by Winnie Kay
An epiphany of life's meaning changes a daughter's prayer.
| She knew she was alive. She could see her chest rise and fall with the intake and expulsion of air. The mechanics of this involuntary action were beyond her understanding.
Joyce Davison looked through the thin, gray strands falling over her face. The milky film layering her eyes, once a stunning shade of emerald-green, made it difficult for her to see her surroundings clearly. The sparsely furnished room was familiar with its bare walls, single bed, and unadorned dresser, but Joyce knew this was not home.
In the recesses of her damaged mind, the eighty-four-year-old mother of six escaped to the colorful images of rooms carefully decorated by her and her young husband, Cecil. Her hearing was failing, but Joyce's face erupted in a toothless grin as her children’s laughter filled her ears. She felt the cool breeze from the open windows pass through the little house as she prepared supper for her family.
“Cecil, take the biscuits out of the oven before they burn. I’ve got my hands full here,” she said to the empty room as the visions paraded through the dusty corridors of her memory.
Of course, these images, sounds, and feelings were experienced only in the mind of the frail woman leaning in the wheelchair in the corner of the bare room. In another life, Joyce was a beauty, once pictured in magazines of the 1940’s. Now, dressed in a drool-stained sweater and faded jeans, cameras seldom snapped a pleasing pose.
“Hi, Mom. Who are you talking to?” Wilma cheerfully shouted as she entered the room. The smell of urine and disinfectant burned her nose. “How are you today? I brought you some roses, yellow roses, your favorite. It’s beautiful outside. You want to go for a walk? Here, let me brush your hair.” As she placed the vase on the shabby dresser, Wilma forced a smile, determined to keep a joyous inflection in her voice.
Joyce tilted her head and stared at her daughter, as if she were a stranger. “Hello, lady. Is it time for me to go see my mama? I need to see my mama.”
Wilma cringed at being addressed as lady by her own mother. Wilma’s grandmother died forty-two years ago, but she responded as the doctors instructed. “No, Mom, we’re not going to see Grandma today. Maybe tomorrow.”
Wilma stepped into the tiny bathroom next to the closet and retrieved a hairbrush from the shelf under the wall-mounted mirror. She gazed up at her image and saw anger, anger at what her mother had become, anger at God.
“Why don’t you just take her, Lord? What are you waiting for? Life is what you make it, but Mama didn't choose this life of confusion. This is not life. There is nothing left for her. Let her go to Daddy and free us from this long goodbye.” Wilma sighed, ashamed of her outburst and her disrespectful prayer.
She exited the bathroom and braced herself for another bout of false optimism. As she approached the thin, deteriorating woman her mother had become, Wilma noticed something different. She stopped and looked into the focused, clear eyes of the mother she once knew. The frown lines had disappeared. There was a look of recognition, and Joyce was smiling. Wilma’s heart soared.
Joyce felt the love, deep in her old, beating heart. She knew this lady standing before her. She remembered her as a young tomboy in pigtails chasing her brothers through the house. She tilted her head and her mind was filled with visions of scraped knees and prom dresses and graduation pictures. This is my daughter, my oldest daughter, the one who takes care of everything, Joyce thought, clearly.
“I love you, Wilma. You are a good girl.” The voice was strong and real and true.
“Oh, Mama, what did you say?” Through tears, Wilma knelt next to Joyce and reached for her hand. She looked up and saw that the fog of obscurity had returned. The moment had passed and Wilma was once again a stranger in the tangled neurons of her mother’s mind.
She rose, stepped behind the wheelchair, and began to brush Joyce’s thin, gray hair.
“Cecil came to see me last night, lady. He had that stupid grin on his face, and he told me...”
Wilma listened to the story of the imagined visit of her long-dead father and wondered if it was, indeed, imagined. Maybe there’s a connection between the two worlds that only the demented can see, Wilma thought.
She whispered a postscript to her earlier prayer: “But not yet, Lord—not yet.”