My Wife loves sushi; I love sushi; we return to our urban condo from a sushi binge and are settling into bed with our food comas; she and I do not have a clue that we are about to get hit by a tsunami. It is one of those summer nights where the heat is oppressive and “decent folk” know better than to call at that time of night; my Sister’s caller ID was showing as my cell rang; and I answered. She begins to describe that a County Sheriff’s nurse from a neighboring state just called her and is trying to identify Mommy! My Sister is emotional; and although she is scared, she sounds brave too. I listen long enough to get the jest of the situation, but soon interrupt her to ask, “So, where we gonna meet?”
My Sister and her husband live in the suburbs of the city; he drove them hurriedly and about forty minutes later, they arrive at the intersection outside our building. “Follow me, I gotta get some gas!”, I yelled to my Brother-in-law; and he does. We find a gas station across the street from an ATM machine and, while I stand, gassing the SUV for a trip from the city to rural “east bubble-fcuk” State Road, my wife runs to the ATM, my Brother-in-law and I shout to one-another about the best route to get to the aforementioned location and my Sister “two-way” calls my Brothers who live in different cities on the West Coast. We decide on a route and I suggest that my wife and I follow behind them. I turn to put the gas hose back in its place on the pump; replace the gas cap, close that little door and get back inside. By this time, My Wife is in too and we are off; I drive on auto-pilot as I tail the parking lights of their truck in front us. Along the way, I turn to my wife and say,” What in the hell could have happened to get Mommy two hundred miles away from home?” All the way, I think and say too,”I told them that Mommy was acting different”; “I told them that she is impossible to reason with”; “I told them that it is difficult to have a conversation with her by telephone”; “I told them that something is wrong with her”.
Before 9-11, air travel was fun. There were no restrictions on movement; even connecting flights were hassle-free. I was going home. Although I had left home nine years before, home was where Mommy and Daddy were, so that was where I was going. For the weekend, at least, I was Baby Boy; visiting home from the big city in the East. Dad had his weekend routine, so Mom and I were off together to do her work. She had a huge storage space, and we drove there early in the morning. In it, she kept the donations that countless businesses gave to her to give to those in need. My mother would pick-up these donations in her Ford Astro-Van, store and distribute them on a daily basis. She delivered hundreds of items: toiletries, canned goods, baby clothes, toys, kitchen ware, paper products, so on and the like.
We were going to “Small Farms,” a scattered and largely squatter community of wonderful people. My mother drove her Astro-Van; it was roomy, and looked regal because she was doing God’s work. We pulled into a dirt driveway to a modest home; a darkened doorway kept me from seeing inside. Besides, I never went inside anyone’s home. Mom never allowed it. We gave this husband, wife and their children bags of bread, canned-goods, paper products, clothing . . . blessings. “God gives to me in such abundance, so I make sure people get plenty of what they need. Yes, Lawd!” is what she often said as she bagged and boxed items and quickly gave them to me; I passed them along to out-stretched arms and grateful faces. Sometimes she would stand back from the van’s doorway and direct me to lift heavy boxes out of her way; Mom was always in control. Most angels are.
It was always a treat to look back and see people carrying their blessings into their home as we drove off. Over the years, my mother would give away millions of dollars in brand goods. Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club were benefactors of my Mother’s work. This was her avocation; she was a retired social worker, a staff member at the city’s comission for women, managed several shelters for battered women and was a court appointed child advocate. Mom had reach; she cared about people and believed that she had to do something to help people who were less fortunate than her to get the things that they needed to survive.
Back at the gas station I say to my wife, “Why is she calling them [my Brothers] ?”. I said, “They ain’t gonna do s*%t anyway.” Well, we are many miles out-side of the city and, driving behind her now after she and my Brothers have been on the phone for about thirty minutes and my Wife and I listen to my Sister’s voice through my cell phone’s speaker. She says that my Brothers and she are going to speak with an attorney about getting guardianship for Mommy. I listen and do not say a word; my wife (also an attorney) expresses some thoughts and concerns. My Sister closes by mentioning that she also spoke with a Sheriff’s dispatcher and that Mommy is enroute to the county-line via police escort and that her truck has been towed and can be retrieved at any time. After my Sister disconnects, I turn and say to my Wife, “We’ll see how that turns out”; I enforce the comment with a sour-puss facial expression and turn up Lil’ Wayne and Drake on the radio.
Like something out of a movie, we arrive at the intersection of two roads, the county-line; in moments the headlights of the approaching squad car catches our attention. I can see that Mommy looks normal; she is well-dressed as usual. She gets onto her feet out of the squad car and smiles at me saying, “Hey sugar? How are you doing? Come here. Come give Mommy a hug.” She feels the same; but she has a body-odor. “I love you, Mommy” and I kiss her cheek. The officer drives away and my Brother-in-law stays in his SUV while I stand on the road opposite my Wife and in between my Mother and Sister.
“Where are the keys, Mommy?!” my Sister says in a raised voice, reaching for her purse. “Don’t treat me like I’m no damn child!” Mom yells and snatches back. “You got us out here in the middle of the night! Where are the keys, Mama!” my Sister replies reaching again for my Mother’s purse. My mother begins to grab my Sister’s hand; she scratches her arm and neck, drawing blood, with one hand while the other hand is scratching my Sister’s neck. “I’m the Mother! You ain’t gonna treat me like no damn child!” she yells again. Finally, I am able to hug my mother in an effort to restrain her, while my Wife pacifies my Sister; reminding her to stay calm and that Mommy is clearly not well. Mommy says to me that she wants to go get her truck, but I respond that her truck is not available and that we will handle it tomorrow; it satisfies her for the moment and it gets the focus off of the keys.
Cooler heads prevail; my Sister and her husband speed off down the road to get Mommy’s truck. This was difficult for her, my Sister; she had recently relocated to the area and had “stepped-up” in recent months with regard to checking in on Mommy weekly, contributing to some monthly bills, and making an effort to spend quality time with her. This is the night before she and my Brother-in-law depart for a week-long cruise to celebrate their wedding anniversary; she has to work for a few hours in the morning and with the flight leaving for their port of call right after that, I thought it best that she and he go home and get some rest. It would have been a four-hour drive round-trip and she was not at her best; after we parted from the rendezvous spot, I called her cell and said to her, “Go home and my Wife and I will see to Mommy’s truck in the morning.”
I drive my mother and Wife to my Mother’s apartment about 30 minutes in the direction we had just come and Mommy is having hallucinations the entire way there. For twenty minutes or so, she repeatedly says to me, “Slow down! There are people walking along-side the road!” Once the three of us arrive and are inside my Mother’s apartment, my Sister stops in to love on Mommy and say good-bye because she will not see her for over week. My Brother-in-law stays in the van; my Sister is in and out in five minutes; and just like that the search and rescue party of four is now two. We locked the door and the three of us lay down; my Wife and I are in the guest room and I kiss Mommy good-night as she walks pass her open bedroom door, heading to the apartment’s only bathroom.
When she put the Astro-Van in drive, we were off again; onto the next one and the next. An hour or so later, we were on our way home to have dinner with Pops. On the way home, my mother began to ask questions about my life and made comments that she was worried about me. “Wait a minute!” I replied, “You are going into the housing projects and giving away ‘free stuff’ and you are worried about me?” I challenged her. “God! He is with me,” she instructed me. It was not the first time we had quarreled like this; but we drove home just the same. My mother is an angel; I stand by this; but she is a mother first. I kissed her on her cheek and told her that I love her and that she was my “smother”.
Dinner with my parents at that time was always fun. Although the TV was on, the three of us talked amongst ourselves. My parents had such witty repartee about world events, his job or her work. I was an adult, having adult conversations with my parents; you have had these moments (hopefully) and they are priceless. “After two nights, people are like fish. They start to smell bad.” This is what my father would say in reference to visitors and to being a good house-guest. Stay two days and one night and you will always smell fresh. They dropped me at the airport bus stop; we prayed for my safe travels and a safe return; I blew them kisses from my seat inside the bus as it drove away slowly until they were out of sight.
My Wife and I cannot sleep, but we try; the sun comes through the Venetian blinds in the guest room where we are and I get up to check on Mommy. Aside from the events of the night before, it was nice to be in Mommy’s apartment. It is going to be a hot day and the sun is already doing its part by making the place stuffy; and I notice that my Mother’s apartment has that “old people smell”. She has long since, I notice, abandoned the impeccable southern cleaning standards and practices she taught me and my siblings to have. She also stopped sleeping in her room’s king-sized bed; opting instead for the living room’s plush couch and its over-sized pillows.
I walk into the living room and see her sitting on the couch with her back to me holding a pad of paper with both hands. I focus to make sure I see what I am seeing; she was in a state; she was conscious, alert and speaking aloud. Studying the pad of paper, she displays a prolonged and deep sense of investigation on her face. And because she can neither hear nor see me; I stand there and, not knowing what to make of what I am witnessing, I freeze and hear her say, “Bananas at the top of the page. Bananas at the top of the page.”
I turn and walk back into the bedroom where my Wife lay sleeping; never speaking to my Mother as intended and I text my Sister, “Should I retrieve and hide Mommy’s gun?” I lay down. The still of the apartment was peaceful; I felt a calm come over me. My Wife begins to rub my back, yawns and whispers, “Is your Mother alright?”. I relax for the first time since we returned from our sushi binge; my cell begins to buzz from the vibrate setting when my Sister’s return text, “YES” comes through; I mutter “Naahhh” and fall asleep.