleased, happy even.  Her skin reflected the sun’s light, and there was a twinkle in her eye.  The little corners of her crimson mouth turned up on the sides in an obvious smile.  Unacceptable, I thought to myself.  She does not deserve happiness if I cannot have it, too.

“I watched her enter her little cottage and knocked three times on the door after she was inside.  I brought a bundle of candied apples with me, one of her favorite little treats, and when she opened the door, her mouth fell open at the sight of the sweets.  She looked at me, close, as if I resembled someone she once knew but then cocked her head to the side and raised a brow at me.

“‘May I help you with something, old woman,’ she said to me.

“I recoiled at the term ‘old woman,’ but before I could turn and go, she reached down and retrieved an apple from my basket.

“‘Do take a bite, young lady,’ I said to her disguising my voice.

poison apple

“She ate the entire thing in three bites, then licked the gooey sugar from the delicate tips of her fingers.  I watched her fall to the ground, convulsing, white bubbles foaming from her heart shaped lips.  I turned to run back to the castle.  I ran and ran, my breath catching in my chest, muscles aching, until I could no longer make my legs move.

“And then I woke up here, my dear.  I don’t know what happened next.  I’m not sure why Snow White fell.  I only wanted to give her a sweet treat, you see.”

She looks at me now with a smirk.  She doesn’t believe me.  None of them do.  I scoff at her and pull the blanket over my legs and wheel myself back to the window where the white envelopes the landscape.

“Hilde, er, uh, Madame Grimhilde,” she says attempting to garner my attention again.

“Please just go.”  I say, refusing to take my eyes from the snow.

“Madame Grimhilde, I need you to take your pill.”

“No!  Get out of my room.”  Those fucking pills.  They want me to rest, to put me in my bed to sleep until I die, to forget my past, to lay in my own piss and wither away…forgotten.

“Mrs. Grimm, you must take your medicine before dinner.”

“My name is  Madame Grimhilde, and in case I did not make myself clear the first time, I said GET OUT!”

They think I’ve lost my mind. It’s only a matter of time before they come in and tie me to the bed again.  If only my body worked, and I could run and free myself from this prison, feel the snow crunch against my slippered feet and the chill of that unforgiving wind on my cheeks.  Instead I’m trapped here in this room, this place, this hell that is my mind.

“Poor old bag thinks she’s the Evil Queen again,” I hear her whisper to the men who strap me to my bed right before I feel the pierce of the needle.

“Her dementia’s acting up again,” I hear a male voice say, “It’s always worse for the ones who get no visitors.”

And then my head swims into blackness again.

Where is the white?

The white…

White…

This story is a part of the creative fiction blog hop.  Grab the badge and join in if your inner villain wants to play.

creativefiction

The Cycle

It starts again. The cycle. The never ending punch in the gut, jolt to the heart, baffling cycle.

The first stage:

Denial

“Have you talked to mom?” The question I hate to hear when one of my four brothers calls.

“Yes.” I close my eyes before I ask, “Why?”

“She just seems,” sigh, “Out of it.”

“No. I haven’t noticed.” I lie.

Then I end the call and pretend it never happened. I go about my day. I play with my children. We do homework. I cook dinner for my family, a mediocre, limp mess that we call a meal. I sit in my chair at the kitchen table, fork some food into my mouth, chew, and swallow, all the while trying to push her illness away from my reality. I smile at my son as he tells me something really important about one of his Lego Star Wars characters and nod my head feigning undying interest. I wipe my daughter’s mouth and ask her to use her fork and listen to her hum a song she learned at preschool. We all sit and eat, and I pretend it’s not happening. Again.

It’s not happening again.

It’s not happening again.

And so on until she reaches the next stage … everyone’s favorite.

I’m back!!!

My phone rings. I look at the name. “Mom” lights up. I want so badly to hit the red Decline button, but I can’t. I cannot ignore her call. I long to hear her voice, to feel her, to hold on to just a little bit of her normal, so I answer.

“Hi, mom,” I say and hold my breath.

“You’re coming to see me Spring Break, right?”  She says, rapidly, faster than her usual Southern drawl.

“Um.  I haven’t thought about…”

“I’m cleaning out my closet,” she interrupts, “Do you want that brown suit that I bought with you at Dillard’s? You could use it for work.” Flight of ideas. Keep up. It’s not always easy.

“No, mom. I don’t work anymore.” I haven’t worked in 7 years.

“Oh.” She pauses, trying to make sense of that in her head but only briefly.Onto the next thought. “I’m so alive right now. I’ve never been better. Did I tell you? I’m back. I’m back, and I’m better than I ever was. I have so much energy. I stayed up until 6:00 this morning, organizing my closet. Organizing my cabinets. Organizing the laundry room.”

I picture my childhood home always tidy and neat, immaculate actually, and then I picture her organizing, her new way of organizing.  Her clothes drape over her bed and litter the floor next to her closet. The plates I ate so many meals from stack on top of each other on the kitchen counter next to the silverware and her cast iron skillet, the one that she used to make me fried okra and French fries anytime I requested. Her prized teapot collection no longer collects dust in her antique display cabinet.  Pieces of it scatter all over the house, unmatched. She uncharacteristically went on a catalog shopping spree and spent almost a thousand dollars on junk. My parents’ formal living room couples as an advertisement for the As Seen on TV store. I imagine my dad rubbing his lips together, kneading the soft wrinkled skin on his forehead back and forth with his fingers, trying to ignore the mess … the clutter … the illness.

“I’m glad you’re feeling well.” I lie. She’s not well. We all know it, but she feels great. Some synapse in her brain rapidly fires over and over and sends her on a temporary high. A high that she feeds on, that she enjoys, that makes her look “crazy” to the outside world, but just fragile, porcelain plunging to tile about to shatter in a million pieces, to me. She will break. Soon. So I brace myself. And I hold onto her happy, to her synthetic high with all of my force from behind my phone.

“I love you, mom.” I say, swallowing the huge lump in my throat.

“I love you, too.”

“I know.”

I know.

I know.

And I do, which is why I can handle the next stage:

Anger

Her name lights up on my phone for the eighth time today. I sigh. I can’t do it. I can’t pick up and hear what I know she is going to say. I can’t, but I do. Every time. Because I can’t ignore my mom.

“Hi, mom.”

“I don’t know what your problem is.” She spits at me.

“I don’t have a problem.” I say, grinding my teeth.

“You and your dad are assholes. Do you think I’m a child?” Says the preacher’s wife who rarely uses profanity. Sick Mom has no filter. Sick Mom uses words Well Mom would never, ever say.

She heard a conversation that took place between my dad and me, one where we were trying to decide what to do with her. She’s abused my dad to the point where he can’t stand it anymore. She hates him, hates the way he smells, the way he looks, the way he breathes, the way he walks, the way he sleeps, and she tells him this. Every minute of every day. I fear for him. I know that she would never hurt him, the well she, but the sick she hates him, and the sick she often references things like butcher knives and frying pans, so I speak to my father every morning when I first wake up to make sure that he’s still alive.

That’s what sickness does to a family. It makes it doubt the legs on which it stands. It makes it doubt the heart that makes it beat. It makes us doubt our mom. And it’s terrible.

“No, mom. I don’t think you’re a child.” Even though we sort of treat her like one. My dad unplugged the stove to keep her from catching their house on fire. He disconnected her car battery so that she can’t drive away when he isn’t watching. We whisper behind her back and tiptoe around her, not wanting to strike her ever ready match. We make plans for her without her approval. But we don’t think she is a child.

“Mom.  Please stop being mad at me.”

“You know what?”

“What mom?”

“Your husband should leave you. He should take your kids and leave and never look back. Those kids deserve better than you. And so does your husband. You don’t appreciate him at all.”

“I know, mom.”  Because agreeing makes the conversation shorter, and I’ve heard this at least four times today. She’s also told me that I’m a whore and a piece of shit and the worst mother on the planet.

She’s angry with me because last time this happened, I made the decision to put her in the hospital, the one she calls “the loony bin,” the one she refuses to go back to, the one that did nothing but make her worse. I hate myself for making that decision, but we didn’t have a lot of choices. My brothers weren’t brave enough to do it, and she became too much for my elderly father to control, and frankly, I didn’t want her to kill him in his sleep, but that I don’t tell anyone.

She also does not understand why I cannot visit her, why I won’t allow my children to see her this way. She can’t understand. They need to remember the well Nana. The Nana who always kept candy in her pocket and secretly handed them a piece each time I turned my back, the Nana who sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” off key but with joy and giggled every time the song ended, the Nana who would sit and hold them on her lap, rocking in her chair, reading them books, content to have the chatter of children all around her, who played hide and go seek, who threw the baseball in the back yard. The Nana whose laugh was contagious and the best sound on earth.

“I’m sorry that you’re mad at me, mom.”

“Sure you are.  You don’t care about me.”  And with that, she abruptly ends the call.  I put down my phone. And I cry. Because my mom is sick, and nobody can answer the question:  “Why?”

She’ll call me at least twenty more times this day, and I’ll answer every time. And I’ll listen to her assault of words because she’s my mom, and I know she doesn’t mean it.

I know she doesn’t mean it.

I know she doesn’t mean it.

And I brace myself for the next stage. The worst stage of all.

The lights are on but nobody’s home

“Mom” hasn’t flashed on my phone screen in days. Yesterday, on her birthday, I called her, and we spoke.  A simple, “happy birthday, mom,” conversation. I said, “I love you,” and she said, “I love you, too,” and we ended the call. That was yesterday.

Today is my birthday. On normal birthdays, my mom calls me and recounts my birth. She tells me for at least the 35th time that she went into labor with me at her birthday dinner, two days late. They rushed to the hospital where she continued to labor with me over night.   “Everyone from the church was there, and all I wanted was to be left alone,” I hear her voice in my imagination, her normal well voice, tell me, “My room was full of people,” and she goes on to tell me who was there.  She labored all night and then finally, with no aid of medication, she delivered me at 9:35 the next morning. The doctor announced, “It’s a girl,” and the room fell silent. A girl after four boys. “If you would have been another boy, I think I would have told them to put you back in,” her normal well voice tells me with a chuckle, normally.  Normally, on my birthday, my mom and I talk about her going into labor on her birthday with me, “the best birthday gift she ever got.” Normally, but not this year. And not last year. Because my mother forgot my birthday. Again. It’s not her fault. It’s because of the illness. It’s because of the sickness in her brain that we cannot explain.

But it doesn’t hurt any less. Because it’s our thing. Our birthdays … our birthdays are … special.  I’m the best birthday gift she ever got. Remember, mom?

Remember?

Remember?

But she doesn’t. Her brain has checked out. And she doesn’t remember.  She doesn’t even know if she brushed her teeth this morning. She stands at the sink and pours herself a glass of water, forgetting to turn off the faucet as water pours over the side of her glass and splashes her hand …and she doesn’t know it.

I’ll check my phone a thousand times today, and her name won’t appear.  She forgot. It’s okay, I tell myself.

It’s okay.

It’s okay.

She’ll get better. She’ll come back. She always does.

Until then, I’ll ferociously go through my card box and try to find one from my mom. A card with her voice, where I can hear her, the real her, the well her. And I’ll read every card she’s ever given me. And then I’ll find a little gem in the box, a note that she put in a pile of mail she sent me when I first moved to Dallas thirteen years ago. And there she is. Just like that.  Two simple sentences.

“Here’s your mail, sweetie.  Sure do miss you so much. Love, Mom”

I miss you, too, Mom.

So much.

hands -The Cycle