Family is Everything
It didn’t make any sense to him that Monday morning. He woke up to shouting from his parents’ bedroom. His mother’s voice was louder than he had ever heard it. It sounded like she was screaming herself sore. And so he did what any teenage boy would do if he heard his mother shout. He got out of bed, went to his parents’ door and knocked once. The voice went silent. “What!” “Uh, mom? Umm… Are you okay?” The door opened. His mother was in her bathrobe, her hair a mess and his father was seated on the bed. “Why aren’t you in school Mike*?” They had been on holiday for two weeks. He remembers his father bent over and supporting his head by the bridge of his eyes. He remembers his father’s exasperated voice telling her to ‘leave the boy alone and go take a shower’. Then, he remembers the door slamming in his face. He went back to his room, got in bed and went to sleep. It was a dream. None of what he had seen that Monday morning was real. When he woke up he smelled pancakes. Everything was back to normal. His father was reading the newspaper at the dining table, with his coffee on the table. He took his seat and waited for his pancakes. They had breakfast as a family. Like a normal family. Then his parents left for work and he watched cartoons.
That week, the air felt like there had been no raised voices in the wee hours. It was like everyone forgot that a door had slammed in his face. But it ate at him. He saw the door when he watched Samurai Jack and on his plate during supper. He heard it in his dreams, with his mother’s voice echoing in the background. “Why aren’t you in school Mike?” When he couldn’t take it anymore, he called his brother.
“Mom forgets things,” he had said.
“What do you mean, Mike?”
“She forgets things. She didn’t know I have been home for two weeks. And last week she put salt in tea.”
“Ha-ha… Come on dude. Maybe she’s just tired. I’m sure you don’t even help out at home anymore.”
“But nothing man. She’s mom. She’s okay. Don’t worry about it. And help her bring in groceries at least. Okay?”
He hung up. His brother didn’t know anything. It made him feel lost. So he did what any kid born in this day and age would do. He asked Uncle Google. He typed in ‘is being forgetful normal’ and says he got some hope. This has to be the first person in the world to have asked anything on Google and not found out he, together with his entire extended family, was already dead. So I take my phone out and type in the same thing. A girl needs hope in this tough and unruly world. ‘Many people worry about becoming forgetful as they age” comes my sliver of googled hope ‘They think it is the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease. But some forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging’. That is all the hope he needed. To be told that salty tea is part of aging, and he took it. He accepted his mother was getting old and went back to school when they opened and forgot all about his mother’s forgetfulness.
A few weeks later there was commotion in school. Mike’s class was having Social Studies, which he hated, meaning any excuse of a break was welcome. He would purposely not pee during break time only so he could ask to go outside during the class. But on this particular day, he remembers having been extremely pressed and was forced to pee when they were out. It was odd. Like hitting your toe on a table that was never in your living room [Okay, I don’t get that either].
The disturbance, it turned out, was his mother. He remembers looking out the window and his eyes immediately meeting with hers. The familiarity in them uncanny. He knew, before his eyes travelled down her bathrobe and sandals, that she was not herself. “It was weird. The way the look in her eyes transported me back to that Monday morning. I heard her voice. ‘Why aren’t you in school, Mike?’ I saw her at home, adding salt to my tea. It was the first time my heart broke.”
12 year olds do not understand empathy. All they know to do is laugh and make fun of their friends. They don’t know that a person’s mother cannot just come to school in pyjamas out of their own accord. Their immature brains cannot process the possibility of being held at gunpoint to wear the most ridiculous costume to your son’s school, let alone what Alzheimer’s disease is. //Mickey, si that’s your mom? // Kwani her problem is what? // You guys just wear like that when going out? // Ha-ha, hey guys, look at Mickey’s mom. Kwani you don’t own combs in your home? // Haiya Mickey! That’s really your mom? Na vile she is usually smart. Kwani what happened? //
Mike ran to her, this time his social studies excuse too dire to comprehend. She came to her senses as his hand touched hers and he witnessed first-hand what the realization of what had happened did to her mother. “Mom,” he said to her “It’s okay. Breathe. Just breathe. You’ll be fine. I promise. I’ll call Daddy and he’ll take you home. But I’ll take care of you till he comes.” He held her hand through explaining to his teacher that he needed to call his father. Held her hand through the waiting. Through his classmates peeping at them from the windows. Through the 12-year-old theories of what was wrong with his family. He held her hand even when there was enough sweat between their palms to fill the Red Sea. When his father arrived, they both got in the car and drove off. He never went back to the school.
“I can only imagine the kinds of stories those kids had to give. How many of them called my mom crazy, or said that I was mad myself?”
“They were just kids. Kids say things that they don’t mean”
“But kids also say the truth, right? I had been told that so many times and I started believing it.”
“You thought she was crazy?”
“For a time, yes. But I was young. And hurt. I had lost all my friends because of one thing. One mistake that my mom could not control herself making. My heart was broken. I was broken.”
His brother came home from campus. He convinced their father to seek medical assistance for their mother, who was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease [Yeah, I know. I expected something different too. Point for Google]. She was admitted at Mathari Hospital for five months and released, provided she took her medication. As Alzheimer’s progresses, brain cells die and connections among them are lost, causing cognitive symptoms to worsen. While current medications cannot stop the damage Alzheimer’s causes to brain cells, they may help lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited time by affecting certain chemicals involved in carrying messages among the brain’s nerve cells. Mike’s mother had a combination of cholinesterase inhibitors, Donepezil (Aricept) and Rivastigmine (Exelon), which are prescribed to treat symptoms related to memory, thinking, language, judgment and other thought processes.
“My father became my hero in that time. I mean, he was okay, for a dad. He always took us out, helped us with homework and did dad stuff like a respectable…well…dad. But in the five months that mom was admitted and in the years that followed, he was spectacular.” I don’t think your dad is your hero if you can’t describe him as spectacular. He is otherwise just a dad who does homework among other dad stuff. “He became everything to us. He would go see my mom every day. We weren’t allowed in to see her, so he bought a polaroid camera and would come home every evening with a photo of her, so we would now she was okay. He made sure we were fed and went to school. We never lacked anything. My mom had everything she would have needed, and, in all this time, he never drank a single drop of alcohol.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do. He remained himself. He never self-medicated. He showed us a kind of strength that we needed to have in that time of our lives. I don’t know what we would have done otherwise. He was spectacular. He proved to us, my bro and I, that family is everything. That a man takes care of his own, builds what he has, so that when he stumbles, he has something to hold on to.”
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