Her voice on the phone: “Hello, Sharon? This is your daughter.”
I smile. “No,” I say. “I’m your daughter. You’re my mother.”
She went into the nursing home after open-heart surgery and a triple bypass. She’s an old 72, but she was always old for her age. Decades of smoking aged her. Life with my father aged her. Life without my father aged her. Life with me aged her.
My mother used to walk upright, like other hominids. Now she shuffles hunched inside a walker. She used to stand as tall as I do. I don’t know how tall she is now. How do you uncurl a boiled shrimp?
“Mary Sunshine” the staff calls her. “Who?” I ask. That’s not the mother I know. The mother I know has seven dwarfs inside her: Grouchy, Negative, Unhappy, Angry, Mopey, Disagreeable, and Gloomy. “She enjoys the other residents and tries to help them.” “Who?” I ask. Had the hospital done a lobotomy on her too?
Finally, the anesthesia wears off. I’m called into the office of the nursing home director, like a parent called to the principal’s office. I’m told she now picks fights. Ah, this is the mother I know.
My mother wants to laugh, likes to laugh, tries to laugh, but it doesn’t come naturally. I mark her name on all of her clothing, even underwear, like a kid going to summer camp. “Can’t we just change your name to Fruit of the Loom?” I ask. She laughs.
A week passes. Her voice on the phone: “Hello, Sharon? This is your daughter.”
“No, I’m your daughter.” It’s always me who answers; why is it a surprise for her?
“I need more underwear. My underwear’s not coming back from the laundry.”
I nip this problem in the bud. I arrive the next day with new underwear that stands out. Gold lamé thongs. With black, indelible marker, I etch her name across the front. Because, where else can you put it? I tack a pair up on the wall of her room. She laughs.
Some days later: “Hello, Sharon?” After fifty years, shouldn’t she recognize my voice? “This is your daughter.” I do recognize hers. “You need to bring me more pants. My pants aren’t coming back from the laundry.”
“Put on your thong, grab your walker, and stroll down the hall. I promise they’ll get you your pants back!” She laughs.
During a visit I ask, “Has anyone said anything about your thong?” The one on the wall still on display. She smiles and nods. “Yeah. The nurses aides.”
“What do you tell them?”
“I tell them I used to be a pole dancer.”
I wasn’t expecting a pole dancer. I was expecting a mother. But there comes a point when you appreciate the unexpected.