“We have to do it again,” was all my father would say to me over his
We drove across town, past the burned-down donut shop, Hinckley’s,
with the incongruous logo—a smiling donut holding a smaller, faceless
donut in its hand—still visible on the sign by the road. We passed a car
that had crashed. It sat overturned in an empty lot with no one inside.
We passed the restaurant where I had worked as a teenager and also the
restaurant where my brother had worked as a teenager.
At the facility, they told us they had a room prepared, and the nurses
sighed. One of them, with short blond hair and a purple scar next to his
right eye, brought us a wheelchair. His smile at my mother was so genuine I forgot for a moment that we had done intake twice before. I tried
to say something, to explain, to ask questions, but the nurse took my
mother away. My father and I could only follow as he pushed her down
the hall. Soon he turned and wheeled her into a room. We arrived as he
stepped back to the doorway.
“I’ll be back,” he said, and my father followed him the way we had
come, protesting loudly.
From the window where she sat in her chair, my mother said, “You
can see the river.”
I came to look. Outside were only grass and swaying trees. No river.
I turned to her, not to argue but wanting somehow to show her that it
wasn’t there. Looking back at the door, I saw into the room across the
hall. She sat there, too, in a different wheelchair, in a different room,
beside a different window.
“Hold on, Mom,” I said.
I got up and went across the hallway to see the other one, who
brightened when she noticed me. It pains me now to think of the delicacy of her features. Her lips trembled slightly as she smiled, both
because of her condition and because she seemed to be gauging my
response. Though I grasped how happy she was to see me, she seemed
also to understand as I sat on the bed to speak with her that she had to
behave in a certain way to hold my attention in the right manner, that
I was looking for something, a solution to a problem she was unaware
of or confused about. This was more painful than anything else that
“How are you?” she said. “How’s your dad?”