“Pass me one of them mints, Jimmy.”
There are two reasons I’m not going to grant my mother’s request for a mint. One, she didn’t say “please.” Hey...I expect it from my kids, why should my mother be any different?
And two: my name’s not Jimmy. If I were a man, being called “Jimmy” might be easier to swallow. But this definitely calls for a word with my hair dresser.
“Mom, I’m not Jimmy. I’m Deseree. Remember?” Of course she doesn’t.
“What?” Mom wrinkles her brow and clucks her tongue. “Desiree, you say? What a ridiculous name. Do people call you ‘dizzy’ for short?”
“Sometimes.” More often than I care to admit.
“That wasn’t very nice of your mother. I’ll bet she doesn’t have a ridiculous name.”
“My mother’s name is Catherine.”
“Catherine...” She looks into space. “That’s a very nice name.”
I sigh. A typical day in the life of Catherine Arnold.
The door opens and my sister, Sue, breezes in. “So what’s up, Dez? She recognize you today?”
“I wish,” I say, glancing at Mother, who is reciting the name “Catherine” over and over to no one in particular.
“Hey, Ma!” Sue says loudly, as if our mother is suffering from hearing, instead of memory, loss.
Mother’s face brightens. “Sue!”
I roll my eyes. It figures. Every time we visit, I pray that just once, Mother forgets my sister’s name instead of mine. It must be wrong of me to pray for something like that because my prayer has never been answered. That’s what I get for having a name like Desiree. Thanks, Mom.
“The nurse was just telling me about Catherine,” Mom explains.
Sue grins at me. “You’re the nurse now?”
I shrug. “Hey, it’s better than ‘Jimmy.’”
Sue throws her head back and laughs. Yes, it’s so hilarious, isn’t it? She covers her mouth. “Sorry, Dez. But sometimes you just gotta laugh, right?”
“Only if your name is Sue.”
Mom tugs on Sue’s sleeve and pulls my sister closer. She lowers her voice to a whisper. “You know, the nurses around here are pretty cranky. I don’t think she’s cracked a smile once.” She hitches a thumb in my direction.
I smile a large fake smile, baring all of my teeth, “How’s that?”
Mom frowns and looks, wide-eyed, up at Sue. She places a hand on her chest. “That was scary.” She tentatively glances at me again, terror in her eyes. “Get her out of here! She’s scaring me!”
I look at Sue. She is patting Mother’s arm, trying to calm her down. And me? I am on the verge of tears. It’s bad enough that she has no clue as to who I am, but now I’ve frightened her. And all because I smiled. Okay, so it wasn’t a nice smile. But still...I’m her daughter, for crying out loud!
I stand, fully intending to walk out the door before the dam breaks and I become a blubbering mess. Sue stops me. Her eyes, filled with laughter a moment ago, now hold compassion. “Dez, come on. It’s the disease.”
I swallow and blink back a tear. “I know that. But she remembers your name. Do you know how difficult it is for me to not even be recognized by my own mother? And then to see her recognize you...every time...”
“Dez, she doesn’t recognize me; not really. For some reason, she remembers my name. But she doesn’t know that I’m her daughter.
I look at my mother. She is watching us with a curious tilt of the head. “Sue,” she says, “Harold was asking about you the other day. He doesn’t understand why you haven’t called him lately. He’s still in love with you, you know.”
Sue raises an eyebrow at me, as if to say, “See what I mean?”
“Does Matt know about this?” I ask, referring to Sue’s husband of eleven years.
Sue grins. “Like I said, sometimes you just have to laugh. Either that, or crawl under the covers and not come out until they find a cure. But that wouldn’t work for me, since I tend to get hungry every so often. So laughter’s definitely the best solution.” She winks.
As much as it kills me to admit it, I know my sister is right. So I stay and visit with mom for a while longer. Today I am Missy, Leah and Deborah. Not once does she call me Desiree.
But hey...at least she isn’t still calling me Jimmy.
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