Wednesday, 26 March 2014

When I grow up,

      Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick, tick, tick. Ti    .  
      Not long now.

My mother is really grown up now - she's been boundless and infinite for at least 5 years. I remember being shocked when I first began to give her the mini mental tests they use to assess dementia.

The Alzheimer clock face flies apart like its whole logic has been flung out from an ever widening gyre, blowing apart like a puff of dandelion.

We were sitting at my veranda table. I was conscious of her enlarged sphere of concentration. She could not focus her attention on the task at hand because her mind was taken up by awareness. Here, in the swirling unfamiliar environment of my place, she feels lost. Although she pretends to be content, I can see her glance at heavy clouds looming. She startles when a shriek of greenies in flashing bright feathers, wheel out of the tree tops, then her eyes widen with the same wonder mine did at the kaleidascope she gave me to look thorough when when I was her little girl. 

I am the sum total of everything she filled me up with - her songs, her joy, her vast, bottomless chocolate-eyed adoring gaze. She never took her yes of me, after all that time waiting and longing for me. She poured so much of her energy into into me I was practically airborne. If she believed I could fly, I'd be a bird.

But here she is, with her exploded clock and a fist full of coins that may as well be buttons, for all they mean to her. She thinks she knows the lady's face, but can't quite remember her name. She knows the kangaroo is on the other side.

She sleeps a lot more now. She gets tired after the exertion of the tests and agrees she might be thirsty - whatever I think. I say she should come inside and lie down while I get her a glass of water and by the time I'm back she's sleeping heavy as child, toes outpointed, with a balled up hanky descrunching in her uncurled palm.

Faces look down from the paintings on the walls. All their eyes have followed her into this room and pinned her to the bed. Her grandson, six years old in his Lewis Miller portrait watches her from the depths of the too-big chair he is trapped in; a red face screams out of a Davida Allen Mother and Child from the mid 1980s, and directly above, monsters and ghosts lie just beneath the surface of a black, purple and red David Kirk.

She hasn't had much practice looking at paintings. She doesn't think the pictures hanging in my house are for decoration and I wonder what she makes of the dreamscape world of imagery I have walled myself into. She loved to watch me draw, I could draw anything I saw. Drawing attracted her attention, this thing l could already do. Like breath.

I hear her snore. She hasn't forgotten herself completely. She still knows all her favourite songs, but can only catch them once they are already in the air, in process. Once she hears the pattern, she's away, pitch perfect. If we are not singing, it is difficult to keep a conversation going. I try to remember to stay in the present and only talk about things we can both see; birds passing overhead or the ant she's been watching cross the table, feeling with the tip of her tongue for words that never arrive. Everything is only what it appears to be - pre-Adam, before it all got divided into names. Reading is pointless. But as she says, she's happy just sitting. 

Tomorrow, I am looking after my mother while my father has day surgery. She can't be left alone now. She knows who Dad is, but she's not 100 percent sure. I am a complete stranger, but she will believe me when I tell her he'll be home soon.

The drought has just broken. Its been raining hard on and off all day while the tilt of the Earth turns a notch closer to winter. I will make her banana on toast for breakfast and we will drink tea on the veranda. I'll draw some shapes for her to colour-in with the lovely Derwent pencils what turn to bright pools of pink and red - her favourites - under her wetted brush. While she paints, I'll watch the rain do the same to the land and try to imagine her story, her forgotten life, into a book.


  1. Sad but lovely sentiments, Annette. I think it does become a little easier for them (if not for us) once our loved one has passed over the terrible transition from who they once were to this new, somewhat alien life they must now live. It sounds as if your Mum is mainly at peace these days. And here's hoping she will continue to feel safe and secure with your Dad long after she knows why that is so. Hugs to you both.

  2. This morning she was so cute - we were lying on the bed singing, and then talking about people she still remembers, like her mum, her dad, and ;places wehre she grew up and things she did when she was young and she turned to me with a big smile on her face and said, oh, gee, this is fun. And yes, it was.