First published in With Words We Weave, THPW 2021 Anthology
“Do you remember when we were kids on Robin Hood Drive, and we would ride our bikes on the bridge over the creek by our house?”
“I remember the stories you tell me, Mama.” I’d heard them hundreds of times.
“Remember the time that big monitor lizard sat right in the middle of the bridge, and we had to wait until he crawled away? We were scared because he was so big. I’ll bet he was five feet long.” Mama raised her silver-white brows high. “He was like a dragon. You were scared of him, too, weren’t you?”
I nod and smile. “I’m sure I would have been. I jump at the little six-inch lizards in my backyard now. I don’t think I’d be brave if I came face to face with a five-foot-long dragon.”
She laughs. “It wasn’t a real dragon. But Vince and I were scared. You remember?”
This was the part I hated. The moment I resented. “Well, Mama.” I emphasized Mama. “I’m your daughter, and you were just a kid. I wasn’t born when you lived on Robin Hood Drive.”
The deep crease forms on her forehead and tracks down between her brows. Her smile vanishes. Her fingers begin their dance—flexing, and curling around each other. She frets over what she said wrong. No matter how many ways we start a conversation, it always seems to come to this point. “You’re not Sue?” She studies my face, finally shaking her head. “Are you April?”
“No, Mama, I’m not either of your sisters. I’m your oldest daughter.”
A flash of recognition. “Oh, yes. I forget sometimes. Your dad calls it—I can’t remember the name of it. But it’s a disease in my brain. Makes it so I forget things sometimes.”
“I know. But it’s okay. You remember the important things.” But for how much longer?
“I love my little sister. She’s just a baby, compared to me.” Her face turns placid, back to vivid memories. “I was a teenager when she was born. She was like a doll to me.” I anticipate her next question. “How old is April now?”
I do the math. “She’s sixty-one.”
Mama’s brow furrows again. “That’s not right. She’s younger than me.”
I nod. “Yes, but, Mama, you’re seventy-four.”
She wrings her hands again. The numbers confuse her. I search the room for anything to draw her attention.
“Where did Dad take you yesterday? He said you were going for a drive.”
The new topic settles into her eyes, and she smiles, if only for a moment. “We went out to see the lake. But there were too many people, and we didn’t have a picnic. We used to have picnics, but not anymore. I can’t get up and down from the ground. It hurts my knees. So we just get drive-up food and sit in the hot car. It’s not too fun, but it doesn’t hurt my knees.”
She tells me about their drive to the lake, about the noises the car made, about the clouds in the distance that never came close enough for rain. I listen, keeping my expression as clear as I can. Forcing smiles and nodding at just the right times. I listen, knowing that someday—sooner than I like—her stories will end. I listen, knowing that tears will come soon enough.
I have pondered the tears. Who are they for?
For myself? Yes, there are plenty for selfish me. I was blessed with the most compassionate and lively mother and friend. I never appreciated all she did for me, and now, the best thing I can do for her is to sit and listen. It seems like nothing, but when she insists, “I need to tell her something,” I know in my heart she needs to be heard, even if she can’t find the words.
My tears pour out continually for Mama. She has lost more of her memory than she has kept. She is aware enough of what is happening to her to be terrified of tomorrow. I mourn for the vibrant woman she once was. That part of her is gone.
I’ve shed many more tears for my dad, knowing that he fights this disease every hour of every day. It has stolen his freedom, his partner, and his love. His battle is real and wearisome. He’s tired, yet he perseveres. I pray over and over for his strength.
And then, when my tears are almost exhausted, I cry and pray for my husband. I am grateful for his devotion, but I also pray that he will have the strength for the future. Part of me fears that when this dreadful terror has finished with Mama, it may turn its wrath on me.
But all of that will come later. The tears and prayers will comingle. They will become one giant, un-sort-out-able thing. They will take my breath away and then let me breathe again.
For now, I listen.
“Do you remember when we were kids on Robin Hood Drive?”
Kim Black is an award-winning multi-genre author of several novels and children’s books. She is inspired by strong women, both real and fictional, and enjoys blowing things up and making readers cry.