My daughter visited me today for the first time in two months. I’ve been so lonely here, so you wouldn’t believe how excited I felt when I saw her face. I know she doesn’t like seeing me because otherwise she’d visit me more often. I suppose I depress her in the same way I depress myself. I avoid mirrors for this very reason, and put my trust in my caretakers to fix my hair and dress me. “You look very good today, mom,” my daughter said. She says this every time she sees me, knowing I look just as awful as the last time. She only stayed for an hour, which I suppose is best because I’ve felt very weak today and not much in the mood for socializing. Still, I was hurt since I knew I’d probably not see her for another couple of months and who is to say I’ll even be around by then? I shouldn’t resent her for it, though, because I know it’s painful for her to come here. It’s not just that she has to be reminded that her mom will die soon, but also that she will die soon. My face is the face of death and her future.
When I was twelve years old I would sometimes sit in movie theaters and feel that I could do flips all the way down the theater seats. I was a gymnast then, but I am quite certain I did not possess the agility or precision to pull off such a feat. If I had ever attempted something like that, I probably would have ended up with a significant injury. I knew then, however, that what I felt capable of doing was not the same as what I could do in reality. Nowadays I experience a similar feeling, but without accepting the fact that how I feel does not reflect my ability to perform. I used to mindlessly get up from a chair and walk across the room. I’d do it without thinking, on automatic, sometimes not even knowing how I got from one room to the next. My body has weakened considerably since then, and I am no longer able to stand independently, but I sure try. It’s just, I get these moments where I know I can do it. I know my legs will stand for me and walk across the room. It always perplexes, then, when I end up on the carpet with another broken rib, pressing my call button for assistance. I never knew the twelve-year-old version of me would have more common sense than I do now. More often than not, I still don’t believe it.
During my daughter’s visit we ate lunch together in the cafeteria. I overheard an aide talking to one of the residents and was disheartened by the aide’s tone of voice. It wasn’t that she sounded mean, but the opposite. She sounded too nice. Maybe not everyone noticed it or cared, but I did. The aide was young, cheerful, and talked in a voice a couple of octaves higher than she would have done in conversation with a coworker or friend. I knew it was because she saw the resident as below her, like a child, and I guess all of us old folks are seen like that to some degree. I suppose seeing someone as dependent and needy brings out the babying voice, but it also brings out a more nurturing side, so I guess that’s okay. I shouldn’t be upset with the aide, you see, but I am. Who is she to look down on us? I was in middle age by the time she was brought into the world. It’s hard to have someone so young care for you and tell you what to do. I told this to my daughter and she sighed, saying, “Mom, you’re focusing on the negative again. It’s not good for your health.” I think even my daughter doesn’t respect me. I don’t think she sees me as an equal but below her without feelings in need of addressing.
I shouldn’t care that my daughter left so soon after she arrived. I always anticipate her arrival, but I always feel just as alone as before when she visits. As an adolescent she used to tell me that we were nothing alike, and that she must have been adopted. I would have thought the same thing if I hadn’t carried her in my womb for nine months. Even now, she is so different from me, and the mere fact that we are thirty years apart makes her nearly impossible to relate to. Even with my daughter I’ve lived a lonely life so it should be a surprise that I find the loneliness I’m experiencing now so difficult. I suppose it’s because I once had enough time in my future to believe things would improve. Now, I am old, and realize I’ll be this way until the end.