All I have is this moment, and it sucks. But then there was that kiss…
“Only two visitors allowed. One of you will have to stay here.”
That left me with little choice but to lead Dad down the drab hallway to the psychiatric unit, while Tim, my fiancé, remained behind in the waiting area. My throat tightened. This was hard. I was inclined to run screaming out into the parking lot and to keep on running. Let Dad and Tim deal with this.
Desperate, I called upon a perverted version of my usual yoga mantras: Just Breathe and Be Here, Now: All I have is this moment, and this moment sucks. So Breathe.
It worked for me. As a child, my dad instructed me in the ways of self control. The man who loses his temper, not only loses the argument, but he loses himself. Remember that. How could I forget?
I made it to the window and bleakly asked to be let into the locked unit with Dad. We sat at a long table in the day room waiting for Mom to come out for our visit. She approached us tentatively and wrinkled the lower half of her face into a smile – a smile that eerily failed to reach her eyes. I wondered what it felt like to be her. Here was a man sitting across the table from her whom she had accused of plotting against her only days earlier. She sat down and looked at him.
“Well, I missed you, “ she said.
“ I missed you too. “ Dad’s voice was quiet. “ I’ve cleaned the house and even made dinner.” He gave a soft laugh. “I thought you were coming home today.”
“Really?” Mom’s face brightened.
She turned to me. “How are the children, Renee?”
While we conversed about the kids, the nurses mercifully permitted Tim into the unit and he finally joined us at the table. Inwardly I relaxed. Mom adored Tim. Even when her delusions were in full force, Tim swore that he loved talking with my mom, even just sitting with her.
“She has a beautiful smile, “ he told me, “and she is always interacting with the other patients. She’s like the resident mother.”
“They all come and go.” Mom said of her fellow patients. “ I must say, everyone seems a little confused when they first arrive.”
I pictured in my mind one of those merry go rounds on a children’s playground, the kind that you hold onto and spin with your foot. You hold on tight and twirl round and round. When you finally jump off, you’ll always be dizzy, and it takes you a moment to regain your equilibrium. I kept imagining Mom and all the other patients jumping off one of these turnstiles and landing, with a soft thud and a shudder, not in the middle of a playground, but here, in the middle of the hospital unit. Looking up dazed, they were slowly orienting themselves back into a world where your loved ones really love you, and are not plotting conspiracies against you with the neighbors.
One of these women came over to the table and leaned in towards us. She wore a white plastic crucifix around her neck that perfectly matched the shade of her hair. Mom patted her on the arm.
“My two sisters came to visit.” The woman began. “Um, let’s see, two? Yes, yes, I have two sisters. “
She babbled on a bit, making no sense. At one point I realized that she was carrying on two parallel conversations and one of them clearly did not include us. Suddenly she looked at my mom and began to cry. Mom began to stroke the woman’s back and murmured, “Don’t cry, Irene, it will be all right.”
The woman was making no sense and I began to laugh. I am a terrible person. Terrible. I horrified myself, but it struck me that a mere gossamer curtain lay between this woman and me. Indeed, betweenthis woman and any of us. Maybe my own babbling days are not that far off. I had to laugh, I just couldn’t help it.
“Why are you laughing? “ Irene looked point blank at me. Damn it, I thought.
“I think I’m just tired. “ I replied. “It’s been a long week.”
Tim looked at his watch.
“Seven thirty. Visiting hours are over. I guess we should go.”
We all rose to leave and Tim was the first to give Mom a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Come home soon, Grandma, we miss you.”
Then it was my turn.
“Look, Mom, I’m sorry I laughed, I just couldn’t help it. “ This time her eyes cleared and for a moment, she chuckled along with me. Then she sobered, and quietly said, “Say a prayer for me.”
Dad put his arms around Mom. They hugged. I looked back and saw him take her face with both his hands and kiss her. Quite deliberately and on the mouth. I had to look away. Forty-three years old and I couldn’t remember seeing them kiss like that. It was too sweet for me to watch.
“They’re kissing,” I whispered to Tim, incredulous.
Now outside the unit, we watched through the glass as Mom and Dad made their way across the room to the door. Every few steps they would stop and hug again. They would take a few steps, face one another, grasp hands and say those few things more that needed saying before parting company.
I was glad that the visit went well, and that Mom’s medical care seemed to be bringing her back to us, but the core of me felt raw and pissed as hell. Pissed at life. Why did the first damn doctor have to die? Why did the next damn doctor change Mom’s medicine? Why did this have to happen now, after all these years? After all these years of thinking we were home free of her disease? On the way home, Dad tried to talk to me about the kids, asked me how my health was. I said nothing. When he brought up President Bush I knew he was fishing for any kind of talk from me. He knew I was pissed at the President, too. He needed to know I was okay. What I wanted and needed was for him to acknowledge what Mom’s illness had meant to me. What it had done to me as a child, how it had tied me up in a thick heavy rope and gagged me in so many ways. How revisiting that hell was the last thing I wanted to do. Even my body protests this demand for love she makes on me. My throat tightens, I gasp for air, I thirst, I hunger, I am depleted. I was not going to comfort him. I had made it through the visit and my man was driving us home. We dropped Dad off at his apartment. I said nothing.
As soon as we got home there was a message from Dad on the answering machine.
“I forgot to mention something. Call me back, please.”
Messages had become loaded with intrigue lately. What was it he forgot to mention? The way things had been going it could be anything. When I called him back, he sounded forlorn.
”I forgot to tell them something at the hospital. Your Mama and I – we’re old people. We need each other. Tell them that. You find a way to make them understand. I need her here at home, with me. You tell them. Do that for me, will you?”
“Okay, Dad, Don’t worry. She seems a lot better, I’m sure they’ll send her home soon. “
He was silent.
“Look, I’ll tell them, okay? “
”Thank you. Get some rest.” Not waiting for any response, he hung up.
Dad never said goodbye on the phone. He used the phone the way other people take bad photos of vacations. The way people cut off the top of a subject’s head, he cut off his own sentences by hanging up too soon or by being oddly abrupt. It annoyed me, but it identified him. He was from another world, a world where it takes weeks on a boat to get to America, where wife and children wait with restraint at the dinner table until the father lifts the first bite of his food to his lips, and certainly one without phones or computers – he was surrounded by a different atmosphere, always had been. He never realized the extent of Mom’s bloody revelations to me as a child. He didn’t ask or suspect; how could I have ever told him?
Mom’s condition dramatically improved once her medication reached that magic level to silence her delusions. When it finally happened, the change seemed to occur almost overnight and she was ready to come home at last. Before we knew it, she was in her armchair, chatting with the family, crocheting with contentment, picking out a book for the evening’s reading. Dad was positively giddy. His green-eyed girl had come home to him. The constancy and intensity of his love for her startled me. That they could cling to one another through six decades, that they could find their way back to each other once again in the face of mental illness humbles me.
There exists this one brilliant truth that overtakes the insanity and brings it to its knees: Dad loved Mom. William loved Dolores. Dolores loved Wei Lim.