I can work the red twist tie with no problem. Even at six years old my tiny fingernails can work magic. About seven turns to the right and the dotted bag breathes a sigh of relief. As the yellow, red, and blue Wonder Bread loaf exhales, Matt’s on his tippy toes, laboring to hand Mom the soft square of carbs that anchors our childhood lunch. I’m right behind him, his Buster Brown saddle shoes softly kissing the worn carpeting in the kitchen, as I prop him up so he can do the afternoon lunch work himself.
Mom is standing at the sink, her hands busy with the spoons, bowls, bottles, from the morning humming, “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, a hug around the neck…” planting a kiss, 1.. 2…. on our heads as she locates the hotdogs in the fridge. Wiping the medley of Palmolive, water, and morning milk onto her apron; I notice how her wedding ring turns inward and sparkles amongst the drying suds. She slices each hot dog lengthwise, flipping each onto their belly where the pair are blanketed by a slice of Kraft American cheese. Then, they meet their demise under the warmth of the broiler. The oven door, in need of some WD40, belching out an annoying WAHHHAAA, as Mom surveys the progress. Quickly, she takes her index finger and thumb and the Reynold’s tin foil slides onto the inside of the oven door. The corners of white bread now a golden hue, with the cheese bubbled and brown. It sticks to the back of my teeth, forming a retainer of gooeyness, as I watch the steam from the hotdog escape, no longer covered in a sheet of cheese.
I can hear the oven’s clock—it’s burnt orange hands lazily tick-tocking–eeking out time before we play. The hour and minutes shaded and baked by heat.
Our avocado double oven juts out of the paneled kitchen wall right before you make your way into the dining room. The oven’s awkward location and the paneled wall with its splinters are hazards to our imagination.
“I want to know who’s been in my briar patch! I am gonna find you Peter Rabbit! I’m gonna get you GOOD this time,” Mom shrills as Matt and I cower on our knees under the dining room table. Pretending not to see us, she grabs at pockets of air, her hands outstretched, her manicured fingernails purposefully missing us as we try to dodge her grasp.
“Ahhhhaaa. You think you and your brothers and sisters can steal all my cabbage and carrots?! No, no nooooo!!”
Matt and I wiggle underneath the table, laughing nervously, pretending to nibble carrots and cabbage in our imagined briar patch.
Mom would play Mr. MacGregor, and Matt and I would take turns being Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Mr. Rabbit, Mrs. Rabbit. I don’t remember how we decided our roles, all I remember how I felt in those snippets of time. Whether she was Mr. Macgregor in our dining room, or teaching our Girl Scout Troop the “Indian Love Call,” or stomping across a bridge playing Billy Goat’s Gruff, she insisted that life was about making memories.
Today, sitting in our living room a couple feet across from each other, I begin to cry remembering fragments of memories as I will myself to write. I pat my eyes, sob a little harder, but Mom does not flinch, does not look my way. I look up, pleading with God to somehow deliver me my Mom again.
Finally, “What happened to you to make you cry?” she says matter-of-factly without saying my name.
Because she doesn’t know who I am anymore.
“Sometimes things change and I have a hard time with change, Mom.”
“Well, things can be crappy, but we all have to try,” she responds.
I pretend then that she says, “Well, things can be crappy, but we have to try, Jodi.”
“You taught me to be strong, but I don’t know if I can be as strong as you,” I gulp.
“Well, I don’t know, but you have to try,” and then turns back looking straight ahead into the imaginary world Alzheimer’s has penned in her confused mind.