I must have had the one-thousand yard stare that late November night. I was sitting in my dad's chair -- a blue recliner where he had spent the last years of his life whittling away the days after a massive stroke -- when my mother asked me, "What’s wrong, David?"
Cable news blared in the background as she sat on the couch across from me. I raised my voice so she’d hear me above the noise, not to mention her hearing loss.
"Nothing, Mom." I answered, monotone. That wasn't true. You see, my mom's in the middle-to-late stage of dementia, and the bad days had outweighed the good, and there seemed to be little to look forward to. But that night, I detected a moment of clarity about her, a moment of lucidity in a brain that had been experiencing too many clouds. My “mission,” for the family, was a tough one but I saw my opportunity.
"Is it work?" she asked.
“No. I'm not working, Mom. I’m outta work."
She pointed to the manuscript in my lap -- BEAT to a PULP: Round Two with my trusty red pen in hand. "Isn't that work?"
"This is a new book I’m working on. But I'm talking about the day job -- the one that pays the bills."
"Oh, the one where you travel."
"Yeah, that one."
"Then why are you here and not at work if you have bills to pay?"
"To take care of you, Mom. You can't live alone anymore. We've talked about this many times."
That last line opened up an explosive can of worms. She looked perplexed and I explained she has severe memory loss. She couldn't accept it and wanted examples which I gave to her in excruciating detail for the umpteenth time. We talked in circles for close to an hour. Normally she'd get defensive and rebel, but that night she seemed to understand something's wrong with her. I sensed the Good Lord was shining a light and I plunged head-first into the mire to carry out my mission. I had taken time off from work to keep her safe from herself, all the while trying to get her to go either into a nursing home or to live with her daughter who’s a retired nurse. I couldn't screw up this opportunity. I couldn’t be out of work forever. I had a 6-month-old baby girl to raise. Too much is on the table, old son.
"I don't want to go in a home," she said defiantly.
"I know, Mom. I know. Then I have to stay here with you."
After a time, she said with a tremble, "I never wanted to hurt you, David. I never wanted to cause you any pain."
I wanted to breakdown with that heartfelt comment -- it will be burned into my conscience forever.
But I held myself together, and I asked her if she'd be willing to go to my sister’s several states away for the winter. She said she'd do it for me, so I didn’t waste a second. I jumped up to grab the phone.
She stopped me.
"David, I will be able to come back home after winter is over, right?"
I knew what I had to do to protect my mom. I had to get her out of her home by any means necessary. I lied to my mother -- the one who taught me to always tell the truth. I fucking hated it. But I couldn't be honest or she'd never leave. "Yes, Mom. You will be able to come back."
She nodded, and I placed the call.
Now, three months later, every time the phone rings, I cringe. Because when it's Mom, she wants to know when I'm coming to get her. Before all this, I used to call her every day, but now the calls are maybe once a week, and our conversations usually end in frustration for her and deep sadness on my part.
I try to remind myself that I did the right thing. This disease doesn’t stop for anyone.
Sometimes she can almost fool me on the phone that everything is alright, but then she forgets my dad ... "I never heard that name before," she’ll tell me. Then a few moments later, she’ll ask again when she's coming home. She hasn't forgotten that promise. A cruel twist of fate has her remembering my promise. The one time I lied to her.
But if she remembers my promise, then she remembers me.
Maybe that's not such a bad thing.