I should know by now

Mom called this morning, fairly early, just after her breakfast. She had a dull sound to her voice, and it was a little unsteady, like she might have been crying. She said things were “pretty bad.” She went on to say everyone else has their own apartment, but she doesn’t. And the cat needs a place to live, too. I asked her if someone had said something to her – thinking maybe, I don’t know, the maintenance people want to spray for ants so Mom and the cat have to leave the apartment for awhile. Or that when the housekeeper came to clean on Monday, she somehow gave Mom the impression that the apartment was no longer Mom’s. Nothing like that rang a bell for her. That doesn’t mean someone didn’t say something to her that triggered her concern. She just doesn’t remember it.

I had been planning to go over today anyhow, to drop off a new jug of cat litter and check on the ant situation, so I told her I would be by later. When I arrived, just as people were filing out of the dining room after lunch, I found her in her apartment, lying on her couch and watching TV. The channel was tuned to the TV guide station – where the listings crawl along the bottom half of the screen and entertainment “news” is featured in the top half. I wondered if she was watching that entertainment news or somehow might be calmed by the symmetry of the channel listing on the screen.

I had left just one bowl of cat food on the floor the other day and realized I should probably put another one out so the ants would, I hoped, pick one bowl to contaminate and leave the other for the cat to eat from. I should have known Mom would take care of this. She had put a second bowl out before I got there – surely, the cat might have starved without two bowls of food, at least in her mind. So in this case, both bowls had ants in them. So I threw away the food, again, cleaned the bowls and refilled them, again, and vacuumed up the little ants, again. And decided I will buy ant traps for Mom’s place because after two reports and no remedy, it’s obviously not going to be taken care of by staff at the facility. I scooped litter and put some fresh litter on top. I could smell a distinct urine odor today in the apartment. But I think it was human and not cat urine I was smelling.

I then sat with Mom for a little bit just to see if I could figure out what was wrong with her. She said she doesn’t have an apartment. I said, waving my arms around, that we are in her apartment, that this is her apartment. That it is where she lives. And the cat lives there with her. “Mmm hmm,” she said. She does that a lot, and usually I take it as a signal that either she doesn’t believe me or isn’t absorbing what I’m saying. I asked, “Don’t you feel like this is your home?” “Well, yeah,” she said. But I could just tell she isn’t convinced. Something, somehow is leaving her feeling unsettled. And I started feeling frustrated, and annoyed that this is all we ever talk about now. The damn cat. The mysterious status of this apartment. Whether the cat is happy. Whether the cat will get out. And then, just letting myself pause, it did occur to me that Mom doesn’t want to be having this conversation. She doesn’t know I have reassured her dozens of times that this is her home and she is safe there. And that the cat is happy and safe. She doesn’t know because she can’t remember. So really she is being tortured by these thoughts over and over again. I feel tortured by the recurring theme of the conversation, but my torment is nothing compared to the anxiety she must feel, doubting that she and her cat have a safe, secure place to stay. So I mellowed out and quit telling her the same things over and over again and said, “Why don’t you go play bingo.” And that’s what she did.

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