by Kayla Schaefer
I am late again. It is 8:00 a.m. and I am ten minutes away from her group home in South St. Paul. I am supposed to be there and already on our way to St. Louis Park. She is going to be so late. I punish myself for not getting up when my alarm went off.
I pull into the small parking lot ready to pull out as soon as she hobbles to the van. She is there waiting on the stoop of the first house. She lives in the third one but eats and takes her medication in the first. I can tell she has been waiting there a while.
"I was just calling you," she greets me without a smile. "I was hoping you didn’t answer because you were on your way."
"I’m sorry, Mom! I am so sorry. Are we going to be able to make it there on time?" I say while squishing my shoulders up and pouting my face, showing her I am sorry and ashamed.
"We’ll see," she exhales, letting me wallow in the guilt.
My mom has this way of packing the guilt together and dropping it on you, like the anvil crushing the coyote. It hits you square in the gut every time. Suddenly you are just being drowned by so much guilt that you can hardly keep track of who you are.
The 20 minute drive to St. Louis Park is driven in silence. Well, more like I am silent. Mom jabbers on about how she is feeling and makes a few phone calls to doctors on that cell phone of hers. Her phone bill is off the charts and she says she doesn’t know how it happens. I can tell her. She talks on the phone and the minutes accumulate. Simple as that. I try to ignore what she says, but I can’t.
"Kayla, you really understand me. You are so much like me, we have this special connection. Kayla, you are the only one that wants to see me, well maybe Krista and Kathryn. Your father hasn’t been that great of a man. He just doesn’t care about the family the way I do. I am scared that Kaitlyn is going to turn out just like Grandma Schaefer. That is where she is headed."
I try to make all her comments go in one ear and out the other, but I can’t. Just the conscious thought of wanting the comments gone make me concentrate that much harder and continue listening. I need a thick wall to be built between the passenger seat and the driver’s seat. There has to be some law somewhere that says that the passenger is only able to tell the driver happy things. My wall is the radio.
"Do you mind if I turn on the radio? I just feel like listening to music," I suggest, hoping that she won’t realize my real intentions.
"Well, I would prefer if you didn’t. Jingle Bells just won’t go away, and I’m scared that another will replace it if it does," she says staring out the window through traffic.
Mom told me about a week ago that she was hearing songs in her head. Christmas songs to be exact.
"Hearing songs?" I questioned her as I followed her up the stairs to her room, "Like...what do you mean?"
"Well, the doctors gave me some medicine for it. Some anti-schizophrenic meds. Hopefully it will go away," she stated nonchalantly, as if it was no big deal.
"Oh," I said and let the subject drop, trying to pretend it was no big deal, too. I told myself, at least she is getting help, and she isn’t hearing people talking to her, they’re just singing. Singing Christmas songs.
I was trying hard to think that Mom wasn’t crazy. Was she like this when she was living with us? June 1, 2000 is the exact date that she moved out. Could it be that it was only three weeks ago that she lived with my five siblings, my dad, and me? So much has happened since then, and so much has changed.
"Oh! That reminds me, I need to call Dr. Meets to get another prescription." She fumbles through her new plastic purse, a recent purchase at Target, until she finds her calendar. She takes out her cell phone, to add a few more minutes to her bill, and dials. She gets the wrong number, and then dials again, this time reaching the office. I decide that the radio won’t kill her and tune it to 93X, hard rock.
We make it to the doctor 15 minutes late. We are always late. I am a perpetually late person, and since I drive Mom everywhere, she is a late person too. It is hard to make Mom late, when I know if she were driving herself, she would be on time. Being on time will be my next goal.
I park the van in the handicap spot near the door. I get out of the car quickly as if I am the one late for an appointment, and help Mom out of the van. Her arms are extremely thin now. I cringe just grabbing her bicep, always surprised by her delicateness. You cannot see how thin she has become just by looking at her because her clothes are so baggy. Hitting the automatic lock button on the passenger door, it locks each door simultaneously, sounding like a line of gunmen cocking their hollow guns.
Mom’s 43 year old body hobbles down the tiled hallway to the office of her doctor, with her aluminum cane clicking with each step. I stroll along next to her. There isn’t a comfortable pace to take while walking with her. It is either you are walking too fast and stopping constantly to allow her to catch up, or you are shuffling along, and the mere pace of reaching each destination is so slow it drives you to depression. I keep my mind on other things, allowing myself to enjoy the smaller things in life.
"See how much time you are spending with Mom?" I encourage myself. "You are a good daughter. You should be glad that you are getting all this quality time with your mom. Not every 17 year old would do this." I smile because I am doing so much good.
Then I concentrate on the tiles on the floor, and keep my steps in the exact place so I step on each horizontal line as I approach it. To keep my pace with Mom, while continuing to look like a mature person, are the most challenging parts. I take one big step, slowly, as to stay with Mom’s small shuffles, and I pause. I then take two small steps before another big one to hit the next line. I stay at Mom’s right hand side the whole time.
"Yeah, I know what you mean, Mom," I contribute to her conversation, which she has been continuing since we arrived. Someday I will get caught. She will see that I am not paying attention and understand that my comments are so general that they would fit any conversation. I try to listen. I really do try. It seems like when I try not to listen, I do listen, but when I try to listen, I just can’t do it. My mind wanders off. I think I need to try harder. I need to be here for her. She needs my support.
I wait in the waiting room for her appointment to end. Wheel-of-Fortune is on the television in the upper right corner. A woman is wheeled to the phone where she dials and makes a phone call for a bus. A little boy sits perpendicular to me with his grandma. His legs bounce up and down on the chair as she reads him a picture book from the table. Mom is taking forever. I check the wall clock, then get up and head to the cafeteria.
I only have enough money to buy a medium. What I want is a large. A large Coke and maybe some food would be nice. I didn’t have time for breakfast in my rush to get to Mom’s. I take my Coke and my book out to the veranda to sit in the sun for a bit. Despite it being June and nearly 80 degrees, I wear pants. I get too cold in all the air conditioned buildings if I dress for summer, but the sun feels so nice warming my skin. Sunbathing, I sit among the dining doctors and secretaries. They chatter about work and their children, and I can’t help but think that I don’t belong here.
Mom comes outside and calls for me, disturbing my peace. She has finished her appointment. I wonder how she knew that I was out here, but then I remember that I came out here on Monday too. I get up and slowly walk inside to join her on our journey down the hall to the parking lot.
"How did it go?" I ask with a smile, in hopes that it was positive.
"Ok," she exhales emotionless, "Dr. Tram missed part of her lunch so she could see me."
"I’m really sorry for making you late, Mom. I’m glad that you still got to see her though."
"It’s just that I am never usually late for anything," she adds.
She wants to stop at Target on our way back to her place. She always needs something new. Luckily I just found one near her house. We used to have to drive the 30 minutes back to Burnsville just to go to Target.
Mom has a great idea for a purchase today. After getting her Kiwi-Strawberry Gatorade (which is the only thing that she drinks) we head for the jewelry department. Mom wants to get me a watch.
"You need a watch, Kayla. It’ll help you stay on time," she states, looking through the Timex sport watches.
"I don’t know, Mom," I doubt her. "I don’t think that will help."
She doesn’t seem to listen to me. I think she just wants to buy something, and it is for me, so I am not going to argue it any further. I pick out one with a blue fabric type wristband, and Velcro clasp. The face glows in the dark. I figure this watch will make the day worthwhile.
I carry our purchases up to the cashier. I note how funny it is that the Target cashiers match the counter and stand there waiting for customers, like hunters wait for prey in their camouflage outfits. I set the watch and the Gatorade on the conveyer belt.
That’s when the cashier said the dreaded phrase, the phrase I fear coming out of any person’s mouth in my mom’s direction while I am anywhere near.
"How are you doing today, ma’am?" the innocent lady asks my mother.
Automatically, I turn away and pretend to be really busy looking at everyone else. The man at the customer service counter is returning something, the child in the next aisle is picking his nose, but please don’t let me hear what my mother is telling the poor woman. Of course, my attempt to block it out is futile. I hear every word.
"Well, it isn’t so great," she puts in a fake airy laugh here, "It’s tough when you have no money. My husband doesn’t want me spending any, but what am I supposed to do? But of course it probably helps that I don’t eat that much. This Gatorade will probably be my lunch. I’ve been buying posters to hang on my walls of the group home. You just have to make it seem homey, right? I hope it will grow on me. Anyway, what was the total again? I just cannot seem to concentrate these days. Must be the depression." Then she performs a few more airy laughs, shifts her weight, and finally begins writing out the check.
I can feel how uncomfortable the cashier must feel right now.
"I hear ya," the cashier replies. "Sometimes I only eat a candy bar for lunch. And my husband is a tight wad, too."
Yeah, I want to say, but don’t you eat other days? Don’t you consider your family when you spend money? Don’t you shower? Don’t pretend that you have this bond! I want to laugh at how wrong she is to even pretend they have something in common. But instead I just help my mom put away her things, smile at the cashier and leave, pretending nothing has happened. I trail behind her just enough in a way that says that she might not be related.
Ordinarily, people say that teenagers don’t want to be seen with their parents, and I suppose I fit the stereotype. Sometimes I pretend that I am merely a hired hand, or I volunteer at a group home to bring the residents out to shop. I am not related to this woman, but I choose to help out because my passion is helping the mentally ill. My real parents wait for me at home with dinner, hugs, and eagerness to hear all about my day