Page 10 - WTP Vol.VII #3
P. 10

 My mother tells me, “When I’m upstairs in bed, I wonder who’s downstairs with your father.” Her thin white hair, which she used to have coiffed into a bouffant each week, lies in wisps brushed back from her face. The head of her hospital bed is lifted; I sit in a chair next to her. Across the room, family photographs are taped to the walls: my windswept sister and her daughters on a ferry ride, thirty family members on
a Bahama beach at my nephew’s wedding, my father and the grandchildren at his ninetieth birthday party. My mother, having been taken to the emergency room earlier in the month for a stroke or a seizure—the doctors aren’t sure which—is now in a rehabilitation facility called Hebrew Home for intensive physical, oc- cupational, and speech therapy.
For the last several years, my mother has spent much of her time in bed. Without any particular diagnosis, she said, “My body is old, and it’s giving out.” More re- cently, before entering the hospital, she became preoc- cupied with my father’s non-existent infidelities. “Who else was he having sex with?” she asked two months ago. Three weeks later: “What were his involvements?”
The truth of my mother’s concern is how neglected she felt throughout her married life. My father’s pro- fessional and political activities always took priority. Today I tell her, “When you’re upstairs in bed, Dad’s at his computer. All day, he stays at his computer. His work is his involvement.”
The therapist moves on, “Did you graduate from high school?”
My mother picks at a snag in her cotton blanket and then faces me again. “I wonder, what if I had said, ‘Computer, you leave my husband alone!’” When my mother was discharged from the hospital, the doctors advised the family that in rehab her physical condition would improve, but her lucidity would likely decline.
Of course, that’s what my mother would say, even though it’s not accurate. The bombing of Berlin during World War Two disrupted her high school education. Without a diploma, she continued her studies at Hum- boldt University.
A young woman enters the room and introduces her- self as a speech therapist. Speech therapy, she ex- plains, is broadly about cognition: memory, inference, and recognition.
“Did you go to college?” the therapist asks. “Yes,” my mother says.
“Where did you go to college?” “Maryland.”
“What month is it?” the therapist asks. “December.”
“What state are you in?” “Massachusetts.”
My mother never attended the University of Mary- land. Is she confused? Or does she not want to reveal she comes from Germany?
“No. Your daughter just said she’s from Massachusetts, but you’re in Maryland. Now I’m going to tell you a
My mother smiles and straightens her spine as she names the school in Washington where she became a Doctor of Jurisprudence. I wonder if the strength in her voice reflects her confidence that I have her back and am not going to out her.
The Truth of Her
story, and after I’ve finished I’ll ask you some ques- tions about it.”
The therapist reads a story about a woman who mar- ries, lives in Chicago, has two children, and once her children are old enough, works as a stockbroker.
“What’s the name of the woman in the story?” the therapist asks.
I don’t know the answer and wonder about my own attention deficit. “Jan,” my mother says.
“Close. It begins with a J. Her name is Jill, and she got married to Jack. What work did Jill do?”
“What state did Jill live in?”
I know it’s unreasonable to be so proud that my mother can infer the state of Jill’s residence, but I am.
“Mom,” I say, “tell her where you went to law school.”
Deborah esther schifter

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