Two Days Later
“You sure you want me to come in with you?” Jenna asks.
“I’m sure,” I say, grabbing her hand and twining my fingers with hers, as we stand outside the door at the end of the corridor.
We arrived at Cherry Trees ten minutes ago, and Jenna introduced me to Sonya, the home manager, who advised us that all the staff had been made aware of our visit. She also made it clear that my mother’s welfare is her priority, and that if she becomes upset or agitated, we’re to ring the buzzer for assistance. I can’t help but admire Sonya’s dedication and consideration for the people under her care.
Jenna’s told me what to expect, or more to the point, what not to expect. I know she experienced a total breakdown, that her treatment at my father’s hands broke not only her spirit, but her mind as well. I know that she’s heavily medicated, and she hasn’t spoken a single word in more than eighteen years.
And I know that having her just a few feet beyond that door has me all kinds of nervous.
Jenna knocks lightly, cracking the door open. “Hi Linda, it’s me, Jenna,” she says, opening the door wider so that we can move into the room.
A lady in her mid-forties is sitting in the armchair by the window, her face in profile as she stares sightlessly at the world outside. She looks frail, her body thin, but there are still traces of beauty in her face.
“How are you?” Jenna asks, as we move further into the room.
“I brought you a cup of tea, just how you like it. A dash of cream and one sugar,” Jenna says, placing the cup and saucer on the table next to Linda.
“I brought someone else to see you,” she adds, pulling up two chairs across from her so we can sit. “This is Tyler.”
Linda’s eyelids flicker at the name, but her gaze remains fixed out the window.
“Tyler is a friend of mi…” Jenna’s voice trails off as Linda slowly turns her head, and my stomach turns over as her eyes flick past Jenna and land on me.
For the first time in my life, I see my physical connection to another human being. I didn’t look like my father, and always wondered if I favored my mother. Now I know.
I see the similarities in the color of her hair, the sweep of her high cheekbones, her straight nose and the vibrant blue of her eyes – eyes so very much like mine. Eyes that now seem to hold a tiny spark of recognition, as they focus on my face, roaming over it as if seeing the same similarities.
“Hi, Linda,” I say, softly, holding out my hand towards her.
She looks at it as if it’s something foreign, and I start to pull away when suddenly she reaches out, her cool fingers wrapping around mine, her eyes fixed on our clasped hands.
“I’m Tyler. Nice to meet you,” I say, and the irony of introducing myself to my own mother isn’t lost on me.
I can almost feel Jenna holding her breath in the chair next to me as Linda’s eyes move slowly back up to mine.
A frown creases her forehead. “No!” she says suddenly, dropping my hand like it’s on fire, her voice husky from years of disuse.
Jenna leans forward in her chair. “Linda…”
“No!” Linda shouts this time.
My heart sinks as I look across at Jenna, knowing that this is as much as we can do today without upsetting her any further.
My head whips towards Linda as suddenly, she stands, walking towards her bed. She bends to retrieve her purse from the small cupboard beside the bed, opening it and pulling something from inside before walking back to her chair and sitting down again.
She holds her hand out towards me, offering me the dog-eared photograph she’s clutching in her hand, and I glance at her before gently taking it from her, turning the photo over so I can see.
It’s an old, color photo, but the colors have bleached from it over time, leaving sepia tones behind. It’s a photo that’s been held many times, obviously cherished over the years, a prized possession.
My eyes mist as I look at the two people in that photo. A beautiful blonde woman is crouched down in what looks to be a backyard, the sun behind her. A young boy, not more than two years old, is perched on her knee, his arm around her shoulder.
Whoever took that photo, it can’t have been my father, because we’re both beaming at the camera, our expressions carefree.
I swallow hard, lifting tortured eyes to the woman sitting in the chair in front of me.
“No,” she says again, softly this time. “Not Linda. Mom.”
I feel the wetness on my cheeks as I drop to my knees in front of her, placing my head on her lap.
Soft hands touch my head, tentatively at first, then more firmly, smoothing through my hair. The scent of flowers washes over me, a smell unique to my Mom that unleashes memories of warm hugs and sunny afternoons in the backyard eating home-made ice-pops, memories long-forgotten. Until now.
“I missed you, Mom,” I whisper.