My mother looks at me straight in the face -- but she's not there.
When I look at her I remember the mother I've always known: strong, feisty, independent. I know she's still all these things, but now her limbs can't carry the weight of her body and mind, her mind further laden with constant confusion.
Mom remembers me, thankfully; she even remembers my birthday still. I often wonder: if one day I'm in her shoes, what will my mind hold intact? Does the brain select only the most important or significant details of one's life -- or does it pick out random information, bits and pieces that happen to float up to the surface at a given time?
She wakes up at 5 am, tries to scramble out of bed in a mad rush to get to Mass -- which, incidentally, won't be held until 12 hours later, or sometimes even a day or two from today. She forgets that she can't stand up on her own and she falls to the floor, calling out my name. Every day she panics, thinking it's my younger sister's wedding day (it's not for another two and a half weeks); she worries she's late, she needs to get her hair and makeup done NOW. She scolds me for not helping her. She'll call a cab, she threatens. I push back. "Where do you plan to go at this time? Nothing's open right now!"
We go through this every day, sometimes every few hours, and often at the most inconvenient times. I've marked her calendar, hoping it helps her realize that she's not late for the wedding. I've circled the date in red and I cross out each day leading to it as it ends, hoping she notices.
"No one's here, yet," I tell her. "There can't be a wedding without the bride and groom. Besides, mom, we'll make sure you're not late; if you are, we won't leave for the church without you." I stroke her arm and soften my voice, trying to reassure her.
"But what if you forget?" she wails. Mom, who sometimes forgets that her own parents passed away a long time ago, worries that I won't remember. At my age, sometimes I neglect to do what I said I would only moments ago. And one day I might also forget what day it is, or not know if the darkness means it's before breakfast or dinner. In the meantime, the darkness is inside my mother's mind, and I often look for signs that the fog is lifting so that a little bit of brightness can shine through.
My mother is in there -- somewhere -- still strong, feisty, and independent. But now all those traits that worked in her favor for eight decades threaten to bring her down. Even when I sleep, every thud I hear wakes me up and squeezes my chest; before I run to her I hope she hasn't fallen again. Even if in so many ways, she already has.