“It’s all such a blur”

my mom said in the train the other day. She was looking out the window at the plains and the fields of grass and wheat that we were speeding away from that it looked like a jumbled-up mumbled sentence, like the way she talks when she’s looking for something or someone or someway to come back. “Life’s a blur and I’m already wearing glasses.” She looks at me expectantly now as if I should know how to decipher anything she says and react exactly how she wants me to because she starts to throw things when I don’t understand and can’t react with a smile and a“yes, Jolene.”

Her name is Jolene now, not “Emmaline” or “Patricia” or “Sapphire” like it was a month, a week,  a day ago. It’s hard for me to keep up with who she is and how many children she has and who am. Every other day when I get home in my little nook on 114th street I make myself look in the mirror above the sink and stare at my eyes and lips and nose and repeat “Maggie. Twenty-two.Poet. Part-time bartender. Two siblings. Trish and Brandon. One parent. Laurel Hopkins” seven times until I think I can make it another day and a half until I have to forget again. I think I could be an actress by now, probably Emma Watson.

So far we’ve gone through eight names and twelve weeks and too many personalities. Twelve weeks ago I was a starting intern at Wallace and Pratt and I finally had it all going good and I was going to go to law school and I was drinking a lukewarm chai latte when I got the call.

“Mommy, I think I made a fire, help!” My mom called me “mommy” and her stove and oven nearly melted off the wall and suddenly my deposit for law school expired. She called me“mommy.” She’s not allowed to touch the stove anymore. I make chili for the both of us and we eat together because she sometimes forgets that she’s already eaten and will get up at 3 am for cheese puffs. And she calls me “mommy” quite often now, unless she’s calling me “Steve” which I think was my father or “Pinocchio” because she thinks I’m lying about being her daughter.

I like to think I’m a good daughter. Maybe a good daughter wouldn’t be doing this now, riding a train with her half-dead half-insane mother to Long Island to shove her inside a retirement facility and be done with this crap. But I’ve done my part for twelve weeks like a good daughter, calling her “Jolene” and smiling keenly and doing my “Steve” grunts and my “Marlise” struts. I’ve grunted and strutted my way to doctors all over New York and given “Jolene” all kinds of pills and treatments and acted like the “Mommy” paying for her hospital bills and caretakers with my law school tuition. So I’ve done enough, I’ll say, and I don’t even see Brandon or Trish anywhere near here and anyways, they’ve always been those same cold-hearted spoiled little brats taking the last gumdrop in my stash.

She turns to me now, with her eyebrows bunched together and her tongue sticking out likes she’s a toddler who lost her pacifier and she makes a noise like “Ooogah bahbah.” She’ll do this for five more minutes until she’s back to normal or at least what her new normal is now. If I wasn’t so fucking sick of this I would say this was a bit funny how she’s maybe thirty times the age of a large baby but perfectly seems like one now. Maybe life is a blur and it moves so fast that some people can’t see the seventy years that have passed them long ago and they still feel like little infants at times. “Winona, you better thank your lucky stars you were home sick September 11th.I heard there was a flood that day.” She takes my hand in hers and grips it tightly but I feel her hand on my throat and it’s choking me and I’m dying of strangulation.

I wanted Mom to be happy but who was to say she was happy here. And I wasn’t happy like this.Nothing prepared me for a mom who didn’t remember who I was and didn’t know what I was doing in her house– school didn’t, books didn’t, and mom certainly didn’t. She used to be so smart, too. Knew all about the Vietnam War and World Wars and the fluctuations in our economy and why the ocean was blue and the first seven lines of Pascal’s Triangle. And it’s all the more freaky now, because she’s incoherent and she’s confused about simple words and can’t do anything herself even though she once did everything as a single mom and because she just seems so plain dumb to me.

I know it’s a disease and I know it’s not my fault or her fault or Steve’s fault or even just chance.It’s like cells and proliferation and science and life moves like a blur so we didn’t see it until it happened and it got too deep for us to climb out. I can’t even look at her now though. Her wrinkles are deep-set into lines like the streets she walks late at night until I get a call from the police station and her lips that thin out like the patience that I wear and her auburn eyes that I thought were so clear and full of curiosity and thought and experience that are now just two bottomless pits stuck onto her face. So I have to close my eyes a lot now, and do grunts without opening them and take trains to Long Island so I can finally open them once more. I need to stop being other people and stop smiling keenly and strutting around and finding her on the bathroom floor with cheese puffs and forgetting who I am.

“Winona, look! The deer– oh you missed it. Wait! Oh.

I turn my face away from her.

I whisper, “Maggie. Twenty-two. Poet. Part-time bartender. Two siblings. Trish and Brandon.”