– Nonfiction by Jennifer Berger –
Honorable Mention in the 2023 Dreamers Micro Nonfiction Contest!
A month has passed since my last visit home. I notice that her hands now tremble; that her teeth appear larger, almost Kennedy-esque in her now sunken face. Her hair a once dark, wavy mass of a lion’s mane is now short, silver and brushed straight. Ask yourself not what she can do for you, ask what you can do for her booms silently in a Bostonian brogue through my mind. “Hi Mom,” I greet her. She looks up and smiles, not knowing exactly who I am, but that I am indeed someone she recognizes. “How is it?” she asks. “Fine,” I say. “And how are the children?” “Josh is fine,” I respond. Mom doesn’t remember that Josh is my only child, or that he has autism. Years before Alzheimer’s emerged from her already decaying brain, she avoided him; told me to put him somewhere as soon as possible. Now my mother has brief moments of fearful clarity that she herself will soon meet this fate.
Active conversation with her is no longer possible, which leaves most others at a loss. But Josh has taught me that verbal language is merely one form of communication. “Want to listen to some music Mom?” She stares blankly until Elvis Presley’s silky baritone moves through my iPhone. “Wise men say,” he croons. She sighs, closes her eyes dreamily, and swoons to the siren song of her first and forever crush. I tear up watching her so engaged in an invisible presence. I relive Mom recalling her excitement at meeting The King while with a friend in a hotel lobby in Las Vegas and getting his autograph, which mysteriously went missing (once my mother was far along enough in her disease that anger with her past was less likely to surface, my father confirmed that my grandmother sold it out from under her and kept the money). Is she transported back to a time when she was young, or simply available in the moment? I suppose it doesn’t matter; she is happy and calm, and that is all anyone wants or needs her to be.
I add more songs from her past to our present: “Stand by Me,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Up on the Roof,” all songs played while carpooling us to and from school, and later over a 1980’s boom box from which I blasted these songs in my room thanks our local oldies station. Music was one of the few things that bonded us throughout our tumultuous relationship, even after her unfulfilled expectations of my son and I had become so disappointing to her. After two hours of playing deejay, I must depart. “Will you come back?” Mom asks. “Of course,” I reassure her. She then says the words I’ve longed for years to hear from her without any limitations: “I love you.” I lean over, kiss her cheek, and respond “I love you too;” and regardless of whether the exchange is remembered, I am certain that we both mean it.
About the Author – Jennifer Berger
Jennifer Berger lives in Queens, New York with her husband Aaron. After fifteen years of being a full-time mother and advocate for her son, Josh, she is now coping with his new circumstance of attending a residential school as of December 20, 2022. At this point, Jennifer is writing, reading, healing, and taking it one day at a time.
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