He does not call her. Aging fast, she's confused on telephone calls. She calls him by her old boyfriend's names. Although she's his mother, he's become familiar with the names and resigned to her confusion. It's been like this for several years but it's getting worse.
He accepts her confusion with resignation. Her anger is harder to accept. Pain pushes her anger and anger pushes resentment. Her concentration and focus are slumping. She interrupts him, shouting at him, asking questions that have nothing to do with him. Not letting him answer, she demands he answers and screams at him. Then she cries, sobbing into the phone. All he can do is listen and try not to cry himself, not while he's on the phone. But afterward, he cries and the sobs hurt.
It's her medication, his father tells him in a turgid voice that sounds like corduroy pants legs swishing past. It helps her some but not enough but affects her enough that she seems to get confused. Maybe it's her disease, too. She's getting worse. The medicine used to work better. Doesn't work so well any more.
They're all counting the days.
He doesn't call her. Her pain and anger hurts him too much. In his own pain, he admits to his friends what he doesn't want to think, that it would be better for all of them if she died, and he amends with rancor, that's a horrible way to think about your own mother and blames himself for thinking that.
She calls her mother. It's been a few months. Books have been sent back for her mother's pleasure. Her mother usually doesn't take much pleasure in the books sent her, complaining about poor writing and plotting, the language the characters utilized, the sex scenes or the complicated story. She swears she won't send her mother any more books but then her mother asks her to send her some books to read. She knows her mother loves to read and that her mother can't drive any longer. Her eyes are gone. She has enough struggles reading but at least a vision lapse while reading can't kill anyone. So she promises her mother to find and send more books. Which of them did she like best? The one with the Maine coon cat in the library.
She asks about the family news. Her mother has no family news. Her sisters are dead or too deaf to speak with on the phone and her brothers and parents are dead. Cousins are still alive but they've all gone in different directions. She doesn't know where anyone is any more. Has she heard from her grandchildren? No. What about her other daughter? No, she hasn't heard anything from her in a long time, since the spring. What are Debbie and Dave doing? They live next door but they're always away. She sees Dave sometimes. He takes good care of her, she says, a sad statement about her daughter when it's her daughter's husband that takes care of her.
Nobody is certain of the truth she passes out, though. She's a negative woman. Her memory is failing. She's not prone to saying much and dismissive of others' courtesies, irritated with their questions and attentions, suspicious of their intentions, so it's hard to say. She confesses that she feels weaker every day. She dreamed of her husband the other night. He's been gone over twenty years. She hadn't dreamed of him in a while.
Was it really him? Yes, it seemed like it was really him.
What was the dream about? I can't remember, I just remember him.
The daughter hangs up, remarking that people usually die around their birthday and the December holidays. Her mother's birthday is next week. She weighs sending her flowers.
He doesn't call his mother. He loves her but she does weary him, she bores him, really. Self-centered, she talks about herself and her life in tedious details, always complaining about everything that she takes on, ever ready to argue that she does not take it on, or if she is taking things on, it's not willingly but from her sense of duty because if she doesn't do it, who will?
She recites long litanies of crimes against her by others. Every nuance of date, voice, expressions was noted, examined, re-examined and catalogued as evidence. Grudges are precious as jewels to her, too valuable to let go. He listens to all her tales with his phone on mute and sighs pressing out, thinking how much his mother and his wife are similiar. Both keep a superglue grip on the wrongs done to them. They're never forgotten and relived whenever an opportunity arises. They often use the same words to talk about what was done to them, as though they've written it down and memorized them, and they could have accidently taken the other's script, so alike are their tales.
So he doesn't call his mother except on her birthday and on holidays. She knows why, apologizing at the end of each call, after forty-five minutes of talking, apologizing for talking for the entire call and then asking him how he's doing and what's new with him.
But there's nothing new with him. His life is combed, neat and tidy. Nothing, he always tells her, there is nothing new.
Call more often, she tells him before they hang up. Please call more often. I'll try, he promises and he thinks he means it.
But he never does.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com