Monday, May 02, 2005

New numbers and old friends

Last week I gave Mom and Dad my new phone number. I haven't moved, but I do know what my new number will be and when they will set up my DSL. Mom gave me their new number. It feels strange. I'm always the one with the new number. They've had the same number for nearly 30 years. And yesterday the rest of the family gathered to help them move the first load to the new house. Mom said Beanie knew just where everything was, moving through the place as if she owned it or had built it, pointing out all the conveniences and special features, comfortable and capable. And she's the baby.

Mom called today to talk. I knew it was her when I picked up the phone. "Didn't I just talk to you yesterday?" I smiled when I said it. "No, that was the day before," she quipped.

My sister-in-law had surgery Friday. Mom wished she could have had all her surgeries laparoscopically with just a few puncture holes in her body instead of the crosshatching of shiny silver and puckered flesh that crisscross the stretch marks, the proof of her childbearing years. "I just can't remember what kind of surgery she had." I hear the fear in her voice. "You know all about this stuff. Tell me some surgeries."

Gall bladder, exploratory lap, ovarian cyst removal, tubal ligation, hysterectomy, fibroid tumor removal, bowel resections. I kept going. She couldn't remember.

"I need to get ready for church. It's after six."

"Mom, it's five till six."

"It takes time. Your dad doesn't like to wait. I'll call you later when I remember what kind of surgery she had. Don't understand why I can't remember." She hung up still dithering about her memory.

"Gall bladder. She had her gall bladder out. Jimmy had to take her to the emergency room. She couldn't breathe. She has asthma. Do you remember she has asthma?"

Yes, I remembered. But she doesn't remember all the time and she is terrified. Images and memories of grandma flood her mind, images of vacant smiles and wordless screams of pain when anyone touches her or tries to straighten the arms and legs that force her back into a fetal ball. Images of her fragile skin tearing, bleeding, gaping raw and red with any soft caress. Images of tears and the memory of her own hot tears falling on her mother's twisted body and broken flesh and the wordless cries. Alzheimer's.

She's begged for death, doesn't want to out stay her welcome. "Take me now, Lord," she begs in the silent darkness after Dad has gone back to sleep. He found her cold and unmoving on the floor again, half dressed, unknowing, unable to halt the creeping grasp of another misfire in her brain. "Lord, I want to go home." But she can't say the words, won't even whisper the doom looming over her with avid greed, clawing at her mind. Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's. Silent devouring torture worse than a clean death, more insidious than dying on the operating table. No wonder she is so anxious for the knife. A swirl of chemicals in her veins and her eyelids droop. A whiff of gas and oblivion. Maybe this time she won't wake. Maybe this time the specter that has haunted her family, that old unwelcome friend, will lose his grip on her brain and let her go without a struggle.


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