I saw my mom in a swimsuit. She walked in front of me to the pool and I noticed the graceful curve of her legs and the freckles across her shoulders. “Angel kisses” is what she called them when she kissed them across my shoulders when I was small. I don’t know if she ever noticed her own freckles.
I never saw my mom this way before. She took us to the pool or lake and sat on the shore in her long pants and shirt. Maybe if she felt daring she would take her shoes off. Mom said this is because she did not look good enough in a bathing suit and besides it wouldn’t be “decent” at her age. She began saying that when she was in her thirties. So it was like an unexpected warm breeze to see her at eighty with red painted toe nails making her way to the pool with a towel thrown over her shoulder.
She walked carefully but excitedly, not unlike my four year old grand daughter who walked in front of her. From behind they looked slightly alike. They also acted a alike. Mom has Alzheimer’s which is changing her. In many ways she is worse off but not in every way. On this Saturday she is prancing in the sunlight in a swimming suit with a smile on her face as she plays with a four year old bathing in joy. This would not and could not have happened five years ago. For one thing my mom wouldn’t be in a swimsuit, she wouldn’t swim in a pool draped with rainbows and peace symbols and she wouldn’t be staying with me for a week.
She came here after her husband, my dad, died. His heart stopped from arteries so clogged no surgery could fix them. Mourning my dad, we drove down the West Coast toward my house both hoping mom could be comfortable enough to stay. I wanted to take care of her. I pictured painting her nails and combing her hair and dancing in the kitchen on a warm summer night. I always wanted my mom and I always will.
Seeing her in a little black swimsuit with a funny, little rhinestone flower on the shoulder I thought perhaps my dream came true. My mom happy with herself and me too- lounging in our swimsuits not trying to impress anyone just smiling the afternoon away. That night we watched movies and ate popcorn clowning around in my room and laughing at the romantic comedies we chose. My mom eating up the romance and me slinging cynicism like a straight man to her zany and comedic love lorn swooning made us quite the pair. We couldn’t have been happier. But when the next morning came it changed.
With the foggy morning light coming through my blinds I found my mom standing over my bed to wake me up. “I’ve made a decision. I have to go home. I have to cry about your dad, my sweet boy, and I have to be in my house. I’m sorry but I have to go.”
Hours later my brother came, loaded her in his car and she disappeared from sight at the end of my driveway with a wave smooth and fluid as if she was leaving a slumber party. My heart fell and shattered. I smiled and thought “liar” as my arm waved as if there were a hundred days ahead just like this one.
While family and friends told me it would have been too much to take care of my mother I knew it was really my last shot. I knew the time would not come again and next time I saw her I would likely be an orphan having lost my dad and mom.
Our lives were busy. She had her work. I had mine. She had my younger sister. I had my children. Yet somehow on that one slim Saturday the busyness, the differences, the age and illness fell away and I saw my mom in her swimming suit smiling at me. Alzheimer’s may finish stealing her from me until she won’t know my name. But before that day we waded in the warm water watched over by Shiva and all that mattered is her smile and her freckles.