Friday, May 27, 2016


This piece was read at the American Family Dream Bank on Thursday, May 26, 2016, as a part of the DREAM BIG series: "Listening to Our Stories, Realizing Our Dreams" with Listen to Your Mother. It is a follow up/partner piece to my original piece "Ironing Naked" from the 2011 Madison cast of Listen to Your Mother.


“Hi mom, how’s it going?”

Mom (tentative): “Good, I think. Better than it has been. My memory is getting better.”

“Hi mom, how are you?”
Mom: “I’m getting much better. It seems that I had some big event, and it was causing me to not remember things. But now I realize, wow, I was really out of it.”

“Hey mom, it’s Jenny. How are you?”
Mom: “Okaaaay. Jim tells me I was having issues with my memory. But I can’t remember them. It’s very strange.”

After years of worry, of cajoling, of schlepping my mom to memory clinics where she was pronounced “very intelligent,” and showing little or no cognitive deficits, the bottom dropped out. One night she collapsed in a seizure, and wasn’t coming out of it. Airlifted to the next big medical center, we received a diagnosis. 

The MRI showed, along with anecdotal evidence, that she had been having seizures without us knowing it, probably for years. This time, though, the seizure had knocked the needle off the record, and her brain was having trouble booting back up because of dementia. This was the word that had been the terrible centerpiece of conversations about my mom for at least the past decade, with no medical corroboration until that point.

But see, here’s the rub. When you get a diagnosis, you say OF COURSE and at the same time you feel guilty, even when you did everything you could.

I went to a neurologist’s appointment with her shortly after her diagnosis, and she got really agitated and upset by us talking about her, and she put her hand on her hips and said, “Well, I’m not STUPID. Everyone is talking about me like I’m stupid and I don’t understand. I have a very well-developed vocabulary. You aren’t stupid if you have a master’s of fine arts and are the recipient of a national endowment for the arts individual artist grant.”

And she’s right, I remind her. She’s not stupid. No one is saying she’s stupid. We’re just saying she can’t remember shit. 

It sounds almost cruel to say it that way, but it ALWAYS makes her laugh. Then she snipes something back at me about me not being a piece of cake either. 

Today, she is no longer having seizures, but the medicines have taken away much of her independence. She feels unsteady on her feet, she’ll never be able to drive. I guess the good thing about having memory problems is that the bar is re-set every day. Every day you’re winning that race. Every night, like sisyphus, the rock rolls down the hill again.

Last year, we moved my mom and her partner to Grand Junction, so that they could be closer to their doctors. Most of the boxes were labeled “living room- books” or “decor” (that really could be anything— believe me). 

One box had a sticky note on it that read “No idea” in a shaky hand. And as I opened the box, the lifted flap revealed a perfect pizza. I mean, the most perfect pizza you could imagine. And I thought HOW COULD THERE BE A DAMN PIZZA IN THIS BOX? As soon as more light hit the surface, I realized… this is not a pizza. This is a perfectly felted, life-sized facsimile of a pizza.

She can’t remember her own medications, or what they’re for. She mourns her parents’ deaths every time someone tells her that they’ve passed away. But she can create— over days— a physical object out of hanks of colored wool that has an aspect of genius to it. There are moments she still seems alive in— when she tells a joke, offers advice, muses about her felting. But there are still parts of her that are (and will be) missing. 

I still don’t have the mom I had when I was a child, or a teen, or as a young woman. I don’t have the same mom I did ten years ago, or the mom I thought I had when I wrote “Ironing Naked” in 2011. 

Just like life, the box, marked “no idea”— it’s a truthful rendering of where we are at the moment. It can contain moments from the past— the waist-deep snow— almost forgotten— or a surprise. A pizza for no reason. A woman who dives down deep, and resurfaces every day the same woman, but perhaps different, when you open the box. My mother. 


No comments: