Wish You Were Here

 For the longest time, Birthday Week was a raucous, exhausting celebration.

Chicken, my older daughter, had her birthday on September 24th. My Aunt Teresa had hers on September 23. Mine was on September 30th, and Mate’s and my bio-mom’s were both October 1st.

For a while there, we had one big party at my grandmother’s. She passed away, and of course my daughter is grown now, and it’s become quiet meals and cards for the most part. 

My bio-mom, we usually met and took her out for food. She lives in an adult care home–it’s sort of a mental institution with outpatient privileges. For those who know my work, think the kind of place Ethan’s friend ended up in, or Reg’s sister, Vee, from Bobby Green. 

Anyway, Alexa–my bio-mom–doesn’t like the food. We try to take her to a fun place for the world’s most awkward family meals. My kids are great toward her. They don’t get upset when she forgets who they are. That includes the time she was looking at pictures on my phone and she wanted to know who that “dude” was in a lot of the photos. “Mom, that’s Big T–he’s sitting right behind you in the car.”

“No it’s not–that’s an adult!” And she was very, very serious. We laughed about it, because what else do you do? But we did that in private, because you don’t make a mentally ill person feel bad about things they can’t control.

So the letters over the COVID quarantine have been especially hard. They’re shut in the facility. No outpatient visiting. No walking to the store or to yard sales. We know she haunts these places because she’s given my children some very bizarre gifts over the years. My kids have learned to accept headless Barbie dolls and coloring books that smell like cat pee with very genuine, “Thank you, Grandma!” because they know she was doing her best and thinking about them, and sometimes the thought really is the thing that counts.

But now she gets no visits from family, either, which apparently kept her grounded.

Because her letters have gotten increasingly batshit over the last seven months.

Apparently, she blames the whole COVID mess on my stepmom, which is a REAL shame because my stepmom is perhaps THE NICEST person on the planet. Bar. None. She and my dad have participated actively in every charity from soup kitchens to Santa to Project Ride to Big Brother/Big Sisters. They give an amazing amount of their lives to improving their world and she’s the one behind that. So, when Alexa writes me that she “can’t wait for that old lady to kick off so we can see each other again,” I want to bang my head against my desk.

On the one hand, it’s just insane–schizophrenia and dementia, perhaps?

But on the other, it’s unfair. Brutally, brutally unfair, and my heart hurts. 

But today was her birthday, and Mate and I had planned a shopping trip for ourselves–new bedding, new towels, new silverware–we’re not sure where all the decent spoons have gone, but we blame the kids. So I had made her a shawl and bought her a card, and we stopped at Mr. Pickles for a sandwich, and we drove down to East Sac near Med Center (yes, Jackson’s Med Center) and kept going, watching as a depressed neighborhood that had worked hard to pull itself from its bootstraps sank down into ash-coated dust once more.

We got to her care home, and I’d girded myself for telling her no hugs, and I could only stay for a moment, and I knew she probably didn’t have a mask and…

See, in the past, when I’d gone to visit, anybody could just walk in or out. But not now. Now they have an attendant at the gate, making sure they don’t get out, because quarantine must be rough for the mentally ill, and they probably have to be meticulous. If one person gets it, that’s it. The entire care center is toast, because nobody there has any sense of boundaries and there is no quarantine if everyone has a roommate. 

So I met the attendant at the gate and gave him the sandwich and the gift and told him to tell my mother I love her.

And left. 

When my grandfather was on his second brain tumor, he used to call for my mother. She was slipping into Alex had been their lost child even when she’d sat right there in front of them. 

My children are anxious right now. And sad. And school, which they’d loved, has been ripped away from them. I’ve said it many times before–ZoomBoy was only hanging in there for the performance classes and now we have to hear him sing to his choir teacher over Zoom and my heart breaks a little. Squish has had her own difficulties, and I keep them out of the blog, but they’ve been stressful and worrisome, and everyone who read Crocus knows that Chicken has also had her struggles. 

T is doing okay though–although I worry about his asthma almost constantly in the shitty air quality. He carries his inhaler all the time, and he walks to and from the bus stop to work. He makes an effort to see us once every two weeks and I’m always so proud of him when he does.

I don’t know why I dreamed that he was lost to me this afternoon. But I know I woke up screaming and calling his name.

Maybe because the younger two live with me, and I’m sick with worry. And their sister texts me every day, and the worry mounts. Maybe because I want them all together and here, and he’s the one who isn’t the most often. Maybe because I’m so used to worrying about him and I just don’t want him to feel left out.

But I know I can’t imagine being locked inside my mother’s care home, where only crazy people talk to crazy people, and your daughter’s weekly letters featuring random animal pictures and bad pictures of grandchildren who look like strangers are the only real things from the outside. 

I’ve been calling my mother’s name in my dreams since I was a very small child. Maybe I called my son’s now because I cannot stand how lost she must be and I know he, at least, is found. 

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