I enter the small room, seeing my mom’s 90-pound body, curled up in a ball. There is uneaten food on a tray at the end of her bed. Just as I had imagined, the TV is on, some game show announcer is yelling and the audience is clapping. Maybe all institutions only have one channel. There’s a small dresser, with nothing on top. Against the bare wall is her walker. Since when did she use a walker? I hear coughing - there is only a curtain separating her from her roommate. Making my way to the bed I can see Mom is more asleep than awake. I whisper in her ear, hoping to wake her, “Mom, it’s me.” I stroke her hair - or what’s left of her once pretty blond hair. I can barely hear her plead, “Suzie, hold my hand.” I cringe at my childhood nickname.
My heart begins to beat irregularly now, making me feel a bit queasy. I close my eyes for a moment. I take her frail, bony hand. “How are you, Mom? Are they nice here?” I try to sound cheerful but the place is depressing and ugly. She says quietly, almost begging, “I want to go home.” I want to tell her this is her home now but it seems too cruel to say. Instead, I start talking with strained enthusiasm about Rachel and Ilana. “Rachel and Ilana are doing really well...”, I stop midsentence - my lame attempt at conversation is ignored completely. She whispers, “don’t leave me” - those were the words I heard my entire childhood. “I am here, Mom,” I quietly say, but my heart is now racing. I don’t want to hold her hand anymore. In fact, my instinct is telling me to run. I am starting to get a sharp pain in the middle of my forehead. I am having trouble finding enough saliva to swallow.
The noise from the aide taking away her tray momentarily jars me. My mom sits up a bit. Almost angrily my mom points at me - “See, I do have a daughter; they thought I was lying - that you were my invisible daughter!” I smile that smile I learned to make as a kid. I clench my hands, barely noticing that my nails are digging into my palms. I try thinking about Rachel and Ilana. My hands are starting to sweat; I feel them tremor slightly. I squeeze my eyes tightly to stop the tears that are forming. I am determined not to cry. I am OK. “You don’t have to stay,” I remind myself. “Mom, it’s time for me to go.” I kiss the top of her head. “I love you.” Even as I say those three words, I wonder what do I really mean? “Mom, I feel guilty for never calling you?” “Mom, I feel sorry for you?” Or maybe it’s simply what daughters are supposed to say: faking normalcy (even at fifty I was still pretending!). When I listen to other people talk about what they do with their mothers, I nod politely, while wondering how going out to lunch or going shopping with your mother feels.
My mom’s voice brings me back to the present: “Suzie, don’t go.” “Mom, I will see you soon, OK? I’m going to get the nurse for you,” I reassure her that her regular dose of morphine will be delivered in a few minutes. I look at her one more time as I leave. It’s hard to believe she is only seventy-five. They didn’t even bother dressing her. She’s supposed to be doing things with her grandkids. My kids.
As I check out, I wonder if I am coming back. For now, I realize how glad I am to be breathing fresh air; I have been holding my breath.
The shaking is subsiding. I am determined not to cry - at least not until I get home. I want to take a shower. I think about how taboo my childhood story is - that my life consisted mostly of taking care of a drug addicted mother. I close my eyes, contemplating the promise I made that moment when my college diploma was placed in my hand, sealed with the firm handshake of the Dean. I had sworn to myself in that moment that I would never visit my mom again.
Since the age of fifteen, Hope has been putting pen to paper. Writing is her lifeline and her voice. She writes her story through poetry, quotes and memoirs. When she’s not up late at night engrossed in her writing, you might find her knitting her signature multicolored twist scarfs!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.