In her book, Writing Is My Drink–A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (and a Guide to How You Can Too), Theo Nestor talks about the “resonant narrative.” Theo makes the important point that writers whom we admire are those who are willing to take a risk and say what most will not. She quotes an example from Mary Karr of how memoirists generally go about telling their story: “My mother hit me with a brick on Monday and then I was a sophomore in high school and my mother hit me on the head with a brick and then I was a junior and she hit me on the head with a brick. Then I got some car keys and I left and I’m better now.” And that’s where the story ends. But that isn’t the real story: the story we would tell if we dug deep and let the world see what’s really troubling us. “The problem isn’t that your mother hit you on the head with a brick; the problem is that you still love her . . . .”
My mother has been doing pretty well at her assisted living apartment. She has settled down a bit and been less anxious and demanding. She hasn’t been calling me at work over and over in two-minute intervals, and actually has begun to call once and wait for my return call. Mom’s finally weaned herself from the wheelchair and has been getting around pretty well with the use of a walker. She’s also been quite social with a group of ladies at AL. It’s taken a year, but she appears to at last be settling in.
On Thanksgiving I drove down to Houston and spent the day with Mom and my nephews (the sons of my deceased brothers) at my childhood home. When I learned my sister and her husband had made plans to visit their eldest daughter and grand baby, I forfeited my plans to have Thanksgiving with my best friend and her fiance (who is in treatment for Stage 4 NHL) as I was not leaving Mom on her own. While there were only five of us at Mom’s house this year, we had a nice Thanksgiving. (Save the fact that one of my nephews was clearly intoxicated on something–he claimed it was pot–which made him sloppy and clumsy, and ultimately left him sleeping in the chair off and on throughout the day.) Mom enjoyed the visit, and when I left her Friday afternoon, she was content.
Fast forward twelve days later, when I received a call in the night that they’d taken Mom to the hospital because she was confused and appeared to have weakness on her right side. It took me many hours to get information out of the hospital (HIPPA is a pain in the ass), but I ultimately learned she was stable and they were running tests. The following day, Thursday, the nurse put her on the phone to speak with me (she was unable to place or receive calls on her own), and she was entirely incoherent. She knew her name, and that was about it. It was alarming. My sister went to the hospital that evening and sent me a text: “This is not good.” The CT scan and the carotid Doppler were negative. We expected she had a UTI, which would have explained the confusion, but the culture came back negative.
On Friday, mid-day, when I was sitting in my office fantasizing about quitting my job and taking care of my mother, my mobile rang: “Mom”? Was she able to place calls on her own? Sure enough, she was. The confusion had dissipated. She spoke a little haltingly, but sounded like Mom again. Friday evening I called again. My sister’s husband was with Mom, keeping her company and fielding phone calls from loved ones. (My sister had been trapped at work.) I spoke with my brother-in-law, and he filled me in on how Mom was doing and what the nurse had told him. My brother-in-law did his best to set my mind at ease.
On Saturday morning I drove to the hospital. Mom seemed to be holding her own. She wasn’t walking, but she was talking fine, holding up her end of the conversation, and she had a good appetite. My sister and her husband, and their younger daughter (the daughter my brother-in-law sexually abused, now a grown woman) came to visit. I hugged them. All of them. The EEG came back negative. Mom had developed some chest congestion so they started her on a nebulizer. The internist and neurologist ordered more tests–an ultrasound of her legs (due to her history of DVT) and an MRI of her head and neck, which also would come back negative. They were leaving no stone unturned. After an hour or so, my sister and her family left. When they brought Mom’s dinner, I realized I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten all day. As I pondered what to do about food, I received a text from my sister: “Do you want to come for dinner?” Actually, I did.
When I walked into my sister’s home, she must have seen something in my face. “Come here,” she said. She hugged me tight and said, “It’s going to be OK. Mom’s going to be OK.” And that is how, after years of estrangement, I found myself sitting at the dinner table with my sister, her husband, her husband’s best friend, and their youngest daughter, breaking bread and lifting each other up in the face of our worrying about Mom. That is how I found myself trading stories about our Dad and our brothers, gone two years now. “I only have you. And I love you,” she said.