As good as I am at helping my mother resolve the questions in her mind, I know the time is rapidly approaching when my efforts will fail. One day — today, tomorrow, or perhaps several weeks or months from now — she will wander from the path she loves and lose herself in a vast, uncharted realm. I will call her name, but she will not recognize it as her own. She will no longer need a name: the memories attached to it will be so jumbled and fragmented that they will be impossible to unravel.

Late last night, while we were listening to music and talking, she said I had taught her many things. The first two she mentioned, she learned long before I was born: how to write in shorthand, and how to drive a car. For a long, strange, heartbreaking moment, she thought I was her sister. When I reminded her who I was, she was surprised and confused. Then, piece by piece, I helped her reconstruct our family tree, ending with my own children, her grandchildren.

“But who are you?”

“I’m their father.”

“But how can that be? Isn’t Bill their father?”

“Yes. But I’m Bill. Your youngest son.”

“I thought Bill was the one who takes me to the doctor, and who brings food every day and makes my coffee.”

“He is. And that’s me. I’m Bill. Who else could I be?”

“I don’t know. . . . Florence?”

“Would Florence have a beard?”

Laughter, then a searching smile. Trust. We are such good friends, and have been for a long, long time. Slowly, the cloud drifts on, and the mist begins to depart. Children and grandchildren’s names are recited: now it is almost a game.

“Does anyone else know how confused I am?”

“No. It just happened now, and we are the only ones here.”

It’s a lie, I know. But sometimes lies are necessary.

May 26, 2006

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