Go to the nursing home, he says. It will make you feel better.
I start crying before I even pull out of the garage. The thing is, I don’t think going to the nursing home will make me feel better. But not going won’t make me feel better, either. Honest to God, there is nothing at all that makes me feel better about any of this. Alzheimer’s is hell on earth for everyone it touches.
I cry most of the way down the highway. Cruise control keeps the car moving forward. I pull into the parking lot and back into a spot. I face the nursing home. I like backing in. It makes for a quick get-away. I sit there for a few minutes. Then I turn off the engine, and sit there for twenty more. I feel paralyzed. Stuck. I can’t go in, but I can’t go home, either. I war with myself. You drove all the way down here. Just go in for a few minutes. You don’t have to go in. It’ll just upset you. Drive home, before it’s too late. It’s already too late.
I watch the clouds shift and fade and deepen. It’s overcast today, but the clouds are thinner, lighter in some places. Darker and heavier in others. High above, in the distance, movement catches my eye. Birds, flying in a v-formation. They drift in and out of shapes. They are so high and so far away that it takes them a long time to reach me. I open the moonroof cover so I can look straight up and see them. They are beautiful. Then they are gone.
I make a picture. I text with my best friend. I text with my sister. I text with my husband. I cry, dry my face, and then shower it again. I take off my sunglasses and dry them off and put them back on. I do that several times. I am glad I stuck a new box of tissues in the car. I stare out the windshield. I stare down the woman who walks out to place something in her car and looks at me. Then I stare at her the second time she comes out, the time she leaves. I wonder if she wonders what I am doing. I realize if she is visiting a loved one, chances are she’s done this, too.
By the time I finally go in, I feel more fragile than ever. It is hard to walk through the heavy double doors and down the long corridors. It is hard to push the little green button that temporarily unlocks the memory care unit, allowing those of us with memories to slip in and out. It’s ironic that I always forget her room is so close to the nurse’s station. I am always surprised when I stumble upon her faster than I expect. I’m usually looking into the community room at all the other residents. There are some real characters there, and I am fond of them. Then I glance the other direction and my mother is there, in her room, looking at me.
Hi, I say. Hi, she says.
She is agitated almost from the beginning. Her head hurts. Her stomach hurts. Her elbow hurts. Twice she tries to pull off her elbow, and screams that she wants it gone. She wants to throw it in the ocean. She hits herself in the head. She calls me by my aunt’s name. She yells that she wants to go home. I cry right to her face and tell her I miss her, and then panic that hearing this will upset her. It doesn’t register. She is upset about the noise in the hallway. I close the door. I try to deflect, to distract.
I tell her I like her black and white checked pants, and she says they are awful. I tell her they are cute, and that I wish I could wear cute black and white checked pants like that, but my hips are too big. I grin. Remember what you used to say to me? You told me I have birthin’ hips. She looks at me wide-eyed. I’m sorry, she says. I’m sorry I said that. Holy shit. My mother has never apologized in her life for the myriad things she said to hurt me. So I cry again. We watch television together for a little bit, and I catch her staring at me. A blank, vacant, thousand-yard stare with no feeling behind it. I cry right to her face. This time I lie when she asks why I am crying and say that I’m sad because work is hard right now. It’s not even a good lie because I have just finished a week off for spring break, but she doesn’t know that. She tells me to find a new job, because, she says, you are amazing.
This only makes me cry more.
I’m glad I went. I’m sad I went, because with every visit I close up a little more, I withdraw a little more. It messes with my mind, every time. I’m glad I went. I wish I wouldn’t have gone in. I’m glad I went in. I don’t feel better at all. I feel a tiny bit better.
At least I have stopped crying.