When I’m standing in front of the icebox I don’t know whether I came to put something in it or take something out. At the mailbox, I can’t remember if I wanted to put a letter in or get the mail. These days I don’t think very well. It confuses me, all this forgetting.
Mother reads the yellowed letter in a singsong voice, the one she uses when she does not comprehend the words. I wonder how she can recognize the letters without attaching meaning. This morning, she had been surprised to find her grandmother’s letter at the bottom of her drawer. “How did THAT get in there?” she said, digging deeper into the pile of costume jewelry and lace handkerchiefs, as if the answer could be found there.
I help her retrace events, since the brain unravels backward: When your mother died…
You went through her things...don’t cry, it was long ago…
How do YOU know? Were you there?
You couldn’t bear to throw anything that smelled like her away, so you brought it all home.
I don’t know this. How do I know?
I met my great-grandmother only once, when she was 94 and in a nursing home. She still had blonde in her braid and a sweet smile. She also had Alzheimer’s, and a daughter who cared for her until her death.
I watch my mother put the letter in a glass bowl on her dresser. Is she remembering the wood bowl in the kitchen where we once kept the day’s letters? She holds the thin pages to her nose for a moment, then carries them carefully to the refrigerator. She tucks them in the freezer and quietly closes the door.