Archive for October, 2021

How Long is the Short-term? How Short the Long?

October 1, 2021

I call Mum.

This time last year I’d have kept my camera turned firmly off – afraid she would not recognise me, afraid she’d muddle up the Abstract Daughter with the One in Real Life. She was always confident she had a daughter by my name. She just didn’t always equate my face with that name.

Not now, not anymore; now I keep it on. So that she laughs at the dog that’s climbed onto my lap mid conversation.

I don’t do it – keep my camera on – because I think she’ll remember me – this face – simply because we spent a month together a month ago. But because I have reconciled myself to her forgetting who I am. I am no longer offended when she regards me quizzically and says, ‘are you sure you’re my daughter?’ It’s not personal – which is a bit of a paradox, an anomaly when i consider the word – person – but it’s really not. It’s just what happens. So I say variously, ‘Yes, worst luck: I am sure, definitely your daughter ma!’ or I say, ‘Oh certainly – what’s more I’m your favourite daughter!’ She smiles then, a little doubtfully, but a smile all the same.

How are you Ma?

Oh, I’m very well?

How was your trip yesterday?

(Yesterday my brother picked her up from where she’d spent a brief holiday – respite for him, a change of scene for her).

Oh, it was very easy, much quicker than I thought.

And then she says, ‘I think this new home will be ok. I think I shall quite like it here. There are a few other occupants. I am just unpacking all my things and putting them away. It’s very different to where I was before – this house is in the middle of a town. I think that will make it more interesting’.

This is where I come unstuck. I try so hard to navigate my mother’s ever changing map without tripping up, without falling into traps that will unleash distress or fury. Do I challenge this? Do I set her straight? As if realigning a compass so that she may be briefly anchored, might see, recognise, the shore? Sometimes I do. Sometimes I say, ‘No mum, it wasn’t like that’ or ‘I’m your DAUGHTER, ma!’ But it’s easier to do those things, to correct her, to redirect her, when I can put a steadying, reassuring hand on her shoulder or touch her arm. Or hug her even. To coldly point out she’s gone wrong through glass from the other side of the world, where I cannot steady her when she reels, as she always does, even imperceptibly, from the shock she’s so lost? That seems too cruel.

Sometimes I do it just because it’s easier and I don’t have the energy to try to untangle this mess.

And so, instead, I ask: where were you before?

Oh – in the countryside, middle of nowhere really. And there were far fewer of us.

‘Nicer to be closer to shops!’ I say and I laugh. (Humour, I find is the Elastoplast we apply for much of this; a bandaid. Utterly inadequate, of course, to do anything for a big seeping sore other than stem a bleed briefly).

Yesterday my brother picked mum up from my uncle’s beautiful Wexford home. She’d spent a fortnight there with him and her sister.

And then my brother brought her back to the his, the house that has been her home – his family’s home – for most of the past ten years.

So now I know: her memories last for less than two weeks. 

Even the ones that are a decade old.