“What a cute little girl,” she says wishing that she could somehow lay claim to the tiny five-year old child with big brown eyes and long brown hair.
“Hi!” says the five year old with a smile from ear to ear as she leans into her admirer to give a kiss.
“What a precious child, look at how sweet you are. Where is your mommy? Who do you belong to?”
I try to ignore the fact that my grandmother no longer remembers my daughter. I try to brush this reality aside long enough to kiss my grandmother on the forehead and brace myself in case today is the day she has forgotten me as well.
“Grandma,” I say softly in her ear as I embrace her hand with my palm, “I am her mother. Remember, Shayne? She is mine.”
My grandmother slowly turns her head towards me trying to understand. “Oh,” she says, “She is yours?”
Sitting in her wheelchair by the receptionist desk of the nursing home along with three other women who hold a similar glassy-eyed appearance, captured by memories lost and muddled in their mind, I feel the distance between her and the moments that exist among us. Shayne knows something is out of place as she repeatedly taps her fingers together and looks my way.
“Why can’t Grandma remember stuff anymore? Is she dying?”
I close my eyes to hold still my heart, carefully explaining to my daughter that Grandma has misplaced her memories; it is like a messy room. It takes a while to find stuff, to figure out where things go, and sometimes things are permanently misplaced somewhere in her mind. Shayne smiled. She understood all about misplaced items in a messy room.
We wheeled my grandmother to the living room, and sat on one of the couches next to her. “This is no way to live, ” Grandma says as she plays with the fringes of her apron. I can see the sadness creep into the corners of her mouth. “If no one in the family is willing to get me out of here, I swear one day soon I will wheel myself out of this place, and fling myself into a ditch. Let’s just get this over with.” She looks towards the glass doors into the distance.
Smiling gently I hold her hand, “So you are gonna’ fling yourself into a ditch, huh?” Her instinct like muscle memory kicks in and our years of quirky humor and banter are quickly reestablished.
She looks at me from the corner of her eyes and creases her lips into a familiar and playful grin. “Guess, I shouldn’t say that too loudly, huh? It is bad enough everyone thinks I am crazy.”
“Are you?” I quickly ask.
With great confidence she nods and says, “Yes.”
I giggle. Her eyes brighten. We had successfully changed the mood hovering over her thoughts.
“Where is your mother?”
“She is on her way.”
“Humph. She barely stays long enough to say hello. And if she does stay, it is because she starts socializing with the other visitors here. She is always busy with those people from church. I told her she should just get a cot and move into the church building.” My grandmother may have forgotten many experiences, but she clung to those toxic memories that fueled her resentment towards my mom.
“La Doña,” as my grandmother renamed my mother. La Doña, the person in charge, the person over you, the person above you, my mother represents all the control my grandmother no longer has. So, it is no surprise that when my mom enters the nursing home the, “fling me in a ditch” feeling settles back into Grandma’s thoughts. Immediately, the tension spreads throughout our visit like a disease. My grandmother’s countenance is now one of anger and frustration.
“Hi, mom!” My mom tells Grandma as she leans in to give her 89 year old mother a kiss. My grandmother does not reply; instead, she looks my way to seek confirmation that her frustration towards my mom is justified.
Like a child, my grandmother starts acting up. She begins using bad words as she describes the miserable existence she now lives. She revisits, for my mom’s benefit, the scheme to throw herself in a ditch. My mother sighs and gives her mom a condescending “okay” as she tries to smile and pretend that my grandmother is not sitting in the middle of this facility using various expletives to drive home the point that she is miserable here.
“I don’t want to be here. I can’t find my clothes, and look at these shoes. Someone came into my room and took all of my stuff. All I can find are these itty bitty pieces of clothing that clearly aren’t mine.”
“Mother,” my mom quickly responds, “I have been washing your clothes for you and putting them back in your closet. All of your clothes are in your room.”
“No! They are not! I am the one who stays here, and I am telling you that clothes are gone! Gone, I say.” I get another glimpse from both my mom and grandmother this time. Both carrying the same expression of frustration, they simultaneously roll their eyes.
“Mother, do you want me to show you where your clothes are?”
“Always. But you never take the time to show me.”
My mother exasperated now, “This will be the third time that we have this conversation, and the third time I show you where your belongings are. Remember, I told you that the drawer farthest to the left belongs to the lady who rooms with you?”
“No. You have never told me this. Never.” My grandmother and mother are both visibly upset, neither willing to bend toward the other.
Shayne and I decide it is time to leave. We kiss them on the cheek and walk towards the glass doors. As I help Shayne into her car seat, I kiss her tiny face and hug her tightly. Shayne’s arms wrap around my neck, and her fingers entangle themselves in my hair. A cool Sunday afternoon breeze wraps around our embraced frames, and I pray that my mother and my grandmother remember where they last placed each other.
© 2009 Cyndi Piña, All Rights Reserved