I watched Pet Sematary last night; a horror movie with an innocent girl, but evil because she’s now without a soul, rotting in the land of the living, poised between that fine line between life and death before stepping into, “that undiscovered country…” from which no one is supposed to return. That’s why it’s horror. She returned. It was ghastly to watch, in a good horror movie way.
The movie strangled me an hour later when it silently dragged forth an old, long dead dream from the cobweb-laced recesses of my mind to the forefront. The dead girl in my dream was in the same condition.
My mother was living out her last months in an Alzheimer’s unit; Windcrest Memory Care Center. The WORST of euphemisms, truly. Memory CARE? As if they are caring for her memories like one cares for children or orchids? How about What Memory? Center. But at seven grand a month, I guess they need a more gracious sub-header.
My mom was in this Alzheimer’s unit, younger than anyone there by almost ten years. The day we moved her in there, my father asked me to clean her things out of the house. They’d had a hideous last fifteen years together out of fifty. She was remarkably adaptable at continuing to mentally abuse him even as she forgot her children’s names; like a trapped, injured animal, blind with panic and horror at her rotting golden years.
So I came by every day and packed up her clothes in now “his” home. I wanted to have an estate sale of her things. It made me feel like I was in control of some little part of this nightmare of slow death. Most of her items did not fit me anyway, they were gorgeous and expensive, and he wanted them gone.
I schlepped nine SUV loads of stuff from “his” house to my house and planned the sale. There was no way all this stuff was going to Goodwill. I owed her more than that. I owed the clothes more than that. Plus, they were worth a ton and I had to admit; we really needed the money. I had conducted an estate sale before, as a professional organizer. It was rewarding and hard work. Mom’s was harder. Not just because there were three hundred articles of clothing to hang and sell, jewelry, linens, silver, and so many shoes, but because she was still alive. She would have been appalled had she known what I was doing. But obviously, if she had known what I was doing, I wouldn’t be having an estate sale.
I sold most of the items, donated the rest, and it was cathartic. To touch every silk cocktail dress and beaded evening gown, every cashmere sweater and appraise every single article of her clothing was apparently just what I needed. I remembered so much from each piece, and with each piece, asked myself the impossible, rhetorical question of, “Did she know when she bought this Halston dress in 1979 that I’d be here thirty-five years later selling her things while she was still alive and just ten miles away, living in a prohibitively expensive lock-down unit?”
Then she died. And the dream started. Mom walked unceremoniously through my front door, looking haggard, much as she did in the Alzheimer’s unit, some size zero crop pants hanging off her now ninety pound frame, plaque caking her teeth because she would not let the nurses brush them, hair disheveled and grey, because she would not let them brush, wash or color her hair. I had NEVER seen her disheveled, gray or ninety pounds. She had been a debutante. She had been entirely put together. Until this last winter, when we took her to Windcrest. And now, standing, wobbling, in front of me in my dream. What she slurred with a low, gravelly voice through a mouth of old food was, “Where are my things?”
With mounting horror, I realized that I had nothing for her. I scrambled up the stairs to get my smallest t shirts, knowing at the same time that they would not work. She’d never worn a t shirt. I told her I’d be right back and made plans in my dream to run to Goodwill. I had gone there several times when she was alive and at Windcrest as her weight slid off her week by week so I could get the next size down of clothes. She went from a 10 to a 0 in four months. But going to Goodwill wouldn’t work here. (She had never worn charity clothes) and I couldn’t leave her in my house alone. I lied. I stuttered. I sweated.
I woke up gasping and crying. Not because I missed her, but because of the horror of seeing her again like that and my enormous guilt of selling my mother’s things out from underneath her. I tried to forget the dream.
The next dream came two weeks later. She was dead now, gaunt and zombie-like. This time she was angry. She knew. “Where are my things?” she interrogated me with shrill fear. Shit. I mentally went through all the shirts and pants of mine that I could give her. There were a few items of clothing that I had of hers that didn’t mind a five-foot seven frame to a five-foot one. I ran to get them, relieved I could leave and not have to look at her. I woke up gasping and shivered. Not again, I thought.
“I had no choice. He wanted her things gone. How long could I store them? They were useless to her,” I mumbled to myself as I slumped over in my bed. It only partly assuaged my guilt.
My rationalizing did not dull or slow the frequency of the dreams. The next dream came; she was rotting, so much like the guy from, American Werewolf in London, that it would have been really funny, but it really wasn’t. She quietly sat there with inquisitive, impatient eyes and a slacking jaw. Then she shrieked with sudden anger, “WHERE IS MY HOUSE?!” pointing to her ring finger on the fist of her left hand.
I understood; she had both ripped from her. No jewelry was allowed at the Alzheimer’s unit. I had her ring. The one she never let me try on for fear I’d lose it. I tried to walk away in this dream because I knew she knew, but I was stuck in my house. Thank God I was alone with her. I would have died if my children had been there too, dream or not.
In my final two dreams, (hopefully) she looked worse than the girl from Pet Semetary, and just as creepy and aware of her death. Both dreams scared the hell out of me both with their lack of warning, and their fierce renewing of these images of decay.
My mom had lost all her memories. I just wish I could lose this one.
Wendy Himes teaches English in Douglas County, and lives in Parker with her husband and their three adventurous boys. In her spare time, she rides her road bike and bakes new paleo concoctions which her children won’t even try.
She adores all things Stephen King and James Michener. Her favorite short stories are “The Mist”, “The Jaunt”, “Strawberry Spring”, “Jerusalem’s Lot” and “The Raft.” She is also a sucker for Shel Silverstein.