Regina, Holy Terror, Mother and Child

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Issue VII: Winter 2011

by Charles Fatone

For three months my mother’s mental and physical condition began an accelerated deterioration. Between searching for 95-year-old legal documents to photocopy and mail and losing my eye-glasses, I’m frayed and rattled.

I phone her the day before visiting. “Mother… Mother?” That is how she insists on being called. She is needy for the prestige of the title and the power it bestows. She was never interested in the affection that might come with being called Mama or just Mom.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” she’d ask. “When is that?”

“Yes, tomorrow. I usually visit you on Friday.”

“You’re not too busy? I’m going to write that down on a cardboard so I don’t forget. What is tomorrow?”


“Friday? Let me hang up so I don’t forget. I have to write it down.”

One Thursday morning I phoned her early. She’s almost deaf with three sets of costly hearing aids she’s either broken or lost. “The holes in my ears are too small for them,” she complains as though she’s just too feminine for bulky hearing aids.

The phone rings 5, 10, 15 times while I imagine her in the john or washing a cup under loud running water. But on the 20th ring something told me, “Go!”
I packed and in 30 minutes was riding the D train to Brooklyn. I arrived a little after ten and used my own key. I found her lying on the floor, semi-conscious and incoherent. She was nude and had soiled herself. I stood there staring for this was somewhat like what I had anticipated for more than two years as her attention splintered and memory dissolved. I’ve been “on duty” waiting for a call, “Come at once, your mother needs you. She’s fallen or lost her key and has locked herself out.” She would never consent to living in a nursing home. She’d say,  “I’ll tell you when I‘m ready for a nursing home.”

“Okay, just as long as you can take care of yourself.” I had to wait until the decision was no longer hers.

“Mother? Mother? Can you hear me?” I covered her with a bath towel then dialed 911. Five big guys with equipment from the Fire Dept., Police and EMS came in and took up the whole room as I was squeezed out the doorway.

“What drugs was she taking?”  one demanded.


“How long did you wait before calling?”

“About 3 minutes.”

They did a careful examination to check for foul play then bundled and stretchered her up the stairs. I grabbed her ID, insurance stuff and sat next to her in the ambulance holding her limp hand and I never heard the siren. In the E. R. after six hours of processing she was bandaged and bound to the side rails to keep her from ripping off the IVs. I took a photo of her with a disposable camera. I suddenly felt compelled to record this insidious deterioration of a life.

A week later she was transferred to a nursing home where she doesn’t relate to anyone. Her eyes give an empty gaze around the room which is spacious and neat. The sun shines through the big windows casting a cruel light on the twelve other residents, all in their silent isolation like abandoned houses. A uniformed attendant sits placidly in front of a glaring T.V. at a game show of boisterous families competing for coveted cash and prizes while no one else watches. I saw my mother in the corner and went to her slowly saying, “How are you doing?”

As soon as she recognized me, she ordered, “Get me an Ensure.”

“She can’t have that!” said the nurse, “ Those are for the others.”

“I didn’t know.” I said, “Mother, I’ll bring you more clothes from home. I still need to talk to the administrator so I’m going to have to leave now. ”

“When are you coming back?” she insisted. “Tomorrow?”

“No…. Maybe.”

“How did you find me? It‘s a miracle! It‘s a miracle!”

“What do you mean how did I find you? I brought you here.”

“ I don‘t remember. You’re going away?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”

She doesn’t notice me kissing her forehead. As I turn in the doorway I see her in her wheelchair, slumped under a puff of her white hair. That’s my mother, I thought. That’s my mother who was so powerful and charismatic and who was a dangerous force of nature in her prime. Now she looks like a lioness who’s lost her teeth.

“That’s my son!”  she suddenly said brightly to the room, “That’s my son! It’s a miracle!…I don’t know how he found me.”

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