I dropped by Mom’s place today to remind her (for the sixth time) that I’ll be leaving to go to Mexico tomorrow. I’m heading back to teach at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference for the 4th year in a row, and I wanted to be sure that Mom would be okay while I was gone. While she sat beside me in a nest of newspapers, I wrote in giant letters on her calendar, “LAURA IN MEXICO” across each of the 13 days I’ll be gone.
This trip means more to Mom than some of my others. Mom used to go to San Miguel herself every winter, for a dozen years, way before I ever went there, to escape the New Jersey snow. She even thought of moving there, but never quite rallied the courage.
Three years ago, I brought her with me to visit her old friends while I attended the conference. It’s hard to believe that was just a few years ago. That trip definitely would be out of the question now. Mom’s far too frail—she couldn’t handle the altitude or the long trip. And the cobbled streets? They’d be far too treacherous for her now; she’d never be able to go out.
When I arrived at Sunshine Villa this morning, the whole place was on lockdown. 25 residents were sick, some with the flu, that epic killer of the old. They take the flu very seriously in assisted living. The dining room was closed and all the residents were being cloistered, their meals delivered to their rooms.
While I listened to Mom reminisce about San Miguel, one of the staff members came by with dinner on a Styrofoam tray. Dried chicken, white rice, canned vegetables, and a gummy piece of apple pie. “The food is pretty good here,” Mom offered between bites. “Where are you staying in San Miguel?”
I got closer so Mom could hear me. “I’m staying with your old friend Susan Evans.” Mom and Susan really had hit it off for a number of years, even though Susan is closer to my age than Mom’s. Mom was the one who’d introduced us, and Susan and I have been friends ever since.
“That’s nice,” Mom said as she brought a plastic spoon full of canned corn up to her mouth in a shaky arc. “It’s….” and here she hesitated for a long time, searching for a word. All she hit was a blank.
“Serendipity?” I offered.
“Yeah, it’s serendipity that you’re following in my footsteps.” Mom took a bite of her gelatinous pie and smiled at me with her mouth full. “Maybe you’ll take after me in other ways, too. I hope you have a comfortable old age like me. I’m happy and I’m healthy. I don’t have anything wrong with me. You should have a good old age like me. Or like your father. He has a good old age. He went to law school and now he’s happy living in San Francisco.”
My father has been dead for more than thirteen years, but in Mom’s mind, they’re happily living in parallel universes. I decided not to correct her. What good could it possibly do to remind her that her ex-husband is dead? “Enter their reality.” That’s what all the Alzheimer’s books say.
Mom took a bite of rice. Half of it spilled over the side of the spoon onto the napkin I’d tucked into her collar. “Do you know my friend Susan Evans?”
“Yeah, Mom,” I said, as I picked up the grains of rice that had gone awry. “I’m staying with her.”
“Oh, that’s so nice.” Mom lifted the white Styrofoam cup of apple juice to her lips.
“Mom, what was that toast you used to do in Mexico?” I asked. “I’m sure I’m going to be drinking a lot of tequila.”
And with that little bit of prompting, she immediately showed me the toast:
I plan to make good use of it when I get to Mexico.