Are You in the House?

me-and-mom-outside-building

(Mom and me on East 27th Street, New York City)

Are you in the house?

That’s what Mom asked me yesterday when we spoke on the phone. I haven’t seen her since Easter Saturday, and was calling to let her know I wouldn’t be visiting this weekend. I’m feeling under the weather.

“Are you in the house?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m in the house,” I said.

“How are you feeling, Mom?”

“I’m alright.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m taking care of things in the house,” she said.

I was wondering which house she meant. Did she think we were living in the same house now? Was it the house where she grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin?  Was it the fifth floor walkup apartment in New York City where I was born, or the apartment building on Junction Boulevard that was converted into a Jack in the Box and made the Lunney family, with their 10 kids, homeless? Was it the house we rented in Jackson Heights–the last house we lived together as a family? Was it the apartment she lived in in the Bronx before Lorin and I packed up her things and moved her into the nursing home?

What is a house, after all, but a place to lay one’s head. Or was it home Mom was speaking of? A place where family gathers, and hopefully, love makes its presence known.

It’s often hard to know what she means. That’s part of the Alzheimer’s. I interpret what she’s saying much of the time or try not to question at all, to let it be.

“How are the tulips?” I asked.

“They died, dear,” she said.

Why did I even ask? Of course they were dead after two weeks.

“What about the lilacs?” she said.

“They’re not out yet. They come out in May. I’ll bring you some then.”

“Okay. (pause) Where are you? Why aren’t you here?” she said.

“I’m at home. I’m not feeling well and didn’t want to get you sick,” I said.

“Oh.”

“I’ll see you next week, Mom.”

“Oh, okay.”

She sounded deflated. I felt I had let her down. But I can’t be there all the time.

“I’ll see you soon,” I said.

“Okay. See you soon.”

What does house / home mean to you?