Let me say, that completely blindsiding people you care about is..well…bullshit. Even people you don’t care about, it’s just plain mean. But, I did it. I hit my mom with a convo she wasn’t expecting..all because I had become petrified that something was beginning to happen to her. People were noticing. People were talking. All of whom were thoughtful, well-intentioned people.
But Mom had yet to be included in the conversation. The ONE person who was whisper reading dad’s handwritten golf notes, who would furiously type remembered stories over at the Senior Center, who seemingly assembled her days as she always had, with an immense amount of humility and humor; didn’t know she was subject of so much talk and thought. So, now, ten years later I sometimes regret having the one conversation that made my mom cry:
“Mom, you think maybe, we could make an appointment to see the doctor?” My half-smile, inauthentic and pathetic.
“The doctor? I don’t need to go to the doctor. For what?”
“Mom, just to see if he can help. Sometimes you seem confused, forgetful, struggling.”
My mom, grabbing a bag I’d brought upstairs for my trip, turned and walked downstairs. I followed.
“I DO NOT need a doctor, ” she squared up facing me. “Look at your dad, he forgets where he puts his damn keys every goddamn day. His glasses, every damn second and you want to talk to me about taking me to the doctor? No one is going to tell me anything. Not this, one. Yes, I am getting old, but I AM FINE.”
We stand now on the stairs. Tears are welling up in her eyes. I see one fall. She quickly wipes it away.
“Mom, PLEASE. I am sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just th–”
“No, it’s enough, Jodi. I am going to prove you wrong. You will see. No one is going to tell me anything,” she asserts through gritted teeth as she tosses a broke down backpack into the cubbyhole, slams the door, and stomps up the 1970’s inspired carpeting past me.
I crumble on the steps and begin to cry, feeling foolishly selfish for doing so. Fuck. How did I think that was going go? Who the fuck am I to question the workings of someone’s mind, when mine is a hot ass mess at times? Yet, being me I attempt to confront my mother on THE ONE topic she has forever said would never happen to her: Alzheimer’s.
I’d get driven to O’Hare twenty minutes later, my dad unaware of the gravity of the conversation, or really any conversation for that matter. If I had told him, he’d been angry and protective. Mom was his wife, even though she was our mom. 17 hours and I’d be in Africa.
Those first nights in Tanzania we awoke to the clang of church bells. We’d roll out of our twin beds in the convent and follow the stone path that led to breakfast. The shadow of the avocado green tile that lined the cafeteria where we scraped our plates, seemed oddly soothing. I remember staring at those tiles as my plate hit the gray tub, hoping Mom didn’t hate me.
Not surprisingly, I looked forward to holding the hands of habited sisters to pray before heading into Arusha or Moshi. These women were the single, celibate version of my mother whom I missed and had betrayed.
Each evening, I’d return to a small room with three beige computers willing them to work. They were to be my confessional. The email to my Mom, my penance. Purgatory with no internet connection was my reality.
I didn’t talk about the doctor’s appointment with my mom until, God, I don’t know, months or a year later? But when I did, you know what she said?
“I’m glad you did it Jodi. You gave me a gift that day, you did. The doctor gave me a test. I passed. Hell, I even did better than your father, so while I appreciate you care about me, you were wrong.”
I digested that statement as I took a sip of beer, a heaving mess, ugly crying to my mom on the back porch. The worn, yellow cushions stuck to my fat thighs as we talked. We each sat poised with a cigarette between two fingers and a beer next to us, Leinenkugel’s for Mom and Miller Lite for me. Like old times. In new beginnings.