Sitting by the window, her gaze through the glass, landing among the sheep in the meadow, she says, “I wish I could be down there among the sheep. Don’t they look peaceful lying there under the oak tree? So many of them with their thick cuddly fur.”
I look at my mom as she enters her dream. Her dream of being protected and taken care of without a care in the world.
“I think I have counted around forty sheep, but they move about, so not quite sure,” she continues.
We are having brunch at Mission Ranch restaurant in Carmel, just the two of us. My children live in other cities far away and today they sent texts and videos to wish me Happy Mother’s Day. One got through on FaceTime. With families of their own, they are busy celebrating Mother’s Day. I’m happy for them.
I don’t think my mother ever thought that thought: that her children were busy with their own families. Always, she expected our attention, whether from her husband or from her children. And we all complied. Like now, sitting with her, looking at sheep.
She talks about the sheep but also about my father, who died thirteen years ago of cancer after too much booze and too many smokes. Lately, she tears up talking about him and wishes to join him.
I see the association now, between the sheep and my father: the island of safety, either among the sheep or with my father. Being straightforward, he practiced what he knew. He lived hard. My mother, cuddled and free to look pretty and perfect, was naive. She hated competition and did not want to live in the city among peer girlfriends and moved us to the country among farmers, where her status remained unchallenged. I get her life long strategy now: always placing herself where she felt superior.
We toast our glasses of sparkling wine and smile. And I see it: with me she’s back with my dad, enjoying life, admired and carefree. Right now, her reality, real reality, are her memories and when she lives her memories, she’s happy. Everything that takes place now, around us, is not her reality; that is a dream to her. I feel dizzy. We don’t share the same reality. I look out the window at the sheep. They do have long hair, so long that it’s hard to see their feet. Must be time for shearing.
I bring my mother her plate of salmon. And I get an omelet with mushrooms, bell peppers, onions and cheese for myself. I’m hungry. Afterward, I get some salmon, too.
“So, when are we leaving tomorrow?” my mother asks.
“You are not leaving tomorrow, mom, you are not leaving until a couple of weeks from now,” I smile.
The plan is that she’s going to visit my brother in North Carolina for a month, and he will be in California on a business trip and able to escort her to North Carolina. She was there at this time last year, too. But he will deal with yet another mom this time. More frail, sadder, more afraid.
I let her drink. All her life she’s been drinking with my dad. Martinis and wine for her, bourbon and ginger ale primarily for him but also, wine, beer, cognac, Bloody Mary’s and Manhattans. She likes to have wine when I have wine. I let her because she asks me and craves the liquid like me.
The next day she can’t get out of bed. Hangover. Migraine.
She calls me. She’s wondering about her sister-in-law who died of a brain tumor last year.
“But when they scanned my brain, it was okay,” she says.
“Yes, mom, you don’t have a brain tumor, you have a hangover!”
During the last ten years with my dad, she complained of migraines but I’m sure she had hangovers. With my mom inching closer to the grave I discover her and must absorb who she is and was. The Alzheimer’s reveals her true self. I don’t like her. Her wishes surface uninhibited, her cravings and her needs. My father had his hands full. I had my hands full. He as the provider of luxury and I as the caretaker of all her kids. No, I cannot engage in her suffering, that is my challenge…after all these years, I see through her, behind her mask of make-up, behind her dreams, behind her lies, and behind her fear.
I see our relationship as superficial and ‘pretty’ and not authentic or real, as I understand real. She fits into a box and she sees me fit into a box. I have exhausted all compassion and that is cruel but I feel it deeply. Hurt, I only want to protect myself.
“Let’s go outside and sit in the Adirondack chairs to be with the sheep. I’ll take pictures of them,” I suggest.
“Yes, good idea,” she smiles.
I collect her sweater and her purse and escort her outside.