You might remember from an earlier story that I gave the go-ahead for my mom’s amputation. It wasn’t THAT big a deal. It was only ONE foot. (She had two, for heaven sakes. People use prostheses all the time. No one chooses to die instead of getting a single little foot removed, right?)
My mother was always changing her mind. There are hundreds of stories about her changing her mind. How was I to know she wasn’t going to change her mind for the first time in her entire life?
In the ten years she lived either with us or a block from us, I took her shopping frequently. First to buy something, then to return it, then to buy it again and to return it all over again and, believe it or not, to drive back to buy it yet again. My mother even returned FOOD to the grocery store. Who returns food to the grocery store?
Once she bought a pair of pants from Talbot’s. She had them for months but decided that she no longer liked them. I drove her to return the pants. The saleslady opened the box and looked at the pants. My mother had shortened them. The saleslady looked at the cuffs and didn’t bat an eye. Talbot’s still took them back. Who knew you could alter clothes and still return them? She had shrunken to way less than five feet. Who could ever use them? A midget?
My mother was supposed to get a prosthesis. She was all set to go to physical therapy and I had hoped that she could adapt to the new “foot” with time. But regardless of what the therapist or the doctor or the nurses or I did, she refused to even try.
When this was happening, we got a postcard in the mail with a painting on the front from an Art Gallery. It was a painting by Seth Michael Forman. I brought it in to show Mom.
“Irene Marie! This is Daddy and me in heaven! And look! My FOOT gets to come!”
“You have to buy this painting!” she exclaimed. So I did. It’s hanging on the wall right now.
I brought the bottom three, Timothy, Lenore and Benjamin, to visit her because I was under the ridiculous delusion that she cared about her grandchildren in spite of how she behaved around them and what she said about them over the years. (The top two were away at school and couldn’t visit as often.)
During one visit, NANA addressed Tim:
“You have access to sharp objects, don’t you, Tim? Bring me some sharp scissors or a sharp paring knife so I can slit my throat, okay Tim?”
“Mom. This is not the way you speak to your grandchildren. Ask them about their day. What they did in school.”
“I don’t give a shit what they did in school, Irene Marie.”
“Kiss your Nana and we have to go home now.”
The next day I brought the bottom three back in, since obviously I was delusional. We brought store-bought get-well cards and homemade ones every day.
“Lenore, go under the sink. There are lots of poisons under the sink. Put them all in a bag and bring them to me, like a good girl. I need poisons to drink and they won’t give me any here, the bastards.”
“Kiss your Nana goodnight. We’ll visit her again soon but it’s time to go home now.”
The next day the bottom three brought more flowers for her bedside stand.
“We love you, Nana.”
“Benjamin, you’re the smart one. Find out Dr. Kevorkian’s phone number, write it down and give it to me tomorrow.”
“Nana, I don’t want to be a party to that. I know that you want me to do this so that he will help you to commit suicide with his death machine. I am not comfortable with being your accomplice in this endeavor.”
(Seriously, ask anyone, this is EXACTLY how Benjamin spoke as a little kid. Ben was practically born speaking like William Buckley. )
“Time to go home, kids, lots of homework to do tonight.”
Here’s a picture of Lenore and Benjamin with NANA. Tim was there but there was no more room on the bed.
I decided, long overdue, I’ll admit, that bringing the children was:
1. Hurting my children
2. Not helping NANA one bit.
So. From then on I went by myself.
I brought her fresh fruit every day. She loved fresh fruit. I cooked foods that she liked and brought her small portions most days because she said the food in the nursing home was intolerable. I fed her. I changed her clothes. I took her to the bathroom with her one foot. I bathed her. I washed her hair. I put rollers in her hair. I combed out her hair into a hairdo she always hated, I washed her false teeth. I tweezed the hairs that sprouted from her chin.
She was having a lot of problems in the nursing home. Her Evil Roommate was spying on her. The Evil Roommate was telling tales and making up lies. She needed to get rid of the Evil Roommate.
NANA had trouble telling time because recently the hands of the clock kept spinning. She needed a better clock. I brought her another clock. Oddly, that clock had the same problem with spinning hands. The hands of the clocks didn’t spin while I watched, but perhaps they spun when I wasn’t there. It was impossible for her to tell the time. It was a conspiracy against her!
People were stealing her clothes. All the good clothes were missing. Someone knew which of her clothes were expensive. She blamed the laundry. So I did her laundry from then on. After that, people were stealing her clean clothes from her closet while she slept.
Insects were crawling up the wall and over her bed. She rang the call button to complain day and night. The room was checked thoroughly and frequently, but no actual insects were found. She continued to see insects swarming everywhere. She saw them when I was with her. I swatted the wall with a towel and told her they were dead, but she continued to see them.
One particularly bad day, I came in and she asked for her lunch.
I went to fetch it.
She told me to take the damn tray away.
She told me she didn’t want that lunch.
She wanted cereal.
I went out and asked the nurse if there was any cereal. There was and I brought it back with a spoon and a bowl. She said that she could not be expected to eat her cereal without a damn tray.
I went to fetch the damn tray again.
When I returned she was pouring milk into the box.
“You don’t want to do that, MOM. Here, let me help you.”
I put the cereal in the bowl and poured the milk in the bowl for her.
She wanted more napkins, so I went to fetch them.
Then I returned.
She had put her false teeth in her cereal.
She was drinking the water out of her false teeth cup.
I took a deep breath.
I said, “Mom, you don’t want to be drinking that!”
I took her teeth out of the cereal and took the teeth cup from her hands.
I ran to the bathroom and rinsed them both off.
I ran back and in that short time she had poured the entire bowl of cereal and milk all over the nice clean clothes she had on.
Right on her lap.
“Now look what I’ve done! And this is an historic document!”
“Don’t you worry, Mom, I can clean that document as good as new.”
“Are you blind, Sara? This document is ruined!”
(Try to keep in mind that I am still, and have always been, Irene, and, I’m going to go out on a limb here, [pardon the pun], but I question the existence of the historic document on my mother’s lap.)
When NANA’S birthday came, I made an exception and brought the bottom three again. (It is obvious that I am learning disabled.)
It didn’t really matter, because she didn’t know who they were, thinking that Lenore was her sister-in-law, Betty, and Timothy was Tushar and Benjamin she just couldn’t recognize. I’m not sure she even saw him, hovering there trying to be helpful.
Not too many days after that I was just finishing up making dinner before I picked the kids up from school, when I got a call.
“Is this Irene Zion? This is your mother’s nursing home and you must come immediately to escort her to the hospital by ambulance.”
My mother had put a plastic bag over her head and taped it around her neck with scotch tape.
Her roommate called the nurse on her.
“We don’t keep suicides here.”
“You can throw people out of a nursing home?”
The answer was an unqualified yes. (Who knew?)
I said I would get there as soon as I could. I still had three kids to pick up from school.
I brought the kids home and left them there, thinking that this was the lesser of the child abuse, leaving them alone, rather than taking them to the scene of Nana’s attempted suicide. Victor would be home in a couple of hours to watch them.
I drove to the nursing home. It turns out that the plastic bag my mom had placed over her head and scotch taped around her neck was one in which I had brought her fresh fruit. This would later be a bone of contention with my brother, Woody. He claimed, and still does, that her suicide attempt was entirely my fault for bringing her fruit every day in a plastic bag. I could have mentioned that I didn’t bring her the scotch tape, but I don’t think it would have helped.
My mom complained emphatically about her turncoat, no-good, hateful, Evil Roommate.
“How dare that bitch interfere with my plans! Who does she think she is anyway? She should rot in hell! Bitch has been taking notes and telling the nurses on me from the beginning!”
Once you try to kill yourself, no matter how ineptly, you must leave and go to the Looney Bin. So. To the Looney Bin we went.
When we arrived, the doctor at the admitting desk asked her some questions.
“What day is it?”
“Tuesday.” (It was not Tuesday.)
“Who is the President?”
“How old are you?”
“Who is this?” (Indicating me.)
“I have no idea.”
“Why do you think that you are here?”
“My Evil Roommate is a bitch.”
“How old are you again?”
“Would you do something for me? Subtract 7 from 100.”
“Can you try that again? Subtract 7 from 100.”
“Where do you live?”
“Baltimore.” (We were in Champaign, Illinois at the time.)
“How old are you?”
It went on like this interminably. She got not one single question correct. Finally, we were about to commit her to a short stay in the Looney Bin. It did seem that she required a bit of mental help.
My mother called me to her side.
“Here, you probably want this.”
She grinned a huge grin and pulled out a wadded-up fruit baggie from her pocket.
“You probably don’t want to leave this with me.”
She was giggling.
“I thought that they searched you when you came in, Mom.”
“Well I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.”
As we left her, NANA was giggling up a storm.