The Journey Home is about three people trying to find or redefine home. In this scene, Warren, who has suddenly found himself without a job or a marriage contends with the realities this his mother, Antoinette is slowly losing her battle with Alzheimer’s.
Mom turned and headed toward the couch as deliberately as her varicose-veined legs would carry her.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” she said, sitting heavily and twirling her engagement ring around on her finger.
Warren closed the apartment door and then sat across from her. “You don’t look fine, Mom. Did someone do something to get you angry? Did I do something to get you angry?”
Mom continued to watch the twirling ring for several additional seconds. When she finally looked up, she seemed more melancholy than angry. “Your father asked me to marry him.”
“Well, yeah, I kind of assumed that. Isn’t that the way it usually was back when you two were dating? I guess you could have asked him, but didn’t that kind of thing create a scandal?”
Anger seemed to flare up in Mom’s eyes again for a moment, but it dissipated quickly, replaced by consternation. “That’s not . . . never . . . never mind.”
Warren had no idea what his mother was trying to say to him. He knew his inability to understand her frustrated her, but when he’d tried to explore these conversations further in the past, he’d only managed to upset her more. The anger concerned him, though. Given the vast amount of spare time he had these days, he’d been doing some reading, both books and online, about what he was seeing in her condition. He knew it was possible that her rage might become a common thing, and he wasn’t sure how well he’d be able to handle that. He couldn’t think of a single time when his mother had gone off on him, even when he’d done incredibly stupid things as a kid. His friends regularly complained about enduring lectures and tongue-lashings. He’d never had to deal with that, and he appreciated it.
Her face had become more placid now, almost as though she were using some kind of stress-relief technique. Warren had attempted to get her to try meditation a few years ago, having heard that it could help with mental acuity, but she wouldn’t even consider it. Whatever she was doing now was certainly relaxing her, though. Maybe Jan or one of the other nurses had taught it to her. It seemed to take years from her.
“He’s worried that he fumbled it. He doesn’t have a ring. I don’t care about a ring – at least right now. I just wanted him to ask me.”
Mom’s talking about Dad was hardly new. A good third of every conversation they’d had since Dad died had centered on him in some way. Stories about their courtship, about their early married days, about the adventures they had after Warren moved out of the house, which always made him feel a little jealous even though he’d moved on to his own adventures. The difference here was that she was talking about this event as though it had just happened, as though she were telling a girlfriend about it on the phone.
This was a new wrinkle, and one with which Warren had some trouble contending. Did he engage her in this talk, pretending that they’d transported sixty years into the past (in which case, did he need to identify who she thought he was in this scenario)? Did he attempt to snap her out of it, which might be harmful on a number of levels? Did he simply sit here and let her keep talking, assuming that she’d step out of the past at some point? This last option was becoming more attractive as the moments passed.
Warren had never known his parents when they were in the blush of adulthood. They were in their early forties when they had him, having already been married for more than twenty years. There were photographs and reminiscences, of course, and these gave this period some semblance of substance for Warren. In the five years since Dad died, Mom had painted in the background even more, giving voice to the great joys and deep heartaches of those years with the enthusiasm of a professional biographer. She’d become so enmeshed in the details of a story that Warren sometimes thought he could put on his shoes, take a quick stroll through the neighborhood, chat up the guy that lived next door for a while, and come back to find his mother still recounting the same tale. He never wanted to do anything of the sort, though. The stories gave form to his family history. They answered questions he didn’t realize he should have asked. They made the long past that existed before he entered their world come alive for him.
He missed it when his mother’s recounting became far less voluble. It should have been a sign to him that something was happening to her mind when her storytelling became less florid. If he’d noticed it faster, could the doctors have been more effective in stemming her decline? The drugs they were trying now showed no impact, but they might have been more effective if physicians had started the treatment earlier.
The silence had extended for several minutes now. Warren had stopped watching his mother as he drifted into his own thoughts. When he looked at her now, though, he saw that she was staring behind him. At first, he thought she was looking at the photograph on the wall, but then he remembered that the picture was over his other shoulder. He turned to see what had captured her attention, but found nothing there.
When he turned back, her eyes were locked on his. This startled him, as though he hadn’t realized she was in the room with him, and he flinched. The motion seemed to generate some spark within his mother and the scowl with which she greeted him returned.
Then, just as quickly, it fell. This time, though, she didn’t seem to relax. Instead, she seemed to sag. Without a word, she stood, patted him gently on the cheek, and walked away from him. As Warren watched, she removed her housecoat, climbed into bed, and pulled the sheets around her.
Was that it? Was that the extent of their visit for the day? Should he leave? If he did, would she even remember that he’d been there?
For the second time in the last fifteen minutes, Warren felt stuck. Leaving seemed wrong, but staying seemed silly. He was still pondering this when he heard a knock at the door. Faced with an easy decision at last, he opened it to find Jan on the other side.
“Hey,” she said as she entered the room. “I need to check Antoinette’s blood pressure.”
“Checking her blood pressure requires touching her, right?”
Jan wrinkled her nose. “That or Vulcan mind meld.”
“Yeah, you might want to go with the latter.”
Jan put down the supplies she’d carried into the room. “Problem?”
Warren plopped onto the couch where his mother had sat only minutes earlier. “She’s been a little unpredictable since I got here. If you try to take her blood pressure, she might be as cooperative as usual. Or she might have your left hand for a snack.”
Jan sat on the arm of the chair across from him, exhibiting more concern than he would have liked her to exhibit at that moment. “Where is she?”
“She went back to bed a few minutes ago. I assume she’s sleeping, because I haven’t heard her move.”
“And you’re staying here?”
Warren chuckled softly and looked upward toward Jan’s eyes. “Pretend that you aren’t thinking that I have absolutely nothing else to do with my life, okay?”
“What I was thinking was that you were the world’s greatest son.” Jan slid into the chair. She was wearing a blue, knee-length skirt and Warren couldn’t help but notice her calves as she sat.
“Sitting here while she sleeps is nothing. Watching game shows with her for two hours? That’s true selflessness.”
“Or a case of having nothing else to do with your life.”
Warren was surprised that Jan would tease him this way. Of course, he’d essentially invited her to do so. “Or that,” he said, grinning.
Jan tossed her head in the direction of his mother’s room. “She’s having mood swings?”
“Today her mood was all over the place. There haven’t been many days like this. Yet.”
Jan touched her fingertips together. “We should probably get some more tests.”
“Isn’t that a little bit like testing the ocean for wetness?”
Jan pressed her lips together, then brought her steepled fingers to her mouth. “Do you think this is rattling her?”
Warren leaned into the sofa, rubbing his left temple. “Less and less, I think. Which of course means it’s rattling me more and more.”
Jan leaned toward him, and for a moment Warren thought she was going to hug him. Instead, she just looked at him for a long beat. This had the potential to become uncomfortable, but before they reached that point, Jan put her hands on her knees, which he also couldn’t help noticing, and stood from the chair.
“I’m going to have to take my chances and get that blood pressure reading.”
“Can I have you sign a waiver first?”
“The facility has us covered.” She took a step toward Mom’s bedroom and then turned back to him. “We can talk about this anytime you want, you know. Unfortunately, I have quite a bit of experience with it.”
“Thanks. I’m going to take you up on that.”
Jan started moving toward the bedroom again. “That’s good.”
Warren watched Jan go through the doorway and listened to her gentle voice as she coaxed his mother into offering up her arm. A minute later, she was waving good-bye to him.
Alone, and with far more time on his hands than he should have, Warren turned on the Game Show Network.
Michael Baron is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we are offering sensational deals on all of his works, including national bestseller The Journey Home. You can learn more at our website.