“I can’t do this anymore. I never should have said yes to this,” I confess, refusing the tears that are building behind my eyes. I can’t look at him. I know he’s crying.
“You brought her here, Heather. You opened our doors. You said she could stay,” he replies, slightly stunned. “What are we supposed to do?” Eric’s words hang in the air, suspended. I allow the silence to stay, searching for something sufficient.
“It’s a crisis… She can’t live alone. But… we don’t have the room, Eric. We kicked our son out of his space for her. Rachel doesn’t even have a room at all anymore because of this. Our child! We also don’t have time. Am I supposed to choose Alzheimer’s therapy and blood sugar monitoring over field trips and parent teacher conferences?” I’m on a roll. “Or the money. Your mother is thousands and thousands of dollars in debt. In no way will our children’s college funds be paying off her horse betting. I brought her here, yes. I reacted, yes. She’s lived alone for too long. She is sick. So I went,” I explain.
“And I’m thankful for that. Thank you. Do you think I haven’t thought of these things, though? She’s my mother, Heather. It’s been two weeks and you’re spent. I should have known you can’t do this.”
“What?! YOU couldn’t do this! Anyone would be done! Why don’t you quit your job and I’ll work full-time? You try taking care of her. She needs round-the-clock care and I’m a full time student with four kids. I need sleep. Showers. Sex.”
“I’m not denying you those things. You’re playing the martyr, as usual. Let’s try this again tomorrow.” He begins to climb into bed, but I’m reluctant. He doesn’t hear me. He doesn’t want to. “It’s late. We’re both exhausted. Please, let’s just get some rest,” Eric implores, patting the empty place beside him in our bed. I shut down my heart and give in to my body, falling into my pillow. Just as the tension begins to lift and nonsensical images take form-
Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish.
Her slippers scuff along the tile in the kitchen. I nudge Eric, who responds with a snore, naturally. Rising from my bed, I tiptoe towards the hall. The rustling in the pantry masks the creak of my bedroom door. Peeking into the kitchen, I almost can’t believe my eyes. “Fran!” I shout, entering the room swiftly. “Fran, you can’t have that,” I begin, reaching for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch box she is manically digging in to. She snatches it backward, scowling at my attempt.
“I am hungry,” her thick Polynesian accent condescends,assuming it to be a satisfactory explanation. She’s shoving fistfuls of the sugary cereal into her mouth while batting my hands away. Exhaustion meets desperation and the tears begin streaming down my face. I double down, grabbing for the box with one hand and pulling the sweet squares from her hand with my other.
“You can’t have this, mom. Your blood sugar is too high. I’m so sorry. Let me get you something else-“
“I don’t want anything else, lady. I am hungry. I am grown woman and I. am. hungry. I’m going to starve.”
“No, Fran. I would never let that happen. I will make you something to eat. But you can’t have this.”
“Then I’m going home.”
“Oh yeah? How are you going to get there?” I quip, wiping away my tears.
“I’ll drive my car.”
“You don’t have a driver’s license anymore, Fran,” I explain.
“Then I’ll walk.”
“We are over 600 miles away from Virginia,” I reply, keeping my tone even. “Why don’t you have a seat and-“
“Then I will take bus,” she shouts. “Get out of my way!” Fran tries pushing past me and loses her balance. I drop the box, catching her arm. Cereal dances across the tile as she narrowly misses colliding with the countertops. Her eyes reveal she knows she’s gone too far. Avoiding shame, I gently help her to a chair at the breakfast table.
“Fran, I know this is all so confusing,” I begin.
“No, it’s not,” she interjects. “You ruined my family. You took my husband.”
“Fran,” I begin again. “My name is Heather. I’m your daughter-in-law. I’m married to your son, Eric. You live with us now, in Florida.” Her brow furrows at this information. I reach into the pantry for the broom. “It’s the third time in 24 hours we’ve had this conversation. I’m so sorry. I’m sure you’re angry and confused.”
“I am hungry,” she offers.
“Yes. Right. Let me get you some cheese.”
“I want cereal,” she says, nodding to the pile I’ve swept up.
“Fran, you have diabetes. I know sometimes you forget, and that’s one of the reasons you’re here. Eric and I are going to get you healthy. You chose to come here, to come with me, about a month ago. I came and picked you up two weeks ago.We drove down together.”
“Oh.” Her eyes cloud from the weight of it all. “I think I’ll go back to bed, then.” She rises, steadying herself.
“Why don’t you eat something first? I know you’re hungry.” Her expression changes.
“I am hungry,” she smiles. “How did you know?”
“I just had a feeling.”
“You’re a nice girl. You should meet my son. I don’t like his wife very much,” she offers.
“I’d like that. Maybe tomorrow?” I hand her a cheese stick and she eyes my wedding band.
“Oh, but you’re married, too. That won’t work.”
“It’s okay. His mother doesn’t like me very much,” I explain, making my way back to my bedroom.
“I’m still hungry, lady,” Fran calls down the hall. Climbing back into bed, I poke my husband.
“Mom’s hungry,” I whisper. “It’s your turn.”