The Art of Conversation
Updated: Oct 7, 2018
I stepped out of the car firmly planting my foot on the pavement. An orange leave skips over the toe of my pink suede shoe. The days are getting shorter, the trees are starting to paint the landscape and we are embarking on a new path with Mom. I look over the roof of the car to Joe, and nod to him. He knows I’m reminding him to grab the laundry bag from the back of the car. As I make my way around the car he slides his hand into mine.
Joe: So whadya think? She up?
Me: I don’t know, the last time two times I was here after 6, she was sound asleep!
Joe: (looking at his watch) Maybe we’re in luck? It’s only 5:45?
Me: That would be nice, I’d like to see her before I leave in the morning.
Joe: If she’s not, I’ll just come by tomorrow earlier in the day.
I always feel this pang of guilt when I can’t see Mom before I travel. Some trips I come back to the same woman I left, other times she’s spiraled again slipping father from our grasp. I wish I knew what I was coming home to each time, so I could prepare myself, give myself a pep talk, plan out my visit … yet the truth is there is no preparing for path that has been carved for us.
Joe opens the door to the Star Unit and places his hand on the small of my back, Sue one of the nurses rounds the corner smiling and brushing the corner of her mouth.
Me: Evening Sue!
Sue: Hey (swallowing hard and dusting her cheek again) there! Just sneaking a snack in while I can! (shrinking back a little)
Joe: (chuckling lightly) Eat when you can!
Sue: That’s the truth!
Me: Mom up?
Sue: Yep! (she waves as she continues down the hall)
I’m relieved. I look over my shoulder at Joe and smile, he returns the smile with a nod towards Mom’s room. My steps have a little skip to them as I enter Moms room, there she sits at the foot of her bed. Her shoulders slightly slouched, walker firmly placed in front of her just staring blankly at the door.
Me: Well hello there beautiful!
Nothing, Mom doesn’t flinch, she doesn’t acknowledge that I’m entering the room. I stop and feel Joe right at my back. I take a deep breath and force a warm smile across my face. After years of practice with her I’ve learned how to make my eyes dance and twinkle by channeling love. I resurrect quickly memories that make me feel loved, simple little memories such the way my kids smelt after a bath, the first time Joe kissed me or the feeling of walking through my parent’s back door even today and always feeling safe and loved. Somehow, even though I’m forcing the feeling, it isn’t spontaneous after all … the love radiates from me, and more often than not Mom feels it too.
Me: How you doing tonight?
Mom turns her eyes toward me, and I know immediately she has no idea who is standing in front of her. Is she feeling the ‘love’?
Joe: Hi Mom!
MIL: (squinting) Hi?
Me: Look at you beautiful, awake … sitting up, hangin’ out … You doing ok tonight?
MIL: (studying me closely) yeah?
I move closer and kiss her forehead, as I stand up my mind is scrambling quickly to come up with topics for ‘conversation’ tonight. I never realized how difficult it is to have a one-sided conversation until Mom started to slip from our grasp. These one-sided conversations are becoming more and more the norm. I step back, kick the toe of one pink suede stiletto forward, shift my hip and strike a pose.
Me: Well beautiful whydah think?!
MIL: (looking confused) huh?
Me: (now throwing my head back and rustling my hair a bit) … of THIS … (waving my hand from my shoulder down across my hip. Joe looks at me, shakes his head and smiles)
Me: My dress?! Isn’t it pretty? It’s so colorful … I love the pen & ink styling of the pattern (I’m talking too fast and pointing to the pink, orange and bright green) look at all the colors!
MIL: huh? (she curls her lip up and pulls her head back)
I remember to slow down and speak more clearly. In an effort to be silly and a little funny I got a little too excited and confused Mom. In my head a black clapper board with its thatched arm snaps together with a loud crack “take two”. I try again this time with much less drama. I wave my arm across the dress again, slowly and let it sit on my extended hip.
Me: So … what do you think Mom? (slower)
MIL: of what ….
Me: My dress. (stepping closer and pointing at the hot pink flower) I love the colors.
MIL: It is pretty … (reaching up and touching the sleeve)
Me: (sit down on the bed next to her) Feels neat huh?
MIL: uh huh
Me: Its made out of scuba fabric!
MIL: scar, scab … (closing her eyes tight then opening one) scad … huh?
Me: Scuba fabric, they make wet suits out of it.
I know she doesn’t understand what scuba fabric is, explaining it would be difficult and she most likely couldn’t follow the conversation. I look up at Joe for some inspiration on a new ‘conversation topic’ he’s just watching his mom. It’s important to keep the conversation going. It’s equally important for us as it is for Mom, without it what would our visit be? Us watching Mom? Mom just staring blankly at us? I’m always hopeful these conversations will spark something, and she’ll know who we are.
Me: Hey! I know what we didn’t tell you about!
MIL: (perking up a bit) What?
Me: The Fair! The Durham Fair was this weekend.
MIL: oh was it?
Me: Your son here did an amazing job keeping people safe and finding parking for 150 thousand people plus and so much more.
Me: (wondering if she’s really following me) Yep! We had 8” of rain in one day? (leaning down and holding my hand off the floor about 8”) that about that much rain! Ppssshhhh we were sloshing all over the place. (looking back up at Mom) Don’t you think that’s a lot of rain?
Me: No!? (She has no comprehension what 8” of rain is anymore) Trust me Mom that’s a lot of rain in one day … the fields were swamps.
Me: Let me tell you, I walked SOOO much … let’s see (looking up at the ceiling then over to Joe) … let’s add up how many miles I walked! (I open my phone and start calling off numbers) 9 … plus 15 and a half …. plus 11 and a half or so … actually .9 but we’ll call it a half … how much is that honey?!
Me: whoa … you hear that Mom? I walked 36 miles in three days at the fair!
Me: I will say … I look mighty amazing in safety orange. The glow it creates on my face knocks years off me. (Joe laughs, shaking his head again.)
MIL: uh huh
Me: Joe doesn’t wear safety orange
Joe: I do sometimes
Me: No, you’re in that important BLACK polo …
Me: (leaning in close to Mom) I’ll admit he almost looks as handsome as he does in his Lieutenants uniform (I open my eyes wide, smile and wiggle my eyebrows for effect)
Me: Yea, it was quite a fair … I was exhausted afterwards … I mean it’s tough work keeping everyone in those bus lines … I had to creative you know …
Me: (standing up) Yep I had to remind them of what it was like to be in grammar school again! (Mom watches me intently) I’d stand in the line and say ‘ok everyone follow me, take one giant step to the right!’ (as I say this I pick up my right leg bend it at the knee stretching it out far to my right and firmly plant it on the floor with a strong ‘stomp’. Not an easy feat in stilettos)
MIL: (a smile creeping across her face) hmmmm
Me: (giggling lightly) you would have found it entertaining Ma….
Me: Yea, the fair was fun … work but fun …
MIL: I didn’t go …
Me: (Crap … now I’m feeling torn, happy she’s engaging in the conversation but guilty she feels like she missed out) Not this year Mom … It’s been a few years since we’ve taken you, you tend not to be a fan of crowds.
MIL: no … yea …
Joe: It was crowded this year.
Me: sure was
Me: One of my jobs was taking the honey wagon through the grounds when we had people there.
Me: I’d walk through the crowds yelling step aside …
ME: (I’ve lost her again … I look up a Joe) Yea, you would have found it funny Mom … (giggling a little) I was leading the caravan, Joey & Frank were on quads in front of the honey wagon and I’m complimenting the crowd for listening so well … I said (giggle) “Ya’ll listen better than my kids! Thank you!” (starting to laugh a little harder) then Joey yells out behind me ‘Hey I’m your kid!” Oh, Mom the crowd loved it! We really hammed it up. (slapping my leg) I mean seriously if you’re gonna bring a honey wagon through all those people ya gotta make it fun right?
I look over at Joe, it’s exhausting carrying on this one-sided conversation. I’m quickly running out of things to talk about. I didn’t realize how the exchange in a conversation prompts more to talk about, but why would anyone consider this … unless of course you’re having a one-sided conversation. It requires some creativity to carryon by yourself, it’s a little like talking to a wall.
Joe: How ya doing Mom
MIL: (yawning) hmmm?
Me: do you want to lay back and get cozy?
Joe: Here (walking around me and raising the head of the bed) We’ll get you settled.
Me: (standing up and pulling back the blanket and sheet) Here ya go beautiful (patting my hand on the bed)
MIL: yea ok .. (she settles herself into the bed as Joe slides her shoes off her feet)
Joe: I love you Mom (he leans down and kisses her forehead as I tuck the sheet under her chin)
MIL: (smiling) hmmmm love you too
Joe: I’ll be back tomorrow (he kisses her again, this time holding his lips against her forehead for a moment longer) sleep well (he strokes her head for a moment then looks up at me)
Me: Goodnight beautiful … let the sandman come (I lean in for my own kiss, as I do she puckers her lips for a kiss back, which makes my heart swell)
I stand and turn on my heel and start to leave the room, I hesitate just before the door and look over my shoulder. The sandman has swept her away, a wonderful escape for her. Next visit I’ll be even better prepared with more talk to her about … more memories and more funny stories.
Joe: Hey its date night (he smiles at me) Where ya want to go for dinner?
Me: Yea! … where you thinking?
Joe: Maybe close to home … Time Out?
Me: Sound perfect
I lean in and slide my arm around his waist, I wonder what I will return to … how much more can she slip through our fingers?