After my Dad and his wife died I never went back to Victoria. The home, the chairs sitting in the sun, the desk with the photos, the box of tea, the couch where I crashed, was gone.
Those very things exist somewhere but they are gone to me. What made them mine is gone.
I have lived in Cabbagetown at my mom’s apartment so many times this year it feels like my second home.
I fall into the dusty feather couch at night in pure exhaustion and I sleep deeply with the city noises on the periphery; fighting raccoons rummaging in the garbage cans outside my window, men yelling at their partners, the incredibly dull, loud talking neighbors who enjoy their balcony so much.
Every visit things change perceptibly. Mom can no longer walk up the stairs by herself. She no longer makes tea or feeds her cat. The sweet caregivers have become her arms and legs. Our conversations are getting shorter and shorter. She is out of breath, exhausted; often we sit in silence with me holding her hand. Then she might rouse herself to say something random to me, such as, “Did you get through a press agent to attend this event?”
When I am feeling claustrophobic I head out to Parliament Street. It is a city amalgam of rich and poor. I can nod at homeless who rave just like my sister, I can smile at gay guys with their adored dogs, and I can hit my favorite spots. There is a small warmly lit greasy spoon run by a collection of older Asian men and women where classical music plays constantly and everyone is treated with respect and courtesy. Their good reliable food and cheap prices draw in some of the poorest of the neighborhood and each customer is treated like a good person.
There are cool second hand stores, a run-down library and further north on Parliament is a small area full of Indian stores that breathe their exotic spices and foods into my receiving sensory system. In the early morning the streets have that dusty busy feeling of an Indian city, so many people moving together in a hustle of humanity. Ground coffee, spices, the dust from construction, and the scents of perfume as people head to the buses to get to work are an orchestral sensory experience.
It has already occurred to me that this place will not be mine when my Mom dies. There will be no reason to go there and no reason to be there. So the place is seeping into my body. As the real world diminishes for my Mom, it is increasing for me. I am a receptor of smells, sounds and sights that she no longer needs, her mind a rich enough tapestry.
My Mom is in her head, dreaming and thinking. Sometime she is worried about the motherly duties, and the thought of Christmas puts a frown on her face. How will she have the energy to organize it all! We can’t insist that she no longer has to do anything, she does not pay attention. Years of looking after our desires are a habit that she cannot let go.
Conversations with my mom have become surreal and poetic, mind blowing. For example, “This book shelf is what it looks like, but not what it seems”. I repeat that back to her to see if that is what she said. She nods, “Yes, because there is another book shelf like this in another identical house in Toronto, and if I move a book here it will move there, and (pause) that would be magic”. A look of disapproval and disbelief at the word, magic.
She looks towards a window, where for me nothing stands out at all. She smiles, “Do you see that man out there with wings; do you see the small children?” She acknowledges that we cannot see what she is seeing, but her apparitions are so strong and detailed she cannot quite question their reality.
She says, “I can see Kate smiling and laughing and laughing” and she knows that it is something conjured by her mind and follows with, “Well, that is a nice image for me”.
And the odd images: “Look at the rats all jumping ship, with their feet scurrying as rat’s feet do when they run”.
Other times though she will say something that shows that she was paying attention when that last person was visiting. She will have noticed their health and habits and have a critical remark about one of their foibles.
And every day in my last visit she talked about dying. “Now please don’t get upset but we need you and Rhys and the others, to talk about my death “. When I tell her that Liz will be visiting in a week she says, “I don’t know if I will make it, but I don’t know if that matters.”
I look at my Mom, lie beside her. Her body is smaller, her skin hangs from her bones, but her stomach stays round and firm, holding all her pain and seeming to symbolize the pain and love of life. The stomach, the womb, all desire: the center of creation and destruction. Her desires from that center both created her marriage and destroyed it. Everything is appetite.
And now her desires abate and her appetite for life is less. I gently press the frown on her forehead, but it is permanent. Her eyes are unseeing, half lidded, and skeptical. If I tell her that I don’t see what she sees, she says, “But how do I prove that, I just have to believe that. You don’t see those boys, that large woman on the corner of the couch?”
I lie on the bed beside her; the bedroom is stuffy and smells permanently of urine. I rest my head on her pillows and hold her hand. Her eyes are closed and she sleeps deeply for a moment, her breath becoming urgent and painful, deep and racking.
Then she opens a green eye and says to me, “Well, it was odd getting into bed with my husband and his girlfriend”. I don’t say anything, what is there to say? Then she says after a long pause, “And where are they putting them, in the attic? And are they stacking them up”?
But amidst this random dream talk she is trying to prepare in her organized way, “How much time is left, what am I supposed to do?” and more poetically, “I feel as if I have just finished a book”.
I respond sympathetically, knowing that that feeling when something ends before you want it to, I say, “And you don’t have another good book to read” and she says, “ Oh no, I have lots”.
On the day of her birthday, in which I am about to throw a small tea party, she rises from the couch under her own strength, which is unusual, and says, standing as tall as she can, “I am not sure if I am up to this, I am much weaker than I used to be” and I realize that she thinks we are going on a plane. Pretty much every day she thinks she is going someplace, and I guess she is.
Seeing her standing on her own, I see her through her own eyes. She is young again and ready for any adventure. I remember watching her prepare herself when I was a teenager. Putting on her makeup, picking jewelry, brushing her hair.
Her bags packed, neatly organized, a skirt that both matches her jacket and her pants so that she can pack lightly but have many options, her ticket and passport neatly in an outside pocket of her purse, which does not have old gum wrappers in it or crumbs like mine.
She has brushed her long soft blond hair and put on red lipstick. I am sitting in her bedroom watching her prepare.