Novelist | Singer
I jumped out of bed (more like groaned; remember, this was just months after my back surgery) the first day Mom lived with us. We were taking care of Mom! This was the ultimate gift to a parent, and right when she needed me most. I was the dutiful daughter. We would make our home the perfect place for her, and create memories that would last a lifetime. I was also terrified to my toes. Mom comes from a family of long livers. Her grandfather made 97, her own mother, 94, and her brothers 95, 93, 93. Mom was only 88, and a woman to boot, statistically destined to live longer than the men in her family. This living situation could go on for a while, and every time I thought about that, my heart quickened and my face reddened with guilt. There was no other approach but one day at a time. I later found out it was more like one hour at a time.
The room we planned for Mom was the office, so our first day included moving furniture. We jammed our desk into the corner of our bedroom, then carried armfuls of clothing, boxes, a small desk, several lamps, linens and chairs up 27 steps to squeeze all of it into 1,200 square feet – and that’s total square-footage of the condo. By the afternoon, we were exhausted and crammed into our new situation, but happy as we settled in for happy hour.
“Welcome to our home, Mom!” We toasted her on the back deck with gin and tonics.
“This is really nice,” she said. It did feel nice. It felt right, too. We were still in the courting period of our new living situation, and everyone was on their best behavior, and trying to make everything special.
Dinner was special, as I remember. We must’ve eaten lobster, as it was Mom’s favorite. Al, the chef of the house, had us set the table and then sit there as he brought in the plates and served my Mom first.
“Whooooooo!!!!!” she exclaimed. “Lobster, my favorite!” Then she said the fatal thing that would become a sore point within a couple of weeks—or was it days? “That’s too much for me!”
“That’s OK, Mom, just eat what you can, and I’ll eat the rest,” Al said.
Lobster as you know, is roll-your-sleeves-up eating, so we just put newspaper all over the top of the table pad (no table cloth required or desired) and try to hit the big bowl with the water and the shells. Mom’s a Midwestern girl, and so lobster is sort of, well, an exotic food for her, although she’s eaten it, in fact, here in our home plenty of times. She picked up the lobster and tipped it the wrong way, and yeah, you guessed it, water all over the place.
“Marge!” Al barked. “Here, let me do it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” she said, and dropped her head. Al took the lobster impatiently and proceeded to pull off the legs like a nasty boy on the playground. “This is how you do it,” he said.
I just looked at him as he ripped the bug apart and emptied the water into the bowl.
“And the water goes in here,” he growled.
“OK, I’m sorry,” Mom repeated.
I was still looking at Al. Finally he glanced over and said, “What?”
“What? What is wrong with you?”
He just ignored me and dove into his lobster.
So we descended into the lobster-eating ritual—plenty of cracking, lip smacking, moaning and slurping while our hands slowly became a sticky mess of arthropod fat. Mom is very vocal when she eats or drinks, and then, well, there’s the Alzheimer’s, which removes all the filters that might have been in place at some point. She wears dentures, as do most people her age, and let’s face it, lobster is a chewy little bugger, so to speak. At a certain point, she had gotten all of the nutrition out of whatever was in her mouth, and she reached up and took the chewed food out and put it back on her plate. This was not the first time I had seen this, but I tried to ignore it all the same. Al made a face and put his hand up to block his view of Mom’s seafood. I frowned at him and returned to my own bug.
After dinner, I let Mom carry the dishes into the kitchen (something I never was able to stop, so I just held my breath and hoped she made it to the kitchen with my heavy plates) and took over the cleanup. I squeezed out the sponge when I was done and went back into the living room, and there was my Mom in her robe—parked right in my place on the sofa, watching TV with Al.
“Hi!” she said. “Come sit down.”
So for the foreseeable future, I was relegated to the opposite end of the sofa. I suppose I could’ve claimed my spot, because I know she didn’t usurp it on purpose. She looked for a good spot, and sat down. It didn’t seem right to move her. I really wanted her to feel like she was at home here, that this was her sanctuary as much as it was ours. I didn’t know yet how much she would be able to remember from day to day, and I didn’t want to start opening those doors quite yet. Besides, I had plenty of time to move her when she got a little more comfortable. She was my Mom, and she could have my seat if she wanted it.