My mother was unable to stay in the bedroom any longer. She could barely sit up on her own, and it was too difficult for us to move her on their old king-sized bed. A social worker came to the apartment and walked through each of the rooms, occasionally stopping to take a measurement and scratch the figure down on her clipboard. Two days later, a large truck pulled up outside our building and, an hour later, a hospital bed was set up in our living room.
The hospital bed was stiff, menacing. It looked institutional and cold amid the warm colors of our living room walls, hung with my mother's African tapestries, blankets, and textiles that were her pride and joy. When we first brought her into the living room, my mother resisted.
"It pains my back," she said in her confused, drug-addled English. She insisted on sleeping on the couch. My father or I slept in the hospital bed instead.
She woke up several times during the night needing medicine or help going to the toilet. I would switch on the light, pull the plastic commode next to her, lift her off the couch, and then pull her back onto the couch. The whole process took around fifteen minutes, and once it was completed, we were up for the next hour. I barely slept during the nights I tended to her, so I rested alternate nights while my father took the replacement shift.
One night while on my shift, I was awoken by my mother's bald head hovering over me. Half asleep, I was happy to see her standing for the first time in months.
"I want to go home," she said.
She paced around the bed, possessed by some strange, dark energy.
"You are home." I got to my feet and walked after her. She began crying and tearing at her clothes.
She ripped at the few stray hairs that dotted her scalp. She walked faster, and I had to chase her to the other side of the living room. When I finally caught my mother, I hugged her to me. She was shaking, sweaty. I rubbed her back, trying to calm her.
"I miss my father," she said.
I realized to which home she was referring. I realized she would never see South Africa again, her father, brothers and sisters, her many friends. At times during the day I felt heroic, but then I felt small, worthless. I would never do this for her.
Eventually I coaxed her into the bed and curled up beside her. The bed was so narrow that we never would have fit on it together when she was healthy. I tried to find words that would fill the space that her home had left, but there was nothing.
"I'm tired, Mom," I whispered as I dozed off.
My father and I didn't communicate much except to coordinate nurse visits for my mother or to give updates on her medicines. We were holding so much in, our pain distinct from each other's in many ways. I suppose we thought that if we ever acknowledged this, all our carefully assembled control would fall to pieces. I was terrified of his pain—that of losing a lifelong partner, so many years tossed out the window. And I'm sure he feared the destabilization of my loss—how much of my life yet to live would be marred by this trauma.
Because my father was a man and relatively young, a part of me was scared that he would leave. That was always the fear with men. I suppose this was a part of the not talking, the not crying. I thought that if I didn't acknowledge the horror we were living in, it somehow wouldn't be as bad, and he would stay.