Yesterday my mom called me up and asked me to buy her cigarettes. I told her no and hung up. Five minutes later she called back and repeated the request. This time I told her that she didn’t need cigarettes because she quit smoking. This upset her, as if quitting smoking was awful news. She told me she didn’t believe me. She called me a liar and hung up. It took ten minutes before she called back again.
“Hello, this is your mom,” she said.
“Hello Mom, this is your son.”
“Listen, I need you to take me to the store.”
“We went to the store yesterday. What do you need now?”
“Well, you’re not going to like it.”
“Is it cigarettes?”
Except for static tickling the connection it was silent. Was she trying to think up something else she needed besides cigarettes? Did she wonder how I knew? Had she already forgotten why she called?
“I got this letter from the DMV,” she told me. “You know I can’t drive anymore.”
“I know Mom. I know.”
“I just need some things and if you can’t take me I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“You could take the bus.” Not that long ago she used to take the bus, but her dementia turned the schedule into an unsolvable puzzle, and she complained that the bounciness made her hip hurt.
I felt her sigh through the phone line, so heavy it transcended time and space and traveled through the wires.
“So will you take me or not?”
I did the mental math, trying to decide if the hour driving through traffic would take less time than answering the phone as she called up and asked the same question over and over.
“Okay mom, I’ll take you to the store. Write it down so you don’t forget.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Write it down, please.”
“Okay, okay, let me find a pen.”
“Write down that I’m going to take you to the store. Today, in like an hour.”
“Okay, I got it.”
“Put the note near the phone, and I’ll see you in a little bit.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
We hung up and I continued with my kitchen chores, loading the dishwasher, taking out the compost. After a few minutes the phone rang again.
“Hello, this is your mom. Are you taking me to the store today? I found this note that said Store Today, but I’m not sure when today is. Is it today right now?”
“Yes, mom, it’s today right now. Write that down too, that it’s today right now. Put it with the other note.”
“Okay, let me find a pen.”
“Write it down and read it back to me.”
“What should I write?”
“Write, it’s today right now.”
“Okay, I got it. It says Store Today, it’s today right now.”
“Alright mom, put the note near the phone and I’ll see you in a little bit. Don’t forget.”
“I won’t forget,” she told me like I was twelve and she was scolding me. “I will NOT forget,” she commanded.
I wanted to believe her. I always wanted to believe her. I wondered if perhaps I should apologize, but then she continued.
“Did I mention that I need cigarettes?”
“You may have. I can’t remember.”
“Now who’s forgetting?”
“Sometimes it’s good to forget things,” I told her, even though I didn’t really believe it. Or maybe I did.
The problem was forgetting the things we actually wanted to forget.