|(photo by Jordon Miller, www.openphoto.net)|
I watch as my daughter Margaret waters the sad little plant on my window sill. She’s been puttering around the room since she arrived, all the while talking at me with simple words in a slightly too loud voice.
She a lovely girl and I’m glad she’s here. But even though I see her every week, I miss my daughter. This is not the daughter I knew for so many years: the ragamuffin tomboy in pigtails whose knees were always dirty, the coltish young teenager who struggled to grow into her feet while she grew into her own, the proud graduate holding her diploma high in a triumphant “I did it!” gesture. At every stumble along that path, she came to me. I held her and soothed away her tears, reassured her when she was scared, and joyfully celebrated her successes with her. This polished woman is a stranger, a daughter barely recognizable, someone who comes to me now only to fulfill a perceived duty.
Duty done for the week, she leans down to give me a peck on the cheek, and heads for the door of this sterile place I call home.
“Bye.” Margaret pauses in the doorway and turns to look back at me. Her face is a study in confusion. She misses me too, but she can’t wait to get away. She loves me, yet I disgust her. I’m her mother, the one person in her life she’s always been able to count on to take care of her. Yet here I sit, unable to take care of myself. It’s a conundrum for sure, and I’m sorry that she has to grapple with it week after week.
You probably think it makes me mad to be treated like a dreaded obligation, but you would be wrong.
Just look at me. Who could blame her? I picture myself as I’m sure she sees me, a dried up old prune in a ghastly pink and yellow flowered house dress I never would have bought for myself and sensible (read ugly) shoes, sitting in a wheelchair, slumped slightly.
Oh, Maggie, that’s not who I see, I think. I still see the young woman I once was. I turned heads back then too, but the glances I received were anything but disgusted, like the one you struggle to keep off your face now.
I know what she thinks. I know what they all think. And who can blame them?
They think I’m old. Well, I guess I am. On the outside anyway. On the inside, I’m still the same girl I was when I was twenty. It’s only when I’m surprised by a glimpse of the face in the mirror (can that really be me?) that I’m brought fast-forward into the present.
They think I’m bonkers. Oh, they don’t say that to my face. No, I’m sure it wouldn’t be considered kind to say that to a dotty old lady. But they talk. Dementia, they say. They talk about me as though I’m either deaf or not right there in the room with them. I’m old, but I’m not deaf, not yet, anyway. And evidence to the contrary, perhaps, I’m still right here.
They think I say and do inappropriate things. Maybe I do, but I’ve said and done far more inappropriate things. Back in the day, that was part of my charm, if I do say so myself. I was a hot shit (and that would be one of those “inappropriate things, I guess), secure in my personal power.
So, no, I don’t blame Margaret. I completely understand. I probably wouldn’t enjoy hanging around with a senile old lady either, even if she were my mother.
You know, I was never afraid of getting older. I always knew I’d still be me, just made wiser by the passing years, maybe. What I never realized was that the years might bring me wisdom, but they’d also steal away my power. I never expected to be sitting here alone with only my memories to keep me company. But that’s my life now, except on the days when Margaret comes to visit.
I feel a surge of panic. “You’ll come back?” I ask before she makes her escape.
Smiling, she comes back to my side and takes my hand. “Of course I will. Don’t I always?”
I lay my wrinkled hand on top of hers. “Yes, you do, dear. You always do.”
She leans down and kisses the top of my head, and then she’s gone.
Alone again, I let my mind drift back into the past, and think about that time in Barbados. We drank too much rum punch and all ended up skinny dipping in the resort pool that night. Ha. The pool lights weren’t turned on at night again for the rest of our stay.
The nurse at the desk looks up from her work as Margaret passes on her way to the door.
“How was she today?” she asks.
“Oh, you know. About the same.” Margaret chuckles. “She went on a bit about swimming naked with a bunch of people in a resort pool in Barbados. She’s never been to Barbados, but, oh, baby, she really had a great time.”
“She knew who you were?” the nurse asks. “We’ve had a couple of episodes recently when she didn’t recognize staff members and got very agitated when one of us approached.”
“Yes, she still recognizes me,” Margaret replied. "Thank God."
“That’s good. I’m glad.” The nurse smiled gently.
Margaret looks back down the hallway toward the room she just left, and sighs. “Of course, she still thinks I’m her daughter.”
I haven’t been skinny dipping since. I think it’s because I haven’t had that rum punch since. Dangerous stuff, that punch. If you ever have some, beware. They sell it everywhere in Barbados. Only $3.99 a liter. It looks so harmless with its pretty pink color, like that Hawaiian something-or-another the kids drink. And it goes down just as easy. But, wow, it packs a wallop.
Did I tell you about the time I went skinny dipping in Barbados? I was just telling my daughter Margaret about it. Oh, that was some trip, and you've gotta love rum punch...
The nurse clucks sympathetically. “I’m not surprised. But your visits are a comfort to her, and that’s what counts.”
“I know. Linda, I know. It’s heartbreaking, though.”
“Of course it is. As bad as I feel for her, I feel worse for you. I can’t imagine what it’s like to watch your daughter slip away into Alzheimers. It’s so unusual for someone still in her thirties. My heart goes out to you, Margaret. It's just not supposed to happen like this.”
“Thanks, Linda. You're a peach.“ Margaret smiles at the nurse and gives a slight wave of her hand. “Bye. See you tomorrow.”
Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.