Things Necessary

My mother has been in and out of the hospital since October. Right now she's in a nursing home, recovering from her broken knee, and the subsequent infection she got somewhere inside RI's labyrinthine system for the care of the elderly and infirm. Today, for the first time since her dementia diagnosis, and in between terrible bouts of vomiting, she asked me for a paper and pencil. She wanted to make a list. Here is what she wrote: Things necessary.

I left some time later, & spent the afternoon with Jane, doing certain very necessary things, like taking a walk in the woods, shopping for summer dresses, and eating cones of vanilla chip ice cream. I did not write, although I thought about it, in between remembering my mother, working at her easel or the typewriter during the long summer afternoons, or driving me around, trying to distract me, on the night I didn't have a date for the ninth grade dance. The ice cream parlor where I sat with Jane was also where I worked my fifteenth summer, and as I looked out at the village center, time stopped, briefly, and then went backwards. Everything was just the way it was twenty years ago, right down to the trees and the grass and the robins in the shrubbery. I pressed my lips to Jane's head; she licked up the last of her ice cream; and it seemed that my father was still waiting in the parking lot with the engine running while I polished the last of the silver ice cream bins.

It is hard to reconcile this sadness and nostalgia with what I also know to be true: that during my childhood and adolescence I was alone and silent a great deal; that school, which might have been a refuge, was violent and frightening; and that my mother, also, was violent and frightening.