Monday, June 05, 2006

The family garden

life just keeps getting harder
and it just keeps getting harder to hide
the darker it is around me
the easier it is to see inside
outside the glass
the whole world is magnified
and it's half an inch
from here to the other side
---Glass House, Ani DiFranco

I brought her roses yesterday, from her garden: pinks, blood reds, pristine whites. Careful to pull off the prickers after I cut them ("cut them long," my father insisted), I noticed the whites had the largest, most fierce thorns. Surprisingly, they were the easiest to remove.
Everyone's commenting on how great the flowers look and smell; she was always very proud of them.
We're all sitting in her room admiring the view from a wall of glass soaring high above the trees.
"Teta Meta, where did you get the beautiful roses?" my cousin Lanie asks.
"They came from my parents' yard. Aren't they pretty?"
Just like that, it hits like a slap. Her parents have been dead for decades.
They said this might be due to the anesthesia, earlier in the week when she was only marginally lucid, clutching the morphine pump like a talisman, slipping in and out of consciousness. But it's been several days since the anesthesia, and a day after the morphine was removed.
When the first frantic phone call came Thursday night, I didn't even consider this for the long haul. Of course she was confused: coming down from the surgery, hours after we'd all gone home, unable to reach anyone due to Fairview's collect-only long distance calling policy. Even when I got there at midnight, she was mostly clear. We chalked it up to bad dreams, good drugs and fear. Worried she might get scared again, I decided to stay the night.
Later, at 4 a.m., when she didn't remember her name, or mine, small clouds of doubt started to form in my mind.
But then other things came up. She walked her first agonizing steps. I had to leave for work at noon, only to return to the hospital at 5. She got better. I got sick. She started eating. I stopped. Basically life intervened, as it always does, and dad had a full list of things for me to do to ready the house for her eventual return.
The staff kept saying, "It might be from the medicine. We won't know until later. "
I watched her when she sat, fingers moving mindlessly across the sheet in her lap, a rhythmic gesture somewhere between typing and piano playing, her face an occasional blank stare. Why did it seem familiar?
Then I remembered her mother, my grandmother. She used to do that same thing with her fingers. . .back when she was first diagnosed. When she could still eat -- and move. When sometimes she seemed still herself. Before the Alzheimers slowly carved away her humanity.
It was trauma to her hip, caused by a fall, that brought out her symptoms all those years ago.
Surrounded by mingled scents of roses and bleach, I grasp my mother's hand and stare out over the treetops, willing myself to erase this memory before it takes hold, and failing.

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