I picked mum up from the nursing home on Saturday morning as I did every month. It was what my role as older son was - according to the family, anyway. Before we left, the matron spoke to me and told me that mum’s dementia was so advanced that she was living very much in the past. I said I knew as, for the past few months, she had referred to me as Robert, which was my father’s name. Then again, mum was now 68 and it had been not unexpected. She’d been in the home for five years now and apart from my monthly visits, no one else from the family called to see her. Dad had died fifteen years back and my brother and sister never called apart from at Christmas. She was, I knew, too much trouble for them. Me? Well, I guess I felt a sense of duty to her. After all, she was my mother.
I live about twenty miles away from the home in a small house in a countryside part of England. It’s a lovely, quiet place and - as a bonus - is private in that no one bothers you if you don’t bother them. I’d chosen it after my divorce as being both out of the way as I just wanted to be on my own after that episode. As we drove home, mum kept asking me questions, again calling me by my father’s name. I just responded automatically, as it didn’t make any difference for me to correct her about my own name and the fact I was her son and not her husband. Besides, there was no harm in it and anyway, I didn’t mind. Mum enjoyed the weekends, I think, and what was the harm in pandering to her anyway? She asked where we were going and what we were going to do and I said home, just the two of us for the weekend. She was quiet for a short while and then she asked what day it was.
“Saturday.” I said and thought no more of it. Mum nodded and, not looking at me, said that she supposed I was going to want her to do “afternoon delight” ... I looked at her, mystified. Was this something to do with her dementia? Gently, I asked her what she meant.
“Oh Robert! You know. Upstairs.”
“Upstairs for what?” I said.
She tutted and shook her head, not looking at me as she spoke.
I’d taken my shower and was sitting at my desk in my pajamas finishing up some school work before going to bed when the Old Man rapped on the door and then stuck his big, square head inside my room without waiting for me to respond. He never waited. He’d just bang on the door a couple times with his ham sized hand and then open it. I couldn’t even indulge in my favorite hobby, jacking-off, when he was home.
“Come down to the den,” he ordered. “I have a few things I want to talk to you about.” Then he left.
I figured it was another review of my duties. He was supposed to leave for Vietnam in two days and he’d made out lists of the stuff I was supposed to do during the year he was gone. It was all there on the corner of my desk. Sheets of duties. He’d had his secretary at the base type up for him. There was a list of daily duties like clean my room, take out the trash, help Mom with the dishes and make sure the house was locked up before going to bed, and there were weekly duties like mow the grass and clean the garage, and there were monthly duties like trim the hedge and check the oil and tire pressure in the car, and there were even seasonal duties like winterize the car and fertilize the lawn. In addition to all those duties there was also a sheet of Do’s and Don’ts. Do be home by ten on week nights and eleven on weekends. Don’t date more than one night a week, etc., etc.
In the days preceding his departure we had been periodically reviewing these lists, ‘directives’, as he called them, to make sure I completely understood them. Of course I understood them! What was there to understand? You’d have thought I was six instead of sixteen and had an IQ in the single digits.