XLIV. How Do I Get Home from Here?


Tuesday, January 3, 2012. The season has changed from red and green to deep blue. The wind carries the smell of snow. My life these days is sometimes cold, sometimes warm to the touch, like the boards and furniture on my front porch before dawn and then after the sun rises and I sit there warming late morning nursing a cup of latte.

Early this morning, before the sun rises, it is dark; I am awakened. I hear Emma: “How do I get to the subway?” she wants to know. I go downstairs to her. She, dressed in black “satin” long johns/pajamas, is uncovered, sitting up in her hospital bed. The room is dark but for the weak glow of the night light at the surbase in the adjoining hall.

She comes from Philadelphia, lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, all her life until she was around 40, when our family moved to Wilmington, Delaware. She and Nana, her mother, would dress in hat and gloves and take the el and subway into town to shop. In later years, Emma would take my brother and me. He couldn’t keep still. He’d disappear in the department stores. Emma, agitated, thought he was lost. Then she’d find him behind some clothes rack somewhere. She said if he had been born first she never would have had me. We spent many hours walking the streets of Philadelphia in town from Strawbridge’s to Gimbels to Lit’s, up to Peck & Peck and Bonwit’s, over to Wanamaker’s, and finally we’d descend the long flight of steps and navigate the labyrinth of half lit, urine reeking corridors and high wooden or iron revolving gates onto the subway platform smelling of breaded, fried chicken, dank concrete, electricity and wheel bearing grease. We’d lean over the white stripe along the edge of the platform, look down the track and see the light far down the tunnel, slowly growing bigger and bigger. Then here: it pulls into the station, the big headlight, the red and green lights on the car’s shoulders, the conductor in greenish light through the windshield in his booth. The many lighted windows of the front cars flash past us like decades, the brakes on the wheels screech to a halt, the doors slide open; here is the train come to take us home.

I pull Emma down in bed, for she sits leaning her back against the wall. I cover her up. I climb the stairs and crawl back into bed. Quiet. Then, “Where is the subway? How do I get home from here? How do I get home from here?” I descend the stairs. She is sitting up, uncovered. “Here: Take a drug” is not my normal way out. What should I do? Emma has become agitated again. The Atavan waits on the sill between the living room and hallway, waits for me to transport it to her. I have already measured the proper dose into the dropper. All I need to do is administer it. Our health care aides have told me that in nursing facilities they tie down agitated patients with duct tape or bungee cords. Scenes from movies of confined, supposedly insane people – mostly women – flash through my mind – Raintree County foremost; old scenes captured in documentaries of patients being given lobotomies suddenly light up, black and white, like a sudden gargoyle on a subway wall when the headlight of the fleeting train flashes on it.

What does Emma see? Where does she think she is? Lost in Philadelphia this time, trying to find her way home. It is sad; maybe it is scary. What triggers her images? What makes her brain run these thoughts? They must run like a movie trailer.

Emma is agitated. The symptoms had begun at dinnertime. She chattered away to our aide while she fed Emma. Emma asked her where her son is. The aide’s 11-year-old son has accompanied her here on occasion and even dressed up as a clown with orange hair and big spectacles to stimulate Emma for her photo shoot before Christmas when our aide took poignant photos of Emma and put them into an album for us.

I pick up the bottle. I unscrew the top holding the dropper. I approach my mother in her bed. I remove the dropper and aim it at her, moving closer. “No,” she says. “No!” She tries to push me away. I gather her wrists in my free hand so she won’t pummel me. She breaks free. “No,” she says. “I don’t want anything to eat.” She compresses her lips. “All you have to do is stick the dropper inside her cheek,” our medical team has said. “The medication is designed to be absorbed into the gums.” O.K., I’ll try again. I collect her wrists. She breaks free. I stand back. I look at her mouth. Only recently, I had to open our teacup poodle Jetta’s mouth to administer her medication from a dropper. I realize I can’t pry open Emma’s mouth as I would a dog’s. I’ve administered medicine from a dropper to cats. Surely, administering it to Emma should be easier. I am so bumbling at this. I do not think I would make a good member of the medical profession, even if I considered such a messy and often morbid occupation. I touch her cheek, her mouth, trying to open it. I aim the loaded dropper at it. I get it open. Quick. I get the dropper in and squeeze the bulb. Click! Emma clamps down her teeth on the dropper. I pull out the dropper. I hope it’s made of reinforced material. She does not break it. I place the dropper back into the bottle. Mission accomplished.

Emma continues talking for a while, about an hour. Born in 1914, do you think she would have believed it if someone had told her she would live into 2012? “Can you tell me where the subway is? How do I get home from here? How do I get home?” Now she is quiet.

–Samantha Mozart, January 3, 2012

One Response to XLIV. How Do I Get Home from Here?

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