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Flowers for Will
My mother lived the same day, every day for her entire life.
Every morning, she would wake up punctually at 7:45, get out of bed as best as she could, and then make her way slowly into the kitchen to make herself a cup of raspberry tea.
After her tea was poured ceremoniously into a cracked mug, she would go and sit in front of the TV and watch the Today Show. She wasn’t going to believe a word they said though. She expected the news of January 17th but the news still changed.
I would stay out of her way in the morning. I would call Samantha around 7:50, tell her how Mom was doing, ask how the kids were doing, and finally ask how her bast*** of a husband was doing, using kinder words of course. I would suggest to her how she should come visit Mom, that she needed Mom and Mom needed her. It was never the same excuse, but still, they were excuses.
“I would, but Tom has a game all day and it means so much to him when I’m there cheering him on. You understand, right?”
“She doesn’t need me, Avery. She has you!”
“I’ve got to be home when Tyler gets home today. He hasn’t been feeling well and work hasn’t been good.”
After my call with Samantha, I would wait for Ryan who would be on his way to the house before he would leave for work. I couldn’t take him with me to live with Mom. It would be too stressful for us if he had to experience what I had to every single day. If Ryan moved in with us, it would mess everything up that was routine for Mom. It was awful enough how I could only see him when he came over to visit. I couldn’t remember the last time we had hugged each other in pure bliss, or have a romantic dinner together, or even just sit and talk like a married couple would. I always felt so guilty when I would get the door and see him there.
Today was no different.
Mom didn’t budge when the doorbell rang. She knew that Ryan came on January 17th at 8:05.
“Avery, can you be a dear and tell Ryan the TV’s not working? The news says it’s April 23rd. It’s January 17th. I know it is!”
“Alright Mom, I’ll let him know.” Walking to the door, I criticized myself for not looking decent. I looked like I just woke up, which in fact I did, and I always thought that Ryan deserved to see me looking my best. That never really happened anymore. Six months into our marriage and you could’ve said we were the happiest couple on Earth.
Those past eighteen months hadn’t exactly been ideal.
A sad smile crept onto Ryan’s face when he saw me at the door, the kind of smile that said “I miss you. Come home.” This same sadness aged him, even though his face was a youthful twenty-eight.
“Hi.” I meekly sighed, running my fingers through my hair, my attempt to look better.
“How’s she doing?” The same question every day. I looked over my shoulder, as if I was checking to see if anything was different, even though nothing ever was.
“Um, she’s doing okay. She asked if you would fix the TV. It’s not saying that it’s January 17th.”
“But it’s not...” I quieted his frustrated voice.
“I know it’s not, but she says this every day, and you know that. She just doesn’t get it.” Another silence. There shouldn’t be silence between him and I. “Do you want to come in? Say hello, have something to eat?”
“I’ve got a bagel in the car.”
“But you’re not going to come in?” Ryan sighed in frustration.
“Avery, you should come home.”
“Not this again.”
“She needs to be in a nursing home that can help her much better than you can.”
“Are you saying I’m not doing a good job?”
“No, no, no! You’re doing the best thing that a daughter could do, but the people at a home can help her better than you.”
“No, they can’t. They don’t know January 17th like I do. They wouldn’t catch on to her routine fast enough. She would go into shock if she didn’t have everyday be January 17th.”
“Avery?” Her frail voice broke our shouts. I swallowed hard to calm down. Act like nothing’s wrong. Act like everything is absolutely peachy.
“Yeah, Mom?” I walked over to her, who was still at the couch looking puzzled at the TV, leaving Ryan at the door with a final glare as cold as ice.
“I think I’m going to get ready to go see Will now. He’s probably expecting me. What do you think I should wear?”
“What about the blue dress with the purple flowers? That looks nice on you.” Her pale, bony hand clasped onto mine as I hoisted her off of the couch. I suddenly was overwhelmed with the scary realization that my hands would one day copy my mother’s.
“Yes, I think that would be nice.”
“Good thing I washed it last night!” We laughed together. I heard the door close behind us as we slowly emerged into her room. I figured Ryan had left, again. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ryan’s hands take my mother’s left hand.
Mom showered for twenty minutes, her normal routine. In those twenty minutes, Ryan and I sat in silence with a cup of coffee in our hands. It was ineluctable that we both wanted to fight this out until the death, but we both knew that if we did, Mom would hear; we both agreed that was the last thing we wanted for her. This battle would have to wait for another time, a time where we could be in private, whenever that would be.
Mom was still able to get ready on her own, even though her walking had been effected. She could get dressed and do her hair how she wanted. She had her independent movements and thoughts, which the doctors said should’ve gone down with the rest of her senses.
A lot of things about Mom should’ve disappeared on that day, but they didn’t. Somehow, she survived a lot, and is still surviving, and will survive what’s to come.
The blue dress was worn every single day. I was lucky enough to order numerous copies of the same dress and hide them in my room, switching the dirty for clean while she slept and I suffered from insomnia. Mom always looked elegant in it.
We wouldn’t go see Will for a few hours after she got out of the shower. She would clean the dishes, those that didn’t even need cleaning, watch some more TV, and then stare out the window, as if she was waiting for someone. As if she was waiting for Will to come to her this time.
And then, at eleven thirty, almost on the dot, she would announce that she was ready to go see Will. Ryan was still here, something that might’ve normally confused her, but she was so intent on seeing Will that it didn’t matter.
It was only a half hour drive to where Will would always be. I forced Ryan to come with us, so he could truly understand what was going on with Mom. I knew the risk of having him tag along, but it was necessary. Nothing happened on the way. Mom didn’t say a word and there was no noise except for the passing of cars. Underwhelmed, Ryan sat in silence, playing with his Blackberry, probably letting his boss know that he was going to be late to work.
Mom sat shotgun, cradling a bouquet of flowers in the nook of her right arm. Her pale skin reflected the trees passing by like a mirror would. She was thinking of him, of course. Will was all she ever thought about, talked about, dreamed about. Mom may have lost a sense of time, but she never forgot where we would go to see Will.
Her state of mind was hard to understand, harder to accept. She had completely replaced the awful events of January 17th with a happier reality. Ryan and I, along with the rest of our family, agreed that the stress that she went through was too much for her mind to recover. The doctors confirmed our theory.
We pulled into the cemetery at around 12:05, five minutes later than usual, but Mom didn’t seem to notice. All she wanted was to see Will. She was like a child on Christmas, seeing the presents under the tree but not being able to touch them or play with them. Just sit and wait until it was time.
Ryan and I helped her out of the car. Ryan grasped the flower in his right hand and then Mom in his left.
“Ryan!” Mom exclaimed. “Why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“I thought I’d take the day off and come with you to see Will.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you Ryan. Thank you.” That simple gesture Ryan extended to Mom nearly brought tears to my eyes. Even though he didn’t have the first hand exposure to Mom’s sickness that I did, he wanted to see her happy with Will.
Climbing up the hill was difficult. Mom’s knees buckled a few times, delaying our ascent to the top. Up there, a lonely tombstone waited silently for her.
Will was patient. He knew that Mom took time to get up there to see him. He never rolled his eyes at her sluggishness or tapped his foot awaiting her arrival. Will just sat and waited on the top of the hill with a childish smile spreading across his cheeks.
The tombstone read:
March 19th, 1956-January 17th, 2010
William Darcy Potters
Father, Husband, Friend, Teacher
May God Carry You Home
I stood with Ryan further away from the tombstone as Mom carried the flowers for will to the tombstone. I was not dressed for the occasion, clad in a simple skirt and a worn-out shirt. To Mom though, she was the only one in her utopia.
She never cried. She would sit down like a young girl; legs bent at the knees and tucked behind her, place the flowers on the grave atop the other bouquets from the days before, the days that she couldn’t remember. Then, after giving Will the flowers, she would talk with him.
“How are you Will?”
“I think you’ve gotten a bit chubbier from the last time I’ve seen you!”
Mom would giggle, talk about the house, and other things she thought Will would be interested in. In the background, Ryan and I stood in silence, remembrance.
“I’ve never seen her like this.” He whispered, a slight quiver in his voice.
“This is the only Mom I know. The stress after Dad died was too much for her to understand that life had to go on. She thinks that he’s just sitting there, and the flowers are in his lap.” I explained.
“She really misses him, doesn’t she?” Ryan questioned after a pause.
I began to tear up. “We all do. Even Sam. Why didn’t he stay in January 17th?” Ryan’s sympathy wrapped around me, along with an embrace and a kiss on the forehead. I sniffed, trying to be secretive about my emotions, when Mom turned and smiled at me.
“Yes, Will. Isn’t she beautiful?”