First 30 Days Blog

06 dec

Period of Adjustment

Period of Adjustment

As I opened the vertical blinds, light spilled into my mother’s room, reflecting off the yellow walls and gleaming white vinyl-tiled floor. It shone on her bulletin board, festooned with photos and Valentine cards and a heart-shaped Mylar balloon, half deflated but still bobbing with the air currents as I bustled about.
I moved her wheelchair closer to the window so she had a clear view of the wide boardwalk at Coney Island and the ocean beyond it. No one was passing by. Snow gusted in horizontal sweeps from the Atlantic; a few seagulls braved the icy winds.
“Look at the way the snow is blowing, Mom.”
“What do I care? I’m not going outside anyway. I’m a prisoner here.”
“I’ll take you out when it’s warmer. Remember, we went outside last Thursday. But it’s too cold today. It’ll get warmer soon.”
“What month is it? October?”
“No, it’s March. Did you notice the sign on the wall in the lounge? March 4, 1999.”
“Whatever,” she said with a shrug. “I’m a prisoner. I want to go home.”
There was a new flower arrangement on her dresser, still wrapped in clear plastic. “Isn’t this pretty?” I brought it to the sink, removed the plastic and added water. The gold and red flowers were in a ceramic mug. A small stuffed dog, his paws tipped in Velcro, was attached to the handle. “It was very thoughtful of Mark to send you this.”
“The flowers. From Mark,” I said loudly. “Did you see the dog?” I handed her the palm-sized toy and for the first time a slight smile lifted the corners of her mouth.
“Put it there,” she ordered, pointing to her bed. Her roommate, Elaine, had a white panda in the center of her bed.
“What will you call it?” I asked and tried not to think about a similar conversation I had with my three-year-old grandson.
* * *
Later, driving home, I watched seagulls whirling in Mobius loops over the Atlantic Ocean, a sullen greenish gray churning with whitecaps. Loops like the conversations with my mother, but at least the seagulls were free to swoop and swirl. They seemed to derive some elemental pleasure from their actions. My mother’s loops were tight, trapping us in a repetitious pattern: she would complain about something, like the hot cereal at breakfast that looked like sand and smelled moldy. I would try to explain: the menu listed it as Maypo. Would she like me to ask them for Cream of Wheat?
Where was my compassion? It was as though I were a little girl again and she was holding my hand too hard as we crossed the street. I wanted to be free of her then. I could not allow myself to follow this twisting loop. It was my duty to bring flannel nightgowns, small boxes of soft cookies that wouldn’t hurt her teeth, even if she forgot to eat them.
I held the steering wheel steady against the gale as the Verrazano Bridge disappeared in a grayish haze. Then the sun thrust its warming rays through the dense clouds. In seconds the snow dissolved and with it the mist shrouding the bridge. Now I was heading west, heading home, away from the nursing home, away from my mother’s surges of fury, spite, bewilderment and sadness. In another moment the sun withdrew, and the gray pall closed in again.
Holding the clear sunny moment in my mind, I pictured my mother as she was an hour earlier, napping in her wheelchair, her head sunk forward on her chest. Then she woke and said in a quiet voice, not the loud, harsh voice of the near-deaf, “I was never a good swimmer. I was always a little afraid of the ocean. My sister Sophie taught me how to swim by dropping me in the water. I still remember how I was choking when she pulled me up. I called her my mean sister.” And she smiled her uneven smile as seventy-five years fell away.
This wasn’t my idea of a happy memory, but it seemed to please her more than reality, which kept slipping away. Maybe I should give her what she wants, I thought. I’ll bring a stuffed animal next time.

Shared by poetessxyz.

Posted by First 30 Days on December 6th, 2008 in Personal Stories | 0 comments

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