I knock my sequence rap-a-tap-tap and enter.
She is sitting in a chair next to the window, her hair a white halo surrounding her face, which was mapped with laugh lines around her blue eyes and pain lines around her small mouth. She does not smile. Today, I am a stranger.
“Are you my new nurse? Where is my daughter?”
“Mother, it’s me, Lauren.”
“Why, yes it is! You were just here. Did you finish your essay?”
“I did.” The essay is a memory. I had to do make-up work and needed to write an essay about something “American” and wrote about motherhood. She was so proud. Now, she doesn’t remember.
She began to tell me about her own mother, and how Mimi would wash clothes in a washer with a wringer. How Mimi said that when she was a big girl, she could hang them on the line. But they got a dryer before she was tall enough. She talked about the smell of the iron when Mimi ironed Granddad’s shirts. I had heard it before but tried to remain patient.
I thought about my “little girl” memories and was only listening with half an ear.
“When will Billy visit me?” Her question caught me off guard. Billy was my younger brother who had died of skin cancer.
“Mom, Billy won’t visit today.” I said over a lump in my throat.
“Probably taking care of that baby squirrel he found. What did he name it? Peeker?”
“Pico.” He had nursed the squirrel back to health and it lived in our yard for a few years before disappearing who-knows-where.
“Who are you? Where is my daughter?” she asked again. This time I didn’t expect it.
“I’m Lauren. I’m right here.” I choked out.
“You don’t look like Lauren. You’re an impostor. Lauren has longer hair and wears glasses.” I silently cursed the Lasik, though my hair had been short for five or six years; ever since I started coloring it.
When she gets like this, it’s best to leave. For me. I closed the door.
I went into the restroom and let the pricking in my eyes become full-fledged tears. I dabbed at them with a tissue. It’s not her fault. I looked at myself in the mirror. My makeup still covered the dark patches sufficiently. I blew my nose and prepared myself to go back in there. On the days she’s like this, it’s tough to do the hour that I commit myself to.
I stall for time, first using the toilet, then combing my brown hair and applying some lipstick.
They told me she was getting worse. I didn’t expect it to happen in the middle of a conversation. I straightened my pendant, the dove that she had given me for Confirmation. I will be ready. I will be strong. It’s not her fault.
Walking down the hall to her room, I met Peter, one of the nurses. He tells me she decided to take a nap. Relieved and guilty, I feel the pricking again.
“I’ll be back tomorrow.” I tell him.
“Tomorrow is my day off,” he informs me. “I’ll see you Tuesday.”
“You know you don’t have to come every day.” I think this is his idea of comforting me.
“I promised her and myself that I would see this through,” I tell him, even as the temptation of staying home tugs at my heart. It’s not her fault. “She might not know the difference, but I will.”
“I see. Well take care and have a good evening.” He went back to the station and did something on the computer.
I walked back to her room, opened the door as quietly as I could and saw her in bed, looking so peaceful. So vulnerable. So old.
I went back to my car, mourning the loss of my mother. It’s not her fault.