A DP Weekly Writing Challenge about Emptiness
Yesterday my mom called me and asked me to buy her cigarettes. I told her no and hung up. Five minutes later she called me back and asked me to buy her cigarettes again. This time I told her that she didn’t need cigarettes because she had quit smoking. This upset her, as if quitting smoking was awful news. She told me that she didn’t believe me. She called me a liar and hung up. It took her ten minutes before she called back again.
“Hello, this is your mom,” she said.
“Hello mom, this is your son.”
“I need you to take me to the store.”
“We went to the store yesterday. What do you need now?”
“Well, your not going to like it.”
“Is it cigarettes?”
There is silence on the end of the line, as she tries to think up something else she needs besides cigarettes. “I got this letter from the DMV,” she tells me. “You know I can’t drive anymore.”
“I know mom. You tell me about it every time you ask for a ride to the store.”
“I just need some things and if you can’t take me I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“You could take the bus.” We’ve been trying to convince her to take the bus for months now. The bus stop is about 20 feet from her front door and the bus comes once an hour. We want her to be able to go to the store by herself, but the bus schedule confuses her, and she says the bus is so bouncy it makes her hip hurt.
Her sigh is so heavy I could feel it through the phone line, a sigh so deep it has transcended time and space and travelled through the wires with the electrons. “So will you take me or not?”
I calculate what will be the least time consuming option, if actually taking an hour or so to drive through traffic and take her to the store would require less time than answering her phone calls as she repeatedly calls up and asks the same question over and over, having forgotten that she just called five minutes before. How distracting will it be to listen to phone ring all day? How upset will she be when I don’t answer?
“Okay mom, I’ll take you to the store. Write it down so you don’t forget.”
“Thank you,” she says.
“Write it down, please.”
“Okay, okay, let me find a pen.”
“Write down that I’m going to take you to the store. Today, in like half an hour.”
“Okay, I got it.”
“Put the note near the phone, and I’ll see you in a little bit.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
We hang up, and I try to finish up my kitchen chores, loading the dishwasher and taking out the compost. After about five minutes the phone rings again.
“Hello, this is your mom. Are you taking me to the store today? I found this note that said Store Today, but I’m not sure when today is. Is it today right now?”
Sometimes her dementia seems so deep and existential, so enlightened. There are heady lessons hidden there. Don’t take today for granted, and remember that it is today right now. Today is a privilege. It is today right now. How unlikely to find such revelations in an existence where time is measured in cigarettes. I try to cherish these small morsels of wisdom buried in such a dark and scary place.
Of course this all happened back when yesterday was still today, and I wonder if the today happening now is at all different than the yesterday I remember.
Is today the tomorrow I expected?
Vivid writing, keeps me powerful in the moment of the story so the dementia diagnosis feels sharp.