In Whose World is Reality

I wrote this a while back. Its from a dream that haunted me. Article 94’s Mark Gardner spurred this one to be brought here by his piece “My Own Monster”. While this is fiction, it has elements of fact in that my grandmother had one of the longest documented cases of Alzheimer’s. My mother kept her at home with home nursing for years. Doll was treated from roughly 1981 until her death in 2005.
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“My car is missing!” I told them being outright ignored.

Doll just wandered around the kitchen picking up the newspaper, putting it back down before settling in a chair at the table. Opening the cabinet, mother pulled out a glass and walked over to the refrigerator, opened it, looked inside then leaving the door open, pulled out her cigarettes.

“Did you hear me? My car has been stolen! I need to use your phone!”

My mother lit her cigarette then replied without turning towards me, “Well you should have thought of that before you loaned it out. Not my fault you can’t make good choices.” She took a drag off of it then got some orange juice out to pour into her glass. Meanwhile, my grandmother sat there staring blankly at nothing in particular while our drama unfolded around her.

“Mother, I need to use your phone.” I said knowing that if I walked over to it without her permission, all hell would break loose, so I stood perfectly still ever watching to see if she would acquiesce. Even though local calls were part of the bill, I was not allowed to call out without permission even as an adult.

“Judy, where’s my juice? I need my juice with my paper in the morning.” My grandmother murmured distantly as if just now waking from a long nap. That she noticed her juice was gone was a good thing. Alzheimer’s had done its number on her years ago taking her idea of what was real and now away so solidly that no amount of putting it in front of her mattered. She had her good days when she was sweet and loving, then there were the bad ones where everyone was a physical target that she had to overcome with any means necessary.

“OH good, the woman who looks like my granddaughter is here. My doll baby is much prettier than you, but she still needs to lose weight. I so wish she would come back from school to visit me.”

“Doll, it is me. I’ve just grown older.” I took a few steps over to her and took her hand in mine. It was soft, withered, with the bones showing through from where she refused to eat now. I tried, not thinking about it, wanting her to recognize me just once for who I am. I knew better. It never worked.

“Don’t you talk to your grandmother that way! You’ll just confuse her more!” My mother lit another cigarette from the one burning as if the first one had some kind of fatal flaw in it. She looked at me with utter hatred pouring out of her, the fury of it licking its way to me.

“I used to sing, “Hello Dolly” to her as a baby. She was such a sweet child.” Doll smiled with the kindest of smiles that lit up her face making her eyes glow with happiness. Then she began to sing in a hesitant but happy voice, “Hello, Dolly! Well hello, Dolly! It’s so nice to have you back where you belong!”

Tears came to my eyes as she did that, wishing that she was singing to me once more. My early childhood had been filled with visits to her when she would sing to me and talk with me, taking me places with her as if I was special. She had been so much more of a mother to me when I was there than her daughter was. I missed my grandmother, my Doll.

I never used a typical grandmother term for her. From the moment I could call her anything, she was Doll. Everyone picked it up from me. Even her friends called her that because my grandmother was so very special.

Mother turned, strode angrily across the kitchen and slammed the juice down in front of her mother, taking Doll’s attention from happy memories back to the confusing present. “Mother here is your juice. You know that SHE doesn’t love us enough to come here to visit.”

Turning to me she spat, “Use the phone. Call the police then leave. Don’t come back, you are not welcome here!”

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I woke up shaking, frozen stiff in my bed, still hearing their voices, smelling the cigarette smoke as it burned my nose. My muscles were ready for the fight that was coming. My brain was churning, waiting for the next verbal attack from my mother, but it wasn’t coming. They are both dead, long dead only their memories still haunt me; my dreams keeping them vividly alive.

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