I exited the funeral home. Outside, the summer sky was orange and blue. Cars honked every other minute, as they usually did downtown. The air smelled of gardenias, piss, and weed. A handful of my cousins were crouched behind bushes smoking a blunt, while another group sat on the curb sipping out of a paper bag. Everyone grieved differently.
I pushed through huddled groups of family members and found my mom sitting on a bus stop bench facing the street.
My mom was mad at me. I had yelled at her for something she couldn’t control. It wasn’t her fault she was forgetful. It wasn’t her fault this disease was damaging her brain. Blame genetics. Blame age. Blame fate.
Our roles had reversed. She was the child who wanted to go home. I was the adult who told her we couldn’t; there was still another hour of the wake. Except, unlike a child, my mom listened to my answer. She just couldn’t retain it. So, it was like I had never responded.
She asked again, “Can we go home?” Her sentences, shaped like circles: Question.
Repeat question. Repeat question. Repeat. Until I finally yelled at her, “Don’t you remember, Mom? We can’t leave yet!”
Don’t you remember? That question was like profanity to someone with my mom’s disease. Why did I ask that? Of course, she couldn’t.
My mom stormed out of the building. I stayed inside and let the anger wash away. Guilt replaced it. I wasn’t even angry at my mom. I was angry at her brain for failing her.
When I approached my mom, she was staring at her brother’s memorial card. Uncle Javier had passed away from the same disease my mom had, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at the photo they used for his card. On the cover was a picture of him in his late thirties, smiling and wearing a San Diego Padres jersey at a baseball game. This was the version of him we all wanted to remember.
I stood in front of my mom, waiting for her to look at me. I cleared my throat. She sat hunched over with her eyes fixated on the card. Her gray roots shined under the setting sun.
As a teenager, whenever my mom and I argued, she gave me the silent treatment until I apologized. The same rules applied as an adult.
“I’m sorry, Mom. That was uncalled for.”
“What are you sorry for?” she said to the card.
I closed my eyes and sighed. “I’m sorry for what I said to you.”
“What did you say to me?”
“Are you going to make me repeat all those ugly words?”
“Yes, because I can’t remember what you said or why I’m mad at you.” My mom looked up.
My mouth was agape. I almost wanted to laugh. I sat down on the bench, took a deep breath, and buried my face in my hands, exhaling a loud sob.
“Hey, it’s alright,” my mom said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster this past month.” She rubbed my back.
I removed my hands from my face. “No, it’s not alright. Can’t you see I’m losing you? Every day it gets worse.”
My mom turned her back to me. “I’m sorry. I know I’m not as sharp as I used to be. I’m not sure how to explain it… I guess my memories are like… bubbles now. The second I try to grab them, they… disappear.”
“No, don’t apologize. You’re right, it’s been difficult this past month with Uncle Javier’s passing. I’m just scared.” Each time I wiped away a tear from my eyes, another one formed behind it.
My mom turned to face me. “Why are you scared?”
“He was only sixty-eight. Not much older than you. Looking at his dead body is like looking into the near future. Aunt Michelle said Uncle Javier forgot how to eat and drink during his final days. He forgot who she was—”
“Why are you writing me off?” She crossed her arms.
“I’m not writing you off.” I lied. I had already grieved for her, or at least the person she once was. The mother I grew up with was someone who loved to dance in the kitchen, someone who knitted beanies and scarves for relatives, someone who remembered every family member’s birthday and graduation, someone I turned to for advice. Now she was someone who struggled to get out of bed in the morning, someone who forgot where she placed her knitting needles, someone who couldn’t remember what day it was, someone who often forgot my name.
Although it was natural to grieve, it wasn’t fair to her.
“I’m still your mom. And you’re still my daughter even when… or if I can’t remember you. But that day, if it does come, is far in the future. There’s no point in worrying about it now.”
She wrapped her arms around me. For a moment, our roles were back to normal. I was the fearful child. She was the brave adult. As a child, my mom’s embrace seemed magical. It eradicated all my fears and sadness and even evicted all the monsters hidden underneath my bed.
Her embrace still held the magic of my youth. Although it couldn’t change our reality, it helped me forget it.
“You’re right. We should enjoy the present.”
She pulled away and looked at me, waiting for me to say more. But we had nothing left to discuss.
There was still a light in her big brown eyes. Her eyes had an amber glow, like the glow before the sun disappeared below the horizon. Night was inevitable and would soon come. So, I would enjoy this last glimpse of daylight.
Bianca Sanchez is a writer living in San Diego. She has a BA in English from San Diego State University and currently works in publishing. Her poems have appeared in Girls’ Life Magazine and Mesa Visions literary journal. Her nonfiction stories were featured in So Say We All’s monthly VAMP storytelling showcase.