My key opens Mom's apartment door, but I call for her anyway, not wanting to frighten her by my sudden appearance. I wonder if she is dressed or if she has gone back to bed, disregarding the sun as a clue to daytime. I peer around the corner, relieved to see her silhouetted against the sheer curtains. She knows today is an important day.
She doesn't know when Wednesday and Sunday lost the interlopers of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Was it long before Dad told me she dressed for church four days early? She doesn't know when day and night lost their unique credentials. Was it long before she called me at 1A.M., confident that it was 1 P.M.?
"Tomorrow was today, you know,
while yesterday does grow and grow..."
Dad's jingle pops into my head. He was both philosophical and clever with words.
"...so look ahead and back again,
until you know that then is when."
Mom can look back. There are moments to remember - births, deaths, parties, funerals - which surface in our conversations, sometimes with strikingly accurate details. They arise detached from chronology. They happened "then" or "when", without the logic of relationship to each other, to the present, to the future.
This is no longer frightening. I am now accustomed to conversations meandering back and forth from recent past to long past and back again. I listen, and I've learned not to correct what can't be corrected with any long-term impact. I can walk away.
Dad must have been less patient in their last years together, always having to correct her and yet having to depend on her. He couldn't walk away. She complained of his increasing irritability. She convinced the doctor he suffered from Alzheimer's through a curious transference of her own confusion.
Mom cannot walk away either. She can remember being the grand marshal of the parade of children through her house. She can remember scheduling appointments, paying bills on time, filing the family taxes, and balancing the checkbook down to the penny. She cannot remember whether summer is over, whether she has eaten lunch yet, or whether she turned off the water before going to bed. Sometimes she forgets she mothered five children and not four or three. This is frightening.
She cannot remember that she got up three times in the middle of the night to dress for a 4 P.M. appointment. She is dressed now, wearing her make-up, and appearing much younger than her 82 years. She is sitting in her chair, looking out the window as the sun dances through the leaves.
It is 1 P.M. She has been sitting there for a while, I'm sure. Unlike the doctors who illogically insist on asking her how long she has had difficulty telling time, I don't ask her how long she's been waiting. I remind her calmly that she has hours until the appointment, but I don't say "hours". I say, "It will be a long while." She says that she knows, but she likes sitting there anyway. Her hands move in small, nervous circles in her lap. The anxiety of not knowing the moment of the appointment keeps her in the chair.
The appointment will close the doors to her house of over 50 years. She will sign the papers required to sell it to a young family, vibrant with children like her own. That makes her happy. She wonders what they look like. I wonder what will happen to the memories that live in spaces and not in time. The memories that live in the closets, the stairwells, the hallways, the porches, and the dining room may not have mental rooms anymore.
I have taken her several times for "final" walks through the house. She says it doesn't bother her to walk through it now that it is empty. The gift of the stroke is detachment. But often in her new residence she asks about things that she is sure are still at home, in this or that cupboard, this or that drawer or closet.
It might be a blessing to forget her being taken out on a stretcher for emergency surgery or Grandma's collapsing in the powder room. It might be a godsend to forget holding Dad as his life slid out from under her. I don't know. She doesn't ask me to retell these events to her, nor does she retell them to me.
My memories of life in that house are dulled temporarily by the tryanny of time. For me, the house sale has been mostly about time - time to meet with the realtor, time to consult the attorney, time to collect important papers, time to maintain my work and home, and on and on. Every event has been plotted in a fast-moving trajectory without time to reflect on losses.
For her, time is an increasingly complex puzzle with no useful clues. For her, this moment is an awkward dance between readiness and uncertainty. I do not know how many moments she has used for reflection. The softness of her eyes tells me this is one of them. I look at her in this moment and decide not to forget it.
I would not remember it in time if it weren't two days before Thanksgiving, a year after Dad's funeral, and six months after her move. I can place it in my personal chronology. I don't think she can.
I decide to remember it in space as well. I study the perimeter of her chair as it is brightened by the luscious angle of fall sun. I note the neatness of her navy suit topped with white beads and the cheer of her pink make-up and rosy lipstick. I decide to remember her courage, not only in giving up her home and her life as she knew it, but in facing every day in a peculiar haze of moments.
I place this moment gently in time and space for both of us. It connects us, and it is not frightening.