I wonder how long my mother will be this angry at me. When I arrived today she began immediately: I have no money, This is awful, Why are you doing this to me? I tried to remember not to argue, not to reason–which is so much harder than I imagined. I’d arrived shortly before the time that Mass is said in the chapel, and I tried to divert her with that. Her walker had disappeared so we made our slow (sullen) way in that direction. Once we sat down she announced that if she had a knife, she’d kill herself. I exhaled and tried to calm myself down.
This is hell, she continued. Do you enjoy doing this to me? I don’t understand why I’m here.
I don’t know where to go with this. I don’t know how to answer her without appealing to her reason. The doctor wants you to stay here until you feel better, I say. What does he have to do with it? she demands. He wants you to stay here until you feel better, I repeat. Where? she says.
The Mass did nothing to soften her mood. As she walked with me afterwards to the library she remained angry–except for a moment when we passed one of the nurses in the hall and my mother smiled and rubbed her arm affectionately. In the library I took out a jigsaw puzzle and asked my mother to help me with it, but she refused. I played with it while she continued her accusations. At one point I nearly fell off my chair when she told me she had been raped the night before. Who did that to you? I said. They all did. You would be very upset if I told you about it. At this point she was saying her rosary, and I felt so helpless. I know she wants to be home, she doesn’t want to be in this unfamiliar place, she’s scared of what is happening to her–and I have no way of reassuring her. I thought that returning each day would remind her that I am not abandoning her, but I don’t think it does.
I left shortly after that, and before stepping on the elevator I looked back and saw her sitting at the nurses’ station, talking animatedly to the woman beside her. She may have been telling her about the evil daughter who won’t take her home–I don’t know. I was relieved to be away from her accusations and pleadings. “It’s the disease talking,” I said to myself several times as I drove away, but I kept thinking of a poem by W.B. Yeats, Among Schoolchildren, specifically its final lines:
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?