“What are we going to do about this mess?”
I know it’s her when I see the caller ID. She used to know all the numbers by heart, but her mind is a mess now. She keeps my number by the kitchen phone.
“What mess?” I ask.
- Did you drop a plate?
- Lose your purse?
- Are you trying to find dad?
- Is the sitter annoying you, sticking too close to your every move?
- Or is it the big mess? The mess in your head?
We’re in a mess.
Words come with great effort, and she’s tired, she can’t always explain. But sometimes, “I just sit in the chair all dad-blamed day!”
What are we going to do? She won’t like any of the answers.
I’m sad. But I don’t want the sadness or the mess to define me, so I keep looking for the answer of the moment.
The storm before the storm
Some days her frustration defines her, a hovering Pig-Pen cloud that, like the sitter, sticks too close.
A couple of weeks ago, I could tell she was undone by the pre-hurricane commotion. Unfamiliar faces of evacuees, organizing groceries, preparing food ahead of the expected outage.
“What are we doing?”
“We’re getting ready for a hurricane.”
It was time for me to leave, but I couldn’t leave her alone like this, in a cloud of confusion and frustration, her jaw set hard, muscles stiff. She was angry.
“I’m just this, this old woman!”
She had washed my dishes, helped me in the flower beds, with some laundry, but in all the commotion, she didn’t remember doing things. She felt idle in a sea of busy people.
“Yeah, we’re both old, Mom,” I tried to inject some light into the moment.
“No!” She pounded her fist on the counter. Angry. “They don’t care about me! I’m just an old woman!”
The hurricane evacuees greeted her, gave her hugs, had small conversations, but the commotion was too much. Everyone was busy. Chit chat and hug, then scurry along to prepare hurricane food, settle pets, organize the fridge. She was just an old woman.
“They care,” I protested.
It’s never a good idea to protest.
I pulled her in for a long hug. She stayed stiff as a board. It was too much.
We have to do something.
Dad would call me a few days later.
“We have to do something about this mess!”
“What mess?” Again, honest question.
“Well, if you don’t know, there’s no point in me telling you.”
Oh, the big mess.
It’s a big mess. Most days it defines us. I don’t know what to say, what to do.
What are we going to do about it? All of the answers are unsatisfactory. We have to do something, but what?
I take me arms away from mom. Her fist is still clenched on the counter.
Lunch! I forgot about lunch. In all the commotion, I didn’t think to make lunch.
“Can I make you a sandwich?”
She stared dismissively into the back fields. A sandwich might not lure her off the ledge, but it couldn’t hurt.
“What are you doing?” She heard me pull a pan from the cabinet.
“Making you a grilled cheese. It’s already three and you haven’t had lunch. Will you forgive me?”
Still stiff, she walked around and picked up the spatula to move the butter. Something to do…
I let go of my urge to get on the highway. The storm wouldn’t be here for at least 24 hours.
“Rectangles or triangles?”
“Triangle,” she motioned with her hand. Sometimes she knows what she wants.
“Where’s your dad?”
“He’s getting the generator ready for the storm.”
“Yes, there’s going to be a hurricane.”
“Oh no,” she washes the cheese and bread with her water. “This is a mess.”
“It is. But we’ll be okay. You won’t be alone.”
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021.