Tormenta, an excerpt of Tesoro: Treasure by Veronica Picone

my hand fits right into Hers

all the way down the stairs

six flights

fast as i can to keep up with Her yellow dress

that flies

then stops in the air when She turns around

it’s the best

especially when we walk along Fourteenth Street

and all the way down Second Avenue

people smile at us

first the pickle man moving the water around

in that giant barrel with the giant fork

looking to get the best dill for us to share

then we stop at Sammy’s to get meat

he smiles at Her more than all the others

and always asks me to read the words

in the pictures on his walls

he says i’m a very smart three year old

when he talks he makes Her laugh

then he gets a hot dog from the big glass case

and asks does the little doll want a treat today

i look at Her and She’s happy

so i say yes

if i stand next to Her

with my face right on Her yellow dress

i can hear the stiff stuff crackle underneath

when She moves

maybe She’ll make me one just like it

so we can be twins

except my dark hair isn’t beautiful golden

like Hers

 

red spanish bible with bookmark ribbon hanging outThe clock on my nightstand says two thirty-three in the morning when the phone rings. “Ronnie!” my mother is whispering into the receiver. “¡Están aquí! They are here! They are coming in!” This is her third call tonight. She doesn’t remember the others – have I seen her slippers, do I know where Laura is − each more anxious than the one before. Now she is desperate. “Por favor mi’ja, ven. Come help me.”

I am at her house in fifteen minutes. Despite the single digit temperature outside, the door is ajar. It looks like every light in house is on, competing with the holiday decorations of the other houses on the street. My mother is at the top of the center hall steps. She is in her frayed nightgown, barefoot, one hand on the railing, the other clutched to her chest. Her hair is loose and tangled. As soon as she sees me she hurries down the steps to me. “Ronnie!”

I open my arms to receive her and feel something hard pressing against me. “What do you have there, Mom?” She reaches into her nightgown and pulls out a stick, about a foot and a half long with a jagged-edge on one end, probably broken off a broom.

“I am going to find them!” She is loud now, nearly wailing. “Están escondidos. They cannot hide from me!”

In a second my sister appears behind my mother. “Drop it! Lunatic!” she yells. Laura’s face is pale, her eyes small. My mother swerves toward her. I grab the stick out of my mother’s hand and slide it along the floor toward the dining room. Laura circles around our mother to my side of the hall. She is in a tee shirt and long johns, also barefoot, and as panicked as my mother. Her hands are at her side, in fists. My mother’s head is down, clutching her midriff, bent before her daughters.

“Please! There are men here! Get them out!” She pulls at her hair. Laura moves closer, directly behind me now.

“She’s a fucking maniac!” This isn’t Laura’s usual daunting yell meant to overpower an opponent, but a frantic supplication. I don’t know my sister like this. I want to help her. I want to help my mother. Who first? How? I am caught between them, heart racing. I make an effort to speak as steadily, as neutrally as I can.

“Laura, she’s hallucinating.”

“I don’t give a crap! It’s three in the morning. She’s been at this for hours!”

“¡Ayúdame! They are upstairs. Look, Ronnie.” My mother is turned around toward the stairs. I step closer.

“I am helping you, Mom. Right now. I’ve come here to help you.”

“Yeah? You’re going to help her?” Laura’s voice cracks behind me and she begins to cough. She keeps talking, struggling through the spasms. “She’s putting on a show. Don’t you see? She’s a fruit cake!”

I turn to my sister and reach toward her. “Laura, do you need help?”

“Leave me alone!”

“¡ Ahí van! Look at them!” My mother points toward her bedroom. She is shaking.

“What men? What the hell is she saying? There aren’t any men here! Stop this act!”

Now I want Laura to shut up. I want her to be my big sister and, lead the way, not fight me.

“This isn’t acting.” I’ve raised my voice. I’m scolding her over my shoulder. I’ve forgotten that my mother’s doctor predicted Laura would vehemently deny this disease, precisely because she’s lived with my mother all her life, because the loss would be different for her than for me. I don’t care. I scold her again. “Can’t you see Mom is suffering?”

“Suffering? I’m the one that’s suffering!”

I coil around to look at my sister. She is breathing through her mouth. She has released her fists, her hands fallen alongside her body. Without her high heels, she seems very small. She looks haggard. Only her broad shoulders contain strength. She is a motionless girl in oversized shoulder pads. I look away. I want to hide, not let her know I’ve seen her vulnerability.

Rápido! They are coming in the windows!” My mother crouches to the floor. I go to her. She sees me and jumps to her feet. She moves to the stairs again, pointing up. “Ahí! En el cuarto de Alicia!

Laura slaps her thighs, the way I do when I feel beaten, and cries, “When is this crap going to end?”

Again I modulate my voice, this time to calm myself. I must help these women. They are my women, the only family other than my children that I have left. “Laura, call an ambulance.”

“Never! I’m not having a scene in the middle of the street. I live here.”

“All right. Call her doctor.”

“At this hour? What is that genius going to do to help?”

My mother grabs my shirt and pulls me with her as she starts to climb the stairs. I don’t resist. I call down to my sister who stands at the bottom of the stairs, looking up. “These men are real to her, Laura.”

“Hallucinations my foot! You’re just indulging her.”

“¡Ahí van!”

“Where, Mom? Show me.”

Aquí.” My mother is whispering again, tiptoeing into the room that used to be Alicia’s, with me in tow. The twin beds are overturned, both mattresses and box springs flung over the sides of the beds. The closet door is open. Girls’ clothing is strewn on the floor, skirts, slacks, dresses, neutral-colored and unadorned. A few of the hems are visible, basted with satin ribbon and double folds, the mark of my mother’s sewing. I think of my little sister living here in this room two decades ago, a teenager wearing reconstructed hand-me-downs, before she moved to the Midwest, before I was allowed to enter this house. I put my arm around my mother’s shoulder and lead her, still attached to my shirt, around the mattress pile to the open closet.

“See, Mom. Nothing. No one. They’re not here anymore. The men have gone.” She seems briefly satisfied, then turns and pulls me out into the corridor.

We cross the hall and enter David’s room, still intact. She lets go of me and moves quickly to the bed and, in one swift and astonishing motion, turns the box spring and mattress over the side. She stands for a few seconds looking through the empty bed frame at the carpet. She moves to the chest of drawers. A large telescope sits on top. She’s told me before that it was David’s favorite toy; he spent hours looking out into the sky through it. She pulls out one drawer from the dresser and empties it on the floor. She does the same with the others. The telescope doesn’t budge. She goes to the closet and reaches above her head to pull down the clothing hung there. Her eyes are wide open, her jaw clenched. She isn’t saying anything. She is all motion, pulling, yanking, throwing. I repeat myself, slowly, loud enough for her to listen. “See, Mom, they’re not here anymore. No men. They’ve gone away.”

I realize I’ve lost track of Laura. I don’t see her or hear her. I don’t dare turn away. I call out as loudly as I can without startling my mother. “Laura?”

“Leave me alone!” It sounds like she’s in Alicia’s room. Maybe she’s cleaning up. My mother pulls us out of David’s room. She heads down the hall, her chest heaving, but I don’t try to stop her. I recognize my own, old panic. The kind I felt for her once – so did Laura, we all did – when we waited for her to turn the key in the door, not knowing what mood she’d be in when she walked in. But this is more than panic. There’s no way I can stop her unless I overpower her physically, and I won’t do that. Even Laura hasn’t tried that. And Laura will never call an ambulance. My mother will have to exhaust her terror. All I can do is interrupt it, make sure she doesn’t hurt herself.

Laura reappears. We’re in the room Alex used as a study when he was alive. Pictures of him with Alicia and David line the wall over his desk. The scene repeats itself: my mother overturns the sofa cushions, spills drawers, empties the closet. Laura yells; I offer reassurances. When she’s done, my mother heads for her own bedroom. I notice she’s walking slower. She’s getting tired.

At the end of the hall, she stops abruptly and looks around. She sees the upholstered chair outside her bedroom and slumps into it, hands on her lap, head down. I stand near and watch her until her chest stops heaving. I notice her hairline is moist from sweat. I kneel on the floor beside her and carefully take her hand. It is cool, a good sign. Her body is regulating itself. She could be anyone now, a woman in a waiting room, or on a bus, weary, disappointed, lost. Laura’s footsteps pound her retreat up to her bedroom in the attic. I wait with my mother. I stroke her hair. Silence settles in by degrees, until the house is mute, no clocks tick, nothing creaks, not even the refrigerator purrs.

“Mom, would you like a glass of water?”

She doesn’t look up. “No, thank you, mi’ja.”

“Can you get up? Let’s go into your room. It’s nearly your bedtime.” I glance at my watch. It’s four-thirty. She can still get some sleep in before sunrise. Maybe we all can.

I help her to her feet. She lets out a small groan and moves gingerly again, unsteady. It is cold in her room, colder than the rest of the house, but I am relieved to see that her bed is undamaged, drawers are in their place, and the closets are closed. I lead her to her bed and help her in. I go to her bathroom and get her a glass of water. She drinks it eagerly. “Tengo sed.” I bring more water to quench her thirst. When she is finished, I pull the covers up and sit next to her. She is calm. She smiles. I am exhausted.

“Ronnie,” she speaks tenderly.

“Yes, Mom.”

“What are you doing here?”

I take a breath. “I came for a visit. Now it’s late. It’s time to get to sleep.”

“¿Y Laura?”

“She’s upstairs in her room.”

“Ronnie.”

“What, Mom?”

She makes a circle at her temple with one arthritic finger. “I think Laura has lost her mind.”

“How so?” I hear my absurd question and ready myself for the answer.

“She brings men in here. No le digas. If she knows I told you that, she will be very angry.”

“All right, Mom. I won’t tell her.” I should let it go at that, but she is so calm, and I am curious about this newest apparition. “When did this happen?”

De noche. Every night, she gets naked and brings men in here.”

“Here, where?”

Aquí.” She points to the foot of her bed. “Right here.”

“Here, on this bed? And where are you when this happens?”

“Right here where you see me. I do not want to see such things.” She puts one hand up to shield her face and turns away. “I close my eyes. But I hear them. Terrible things.” She looks back at me and whispers. “Sex.”

“Mom, do you know who these men are? How many are there?”

She shrugs her shoulders. She shows me four fingers of her hand.

“Do they speak to you? Do they try to hurt you?”

She shakes her head “No. They do not look at me. Only at Laura.”

“Did this happen tonight?”

“Yes. Earlier, before you arrived, they came in here. She brings them in.”

“When this goes on, does Laura say anything?”

“No. She only laughs, la desgraciada. She has no shame. All that Catholic school and this is what she does. Do not let her fool you. Doble cara. She is one way during the day and another at night.”

I’ve had enough. I need to change the subject. I look around the room. On the nightstand beside her radio is a small blue book. I turn it over to see its title, La Santa Biblia. I am surprised. I wouldn’t have expected my mother to keep a Bible close by. I pick it up and show it to her.

“Mom, is this yours?”

“¿Qué es?”

“The Holy Bible. In Spanish.”

.”

“Do you read it?” I know she doesn’t. The disease took away her ability to read months ago.

“Sometimes.”

I go with my impulse. “Could we read a little of it together?”

“I did not know you were religious, Ronnie. Are you planning to become a nun?”

I laugh, and I can’t believe I can actually laugh again. “No, not at all. I thought it would be interesting to hear the Bible in Spanish. I’ve never read it in Spanish.”

“I read the Bible every day in boarding school. It was very comforting.”

“Let’s see.” I thumb through the little book. “What is your favorite part?”

Los salmos.”

“Any psalm in particular?”

“All of them.”

“All right, then.” I open to the first psalm I find. I begin to read out loud. “Salmo 41. Salmo de David. Bienaventurado el que piensa en el pobre: En el día malo lo librará Jehová…” I do a mental simultaneous translation: Psalm 41. Psalm of David. Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble…

My mother interrupts. “El Señor lo preservará, y lo mantendrá vivo, y el será bendecido sobre la tierra, y no será entregado a la voluntad de sus enemigos.” The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, and he shall be blessed upon the earth, and he will not be delivered unto the will of his enemies.

I flip through the pages to find another psalm. “Salmo 59. Líbrame de mis enemigos, o Dios mío…” Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord.

I stop, to see if she continues. She does. “…Ponme en salvo de los que contra mí se levantan.” Defend me from those that rise up against me.

“Mom, do you know all the psalms by memory?

She shrugs.

“Which psalm did you pray most?”

“The twenty-third. The most popular one.”

“Say it for me Mom.”

“El señor es mi pastor. Nada me faltará. En lugares de delicados pastos me hará descansar…”

I listen to my mother pray. I watch her lips construct the words she has secretly depended on all her life for comfort and I have never heard her say before. Her hands are folded over her chest. Her placid face belongs to someone else, not the tormented woman of half an hour ago. I let myself know this woman who is here now, for these few minutes. She is my mother, too.

When she is finished, I kiss her forehead and tell her I am leaving.

Mi’ja,” she says, softly. “Be careful. Que La Virgen te acompañe.”

I accept my mother’s blessing and leave her. Before I go, I listen at the bottom of the attic stairs. There is no sound from Laura’s room. I walk into each of the other bedrooms and turn out the lights.

veronica piconeVeronica Picone’s memories begin in Manhattan, where she was raised in the politically charged Union Square of the 1950’s. A pianist and former flamenco dancer, she is a product of public education – a graduate of Music and Art High School (where she left a piece of her heart) and CUNY Queens College. She is currently perfecting the pitching-to-an-agent tango with her completed memoir, Tesoro: Treasure, the story of her family’s 30 year estrangement and how Alzheimer’s got them back together. It’s no surprise she makes her living as a licensed psychotherapist and lecturer specializing in family reconciliation. Veronica is dedicated to the labor of creating peace in the world, in the family, and in the individual, one story at a time.
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  • Janet Lombardi

    Wow. What a riveting story!  Evocative, detailed, palpable. Can’t wait to read the book.

  • seanjohnbird

    A story of enduring love between a child and her mother where the roles are reversed later in life but the bond that ever important bond of love endures no matter what  conditions prevail.  An exciting dipiction of the onset of quote “old timers disease” that awaits family members in our modern world.   This story comes alive.        JC WRENN

  • Adela Baiz-Matuk

    Excellent! I like it very much!! I can´t stop reading it. Now I want to buy her book!

  • Intriguing and heart-wrenching. Put me on the book list!

  • LauraAnne38

    So many of my friends have shared a similar challenge with Alzheimer’s but this chapter touches my heart with sadness as it is beautifully written.   I look forward to reading the book as I imagine it to be a page turner. I hope it is published soon. Congratulations Ms. Picone as your writing is engaging and heart-wrenching for all of those who share similar challenges. Best wishes for publication of the book. Laura Anne

  • notuetusedbyanyoneelse

     

    The writing is superb, with a immediacy
    that pulls you into the heartbreaking situation. The author’s language creates
    a genuine sense of how the daughter feels and what the mother is going though. I
    was deeply moved by this true work of art.

  • notuetusedbyanyoneelse

    The writing is superb, with a immediacy
    that pulls you into the heartbreaking situation. The author’s language creates
    a genuine sense of how the daughter feels and what the mother is going though. I
    was deeply moved by this true work of art.
     

  • JCarmosino

    WOW! What a story!  I feel like I’m there, like a fly on the wall, wide eyed, feeling the torments of the mother, the pain of Ms. Picone and the fears of her sister.  Truly captivating.

  • Snofsky9

    thie poem and story were so powerful and poignant.. it has stayed with me for days and days..
    so much is said without being said and all of it  is so moving in a powerful feeling way..
    creating lasting pictures..

    it’s an honor to read and be part of the experience..exquisite writing.

    s,snow

  • chaplainalice

    the contrast so well described between the “happy” young mother and the woman tormented by Alzheimer’s resonates with me as well…. kudos to an author who can bare her heart in pen and ink, and to make available for all to connect with, the very personal and private moments that form who we become. 
    Alice, a daughter who also lived the horror of seeing her mom succumb to this horrendous illness.

  • georyanna

    Spectacular, moving, powerful and profound. This can only come from a very special, spiritual , wise and loving women. She is at another level!Exquisite writing. Georyanna Mayoral

  • cropspops

    The pain, the strength and the love all come through beautifully written language!  Bravo!!  

  • Devenny

    A stunning scene that could happen in any family with a member with Alzheimer’s disease.  The exquisite writing allows us to understand how the pain and confusion of dementia can, at least for now, be resolved by making connections with the familiar. I can’t wait for the book!

  • What an amazing story.  The writing was so dramatic that I also felt like I was a part of the story.
    I can’t wait to buy the book.   It will be a bestseller! 

  • This book will be on the New York Times Best Seller List within a month of publication!  The story is woven like a fine tapestry.  I can’t wait for the book.  It is a winner.

  •  I have followed this story with a pounding heart and tears in my eyes…and at the end following Ronni’s laugh, I have been able to smile.
    This is a moving and compassionate story. I can’t  hardly wait for the book.  Bravo Veronica!

    Francisca Díaz

  • I was very moved by the discription of the scene the author must have lived through many times over.  I too was touched as I remember similar times with my own mother that lasted over a decade.  But through those years as I sense with Veronica, the healing that took place was immeasurable. 
    Her writing makes you feel as if you are in the room feeling the panic of the sister, the mother’s fear, but a daughter who understands the only way she can be to be the calming force. 
    What a treat, can’t wait until the book comes out.

  • CSant

    I felt as if I was walking threw those rooms with Veronica…No I was her. Veronica’s writing is like watching a movie on paper. Her ability to bring you right there in each persons is a gift. What truth. Thank you for sharing this gift with us. I am filled with emotional anticipation for Veronica’s book. 

  • harmonyjv

    This is how my body reacted.  I could feel the chaos and an inability to breathe. In fact at one time during the time Laura was present… such fear comes to me from Laura’s presence and she places this fear  on others.  .   I felt (at that time i was caught up in you) I was struggling to help everyone.   I  felt torn in the battle to keep peace and to find a quiet place.   Your writing put me in the moment.

    Later on when there is the discovery of the bible my body felt at rest … i felt  a connection was made.   i felt how fortunate veronica has that moment.   Your writing  captured that string of oneness.. how blessed.

    I loved the beginning of this piece and felt safe and a had a sense of enjoyment.   I connected that safety and happines again  to the end of the chapter when you begin to read the bible with your mother.  What a powerful time.  I was drawn into the main character many times  –  and that is magic to me.  When a write can do that – we have magic.
                  
    I look forward to reading more ….
                    love you joy

  • Nancy Turret

    This book touches the heart in so many ways. I love the juxtaposition of the lyrics and the story. The incorporation of spanish added to the multiple dimensions of this unusual work.
    Nancy Turret

  • jennifersut

    The writer’s descriptions of scenes and dialogue shows us the relationships between all three woman.  The writer tells the story in a loving way but also shows us own feelings and anxiety of navigating the family dynamics.  Well done and it leaves you wanting to know more.

  • Mary Ann Campe

    So beautifully poignant!! Thank you, Veronica:)
    Mary Ann Campe

  • Elayne2

    I felt like I was right there with you – so very descriptive. Happiness and sadness, I feel myself smile and come to tears. My Mother has passed and also had Alzheimer’s. This excerpt touches my heart with happiness and sadness. It is beautifully written.  Thank you for your words and actions 🙂

  • Pat0202

    Wow – This is a really gripping story. I am touched by it. 

    Pat Dobbs

  • Elayne2

    For Maureen Kelleher
    Veronica’s writing and story are gripping and real and millions would be helped, healed and strengthened by the courage and care she shows in her description of how she faced and so lovingly and carefully moved through the terror of the night she describes with her mother and sister. And of course the reader knows by Veronica’s writing that this night is only one of many such nights she must have faced with her mother, her family and by herself when alone she would have reflected on these times, this family. Veronica’s example of strength and compassion while being in the presence of mental illness, Altzheimers and family of origin complex emotions is stunning…. her writings must be shared with the world.

  • Ellen Sterman

    Veronica’s writing of her family experience is riveting-those of us with family members with mental illness and Alzheimer’s are taken back to our own experiences, and know that Veronica knows the array of emotions that come with the territory. The anxiety and tension are raw, and Veronica’s compassion and strength are heartwarming. I very much look forward to the book.

  • robinp

    OMG! This story brought tears to my eyes! So beautifully written!