“Have you seen my daughter?” she asked, peering into the kitchen.
I hesitated. This was a new question, and I didn’t know how to answer. She waited.
“Mom, it’s me,” I sighed. “I’m right here.”
“Oh, okay,” she nodded with a smile. “I’m waiting for you to drive me home so I can take my pills. I’m going to bed early if the neighbor’s dogs don’t bark like last night. I should have called the cops.”
“You live here now, Mom,” I explained for the umpteenth time today. “You’ll have to wait until eight o’clock to take your medication; twice a day at eight o’clock. A nap before dinner sounds nice though. I’ll pull the shades so it’s darker.”
“No, it’s still afternoon,” she snapped, “I’ll wait!” Mom glared at the lazy bulldog stretched out in front of the fireplace, even though she normally adored him. “You should bring that dog in so it doesn’t keep the whole neighborhood awake at night!”
“George sleeps in our room,” I reminded her. The dog looked up and yawned at the mention of his name. “He didn’t bark, but I’m sorry you didn’t sleep well.”
“Well?” she glared at me now, waiting for an answer to a question I didn’t understand.
“Want to play a game with Alice while you wait for dinner?” I asked to distract her.
“Oh, how is Alice?” Mom’s voice softened as she sang out the words. “I bet she’s getting big now!” I doubted my daughter had grown much in the last hour, but nodded in agreement as I called my seven-year-old to rescue me yet again. Alice had become the only distraction I could count on. I felt guilty, and I waited.
Just two months ago, Mom had lived in her own apartment. Then her neighbors called the police when they saw someone suspiciously climbing in her window early one morning. It was her. The apartment manager called me while the police called Adult Protective Services. Her caseworker was surprised to discover she had a daughter; I was surprised to discover he’d been called out before. The caseworker suggested she move to assisted living, but she wasn’t quite seventy-years-old yet and hated the idea. She said she’d gotten locked out while taking out the trash, and her neighbors should mind their own business. She hadn’t wanted to wait for management to let her in; that was all.
The last time her neighbors called police it was because she was wandering around outside in an open bathrobe, disoriented and scared, and this time police called an ambulance. At the hospital, her myriad doctors compared notes and found she’d told them all different stories about her life history, unknowingly mixing past into present. Most blamed low sodium.
“Just wait,” her neurologist said. He made adjustments to her prescription and sent her to live with me… temporarily. “She’ll improve as the medication evens out.”
A home health aide was supposed to come three times a week to check on her while I was at work, but the aide only got two visits in before Mom fired her. Mom didn’t want to wait for someone to show up and “do nothing.” Waiting was exhausting.
I took a few days off to spend with her while I tried to hire a new aide. But then, at the pharmacy she got lost while I paid for her prescription, and at the store she got lost going to the bathroom, and at my house she got lost coming to dinner and fell down the stairs. She hated “my” stairs and wanted to go home.
I quit working and moved Mom to the living room sofa… temporarily.
“Just wait,” her neurologist said again. “Medication changes take time to even out.”
Every day was worse, and a week later I found her swallowing pill after pill from her little, plastic medication box that was labeled with the days of the week. She thought Tuesday was Thursday and was trying to “catch up” to the right day. I phoned the ER and read off the name and dosage of each missing pill to the nurse-on-call, anxious to see if she would need her stomach pumped.
“Just wait,” the nurse said. “She’ll be sleepy, but the effects are temporary. Skip the evening’s doses and lock up the drugs.” I hid the pillbox behind the twice-a-year china.
As her confusion increased, so did her resentment at being held hostage in my house.
“I want to go home now,” she said. “What are we waiting for?”
It was a good question, and I wasn’t sure of the answer anymore. Her condition no longer seemed temporary, despite the neurologist’s assurance that it should be.
We toured the assisted living facility, and they put her on the waiting list. In a town of three thousand people, there is only one. I felt guilty, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed to get back to work.
“I liked the birds,” she said back at my house. “I could be the Activities Director. I should get an application.”
“Maybe you could help with activities while you live there,” I said. “It would just be temporary… until you can live at home again.”
“I like bingo,” she answered. “I’m going to get a therapy dog when I go back home, for Alice to play with when she comes over. You should take me home now. I need to take my pills.” She stood up and put her purse on her shoulder.
“You live here for now, Mom, but Alice will be home from school soon,” I promised. “You’ve been waiting to see her.”
“How is Alice?” she asked gaily, just as I knew she would. “I bet she’s getting big now!”
Tara Thiel is a photographer and writer whose work examines the fragility and temporality of life. She is a US Navy Veteran, a Southern transplant to the Midwest, and a Visual Artist pursuing a Master’s in Creative Writing & Literature. Her stories and images have been published in Twyckenham Notes, Variant Literature, Inkwell Journal and others.