“Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.” --James Joyce, UlyssesI last saw my mom on December 2, 2011. At that stage she was already confusing name and faces. Forgetting children and close friends. A flickering light of memories, grasping a slippery ledge. It was maddening to get her out of her home, but we managed it. For her safety, it was a must. She and my sister hopped on a train bound for an endless cycle of frustration, turmoil, and the occasional splinter of joy. Now more than a year has withered away.
I talk to Mom a couple of times a week and she seems to remember me. “Doolittle,”—her old and affectionate nickname for me—she starts every conversation with. My sister says, “You will be the last one she forgets.” But what if she has already forgotten? She calls me Doolittle on the phone, but maybe she’s saying it to a ten-year-old boy. When I see her again, maybe my appearance won’t live up to what she’s seeing in her mind. Maybe I should shave this goatee. Lose some weight. Dye the gray in my hair. No, there’s nothing to be done except walk onto her stage like an improv performance artist and waltz to her tune. “Blue Danube,” anyone? Dementia is a kind of natural acid trip for the people suffering from this gives-no-quarter disease. A recent back and forth:
“Doolittle?” a barely audible voice says over the crackling line.
“Mom, why are you whispering?”
“They’re out there, hiding underneath the window so I can’t see them. They’re plotting to break in and rob me,” she says, her voice trembling. “I’m waiting for Blood.”
“Blood? What do you mean? Who’s out there?”
“Those cutthroats. But he’ll come.”
“Who, Mom? Who will come?”
“Blood?” I say again, then dwell on it for a beat before venturing forward. “You mean Captain Blood?”
“Yes,” she says with determination, “and he’ll put these money-grubbing snatchers in the ground.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her we’re a long way from Port Royal.
Maybe I should prepare for our upcoming visit by watching FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS to be in the right frame of mind. Anthropomorphic desert animals! Bats bulleting the sky! Grab a flyswatter. Infuse Gonzo with surrealist Dali’s draping clocks, blank playing cards, and a man with no face. Stir in Dylan’s “Series of Dreams” playing on an infinitesimal Lewis Carroll phonograph. “And there’s no exit in any direction, ‘cept the one that you can’t see with your eyes,” the troubadour warbles. And if I start to get down, I will ask the court jester to do that Zorba dance that so mesmerized Basil.
Reminds me of another quote, one from Henry Miller, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Yeah, I’m as ready as I’m going to be. Time to make that journey. Eyes wide open, old son.