I hear her moving upstairs. At first I thought I caught her in time, but as I could tell by the sound of the floorboards she had probably been up longer than I realized.

It was worse than I was expecting—the stench hitting me as I opened the door. She stood on the side of the bed confused, looking down at where she had been sleeping minutes before, as if she couldn’t understand exactly what happened either.

“Mom?” I ask, not sure if I’m asking that to her or me, and she turns, confused, and she presents to me what she’s been cradling in her hand.

“Jesus Christ—Come on, let’s go to the bathroom.”

It takes at least 20 minutes to clean up the mess, to scrub off her hands and then rinse her off in the shower. At this point, I am not embarrassed by her nakedness—I used to divert my eyes when I would have to help change her, but now she is so far removed from who I knew as my mother, I feel no connection between her and that body anymore. At this point, it is just a thing that needs caring for—something that needs to be dressed, fed, washed, undressed.

It makes me angry when people tell me I am brave because of my mother. I know they mean well, and I appreciate the sentiment, but there is nothing brave about it—I’ve had no control over whether she got sick or not. People who step in front of a moving vehicle to save someone else are brave; people who join the Peace Corps to save dying children are brave. I just lost at life roulette when it came to deciding if I got healthy parents or not. I promise you I would not have chosen this for myself.

She’s getting agitated as I dry her off, further confused by this break in the normal routine.

I try to remember to be patient, try to explain.

“You had an accident. We need to clean you off before you go back to bed.”

She stares at me incredulously, and I try not to lose my patience.

It’s gotten worse in the past year, especially the last 6 months. She is more agitated than before, more restless. She often wanders around the house, wringing her hands, sometimes crying.

“Am I crazy?” she asked the one day. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Probably, mom, but aren’t we all?” This only made her cry more.

It’s getting harder to be patient. It almost seems pointless. She won’t remember if I yelled at her, and if I did, who else would know? But the guilt always overtakes me; I always end up apologizing.

“I’m sorry that I lost my temper—I didn’t mean it. You know I love you, right?”

She nods at me, but her eyes are still full of tears. She looks frightened, unsure. She looks at me with no recognition, and I try to sound soothing when I tell her that I love her, try to sound convincing when I say tomorrow will be a better day.

—Sara Wuillermin Moreno

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