When I call, she seems to know my voice. If I say it’s Sarah, she’ll say I know that! or and who else would it be?
She’ll ask about my baby and for a minute, she must remember me. Then one of us (we can’t help ourselves) will grasp at a time when our life together made sense, when I was young. Then her memory will do its artwork, emptying all the paints out onto a palette at once and swirling them together. Everything she’s ever known runs over and off the page and onto the linoleum floor.
If men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti, the mind with dementia is like a slow-cooked kettle of hash in the low-country, impossible to explain boiled over stirred up things that used to be.
In an instant, my baby becomes me and I become my mother. She is taking care of two girls, she says (me and my sister), and then she has two boys too (my uncles), and then she has a little baby of her own and her sister is helping her, and then before I can help her (if I could), she knows she doesn’t know who I am anymore, and maybe she doesn’t even know who she is. My baby has become every baby in the world, and she, every old woman.
We don’t know what to say. We sure need rain don’t we? How’s your back? Did you have dinner? She answers briefly, uncertainly. She hurries to get off the phone.
I love you, Nanny. Her voice turns warm again. I love you too. And sometimes she’ll add Baby Sally and I smile because that’s me.
Will she remember I called? Not for five minutes. So why do it? It is hard and sad. It is uncomfortable. What good does it do?
The answer is this: For a moment she remembers and knows she is remembered.
For a moment she knows she is loved. That is reason good enough.