Dots on Horizons that Disappear

Mum asks me what the weather is like, ‘where you are?’

She does not remember where I am.  I could be in the next door county. Or country. Or continent.

I tell her it is very dry.

It is: so dry that the lawn is needle sharp beneath bare soles. When I walk across it I can feel the collapsing crunch of termite tunnels; it’s like walking across meringue. 

‘I think we’re getting all your rain’, she says. 

All my African rain in Ireland.

I tell her the rain is close. I can almost smell it: it is that tantalisingly near: my rain.

I tell her we call this time of year The Short Rains.

I hope this might prompt a memory: of Long Rains and rivers that burst muddy banks and soaked roads so that they were Farm 4WD impassable, of those termites taking to the air, gossamer winged and impatient and blinded by the light so that often they burn to nothing on bulbs.

But no. My nudge does nothing.

I tell her that a storm is circling my mountain, that I can hear it grumbling, can see it black as soot against the foothills.

Do you live on Kilimanjaro, she asks suddenly.


“I do”, I tell her, “I live on it’s lower slopes, it’s very beautiful”

“I used to live in Tanzania, I think,” she says.

So that there is a second reason for small applause: she has remembered where my mountain is.

“You did, Mum”.

She came here at just 9. It was Tanganyika then.   Later, much later, in her story-telling, my grandmother would roll the names of  all the places they lived off her tongue and they sounded hot and exotic:

Kongwa, Natchingwea. Urambo. 

“You’ve been back since” I say, and I know as I say it that I am edging into dangerous territory, “to visit me”.

No, she says, I have never been back again.

And of this she is certain. 

I cannot count the number of times my mum has visited me here. 10? 15? 20? More like twenty.

This is what dementia does: it pushes memories further and further away so that they grow smaller and smaller, they recede to dots on horizons and then they drop clean off the edge of it. Beginning with the most recent. So my mother cannot recall returning to Tanzania with me when my children were babies, she cannot remember the months she spent here supporting me as I recovered from a long, horrible illness, she has no memory of arriving here sick with depression and leaving well. (No memory of depression even, which confirms not all memories are worth it).

I want her to remember, though.

But she is insistent, ‘No, I have never, ever been back’.

And so I leave it. 

We must be happy with small wins with this shitty illness: she remembered she lived here as a child. That has to be enough. 

That she visited my children is too much of a stretch.


2 Responses to “Dots on Horizons that Disappear”

  1. Addy Says:

    A shitty illness indeed although it is probably more upsetting for you as an observer than it is for her as she cannot get upset over what she has no memory of, if you see what I mean.

  2. haitiruth Says:

    Those brief flashes of memory are a gift! But so sad when that’s all they are: flashes. Ruth,

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