The Story of Ten

Today’s story is in response to the DP Challenge Prompt: Ten. 

My name is Hortensia Louisa Broadway.  Close family and friends call me Ten. My seventy-five year old mother lives with me. She is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and I am her caretaker. Since I take care of her, I don’t have time to take care of myself. I know. It sounds like a cop-out, but I really don’t. I don’t work so I can go on vacations, or have nights out on the town with my friends and maybe meet a nice guy. No, I work and schedule my time and finances around caring for mama.

I watch a little more of her slip away, day by day. One minute, she knows my name and that I’m her daughter. The next minute, she’s telling me to get out of her house – my house – or she’s going to call the cops. Sometimes, I can make light of her outbursts. Most times, it absolutely shatters me.

It would be nice to be one of those women who have a meltdown and goes traveling to a foreign country to do yoga and find herself, or go hiking in the dead of winter and lose a few toes to frostbite, just for a change of scenery and spiritual enlightenment. But I can’t afford that life. I stay up all night to make sure mama doesn’t leave the house and get lost.

My workday starts at 11 pm and ends at noon. The nurse shows up at 7am to tend to mama. I sleep between noonish and 6pm, while the nurse is there. This is my life, seven days a week.

While I long for the future, mama lives in the past. Most of the time, it sounds like a happy place. Then there are the days she goes room by room, calling for him, the one that got away, only to end up on the living room floor crying for Winston. He was her first love. She loves the man who broke her heart more than she ever loved daddy. I think daddy knew it, too. He loved mama the way mama loved Winston. I remember the last thing my father said to her. He said, “Honey, I love you more than all the sand, on all the beaches.” She said, “I’ll see you when you come out of surgery, baby.” He didn’t survive the surgery.

When I was about fifteen years old, she told me she married my father because she didn’t want to be lonely, but that she grew to love him over time. But, Winston would always have a special place in her heart. There are some things a fifteen year old doesn’t need to know.

Shortly after daddy’s death, she went searching for Winston. She found out from a mutual friend that he married the woman he’d left mama for, and they had seven kids. All girls. He’d passed away the year before daddy died. It wasn’t too long after daddy died that I noticed the signs. She’d forget my name, or that she was ever married, even though she still wore her ring. She’d get dressed to go out, but only have her underwear on. After she left food cooking on the stove for the third time while she went out to grocery store to buy something for dinner, her landlord told me she had to go. He begged me to put her into a nursing home.

Sometimes, it’s not clear to me if I resent mama or her illness. But I’m angry that the day I brought her home to live with me, is the day my life stopped. I don’t have any siblings or other close relatives to spilt the responsibility of her care of with. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to put her in a nursing home. So, I deal with this burden and guilt quietly. I save my tears for the moments when I’m alone. But I think it may be time to let her go.

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Lucid Moments

Mama had good days and bad days. I was grateful for the days she remembered my name, or her wedding day or any part her childhood. I started to record her voice on my phone. I didn’t know how long I would have her with me, so I made it a point to capture her moments of clarity. I tried to record her on video once, and she cussed me out! She called me everything but a child of God!

Sometimes, she talked about daddy. But mostly, she talked about good times with Winston. What I learned about my very proper, buttoned down mother during these moments of reminiscence was, she was a freak. She and Winston enjoyed each other every chance they got, everywhere they could. Not that I wanted these details, but she didn’t speak of daddy so passionately. She spoke of him fondly, matter of factly. For the first time in her life, she removed the filter and spoke her truth.

“It bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“What bothers me, mama?”

“That I wasn’t in love with your dad.”

“I’m fine with it mama. You had a life, a past. It’s not a bad thing.”

“We were good friends. But that was all. You were an accident. I didn’t want children. He did. Now, I’m glad I had you. You weren’t too bad as a child. You were a good kid. You turned out to be a good woman. And now, that I need someone who knows me, you are here. I’m not entirely alone.”

I pretended that her words didn’t sting. I pretended to appreciate her disease driven candor. Somewhere in that moment, I found myself wondering how much longer she would linger. Then, I quietly admonished myself for thinking such a thought and not enjoying her lucid moment. There were fewer moments like this, lately. My feelings would mend, eventually. She didn’t realize that being unfiltered was not her natural state of being. She used to be more diplomatic. At this point, I settled for any moment that brought my mother back to me over the stranger who didn’t recognize me most days.

Today, she felt like talking about the love of her life, Winston.

“Did I ever tell you about how Winston and I met?”

“No mama,” I lied, “Why don’t you tell me?”

“Well, I was young. Maybe about fifteen, if my memory serves me right. I received and invitation to go to Tiffany Jackson’s birthday party. She was the rich, snooty girl at school. I’m still not sure how I ended up on the invitation list. But I heard that Winston was going to be there. I had to be there! It took a lot of convincing for my parents to allow me to go. Daddy was dead set against it because boys would be there. Back then, boys were considered more dangerous than street drugs are today. No parent wanted to lose their precious little girls to some fast-ass boy. Being seen in the company of a boy with no chaperone, was a BIG no-no. Anyway, after much debate, Daddy agreed to let me go, under the condition that he attended as my plus one. Embarrassing, to have your parent as your date! You just don’t know!

“Anyway, I was surprised to see a number of fathers had the same idea when I arrived to the party. Some of the dads sat at the bar watching their daughters like hawks as they danced. A few of them walked up to their daughters while they were on the dance floor to warn the boys not to let their hands slip anywhere below the waist line. They followed their daughters around the hall, and stood outside the ladies room to make sure the girls weren’t trying to sneak off with the boys. My dad intended to dance every dance with me! I drew the line when he tried to  Walk the Dog. I went and sat down in one of the seats along the wall. Daddy didn’t leave the dance floor. He and Mrs. Jackson tried to do all the teen dances that night to demonstrate how silly they thought we looked. He wanted to make sure he embarrassed me enough that I didn’t dance with anyone. He succeeded! All the girls laughed at me until their fathers noticed my daddy’s tactic worked, and began to follow suit.

“Winston noticed me sitting along the wall, pouting. He brought me a drink and sat beside me.

‘Hey there, Wallflower,’ he said. That became his nickname for me. He sat with me until the party was over. He tried to look aloof and uninterested in me to make my father feel good. Daddy came over a few times to make sure I was ok and that Winston wasn’t bothering me. That Winston was so smooth! He was exactly what every parent wanted for their daughter, the perfect gentleman. But when he got me alone, ooooowheee!! That boy was fire!”

Mama gazed into the distance wistfully, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. I watched as she retreated to that place where Alzheimers hides her away from me. I saw the light leave her face, as she turned to me.

“Have you seen Winston? Did you make him leave? Winston! Winston! Where are you?” She stood, and began to wander through the apartment, searching for her first love. I remained in the living room, wondering how long it would be before I got to speak to my mother again.

Photo Credit: Wallflower by Bunky’s Pickle
Inspiration for this post came from the Daily Post’s word prompt: Invitation