Lyme Disease

By Samantha Bell

Anxious: Uneasy in mind; earnestly wishing. My husband and I always run to make connections in the airport. We book flights that are inexpensive and that land us with ten minutes to spare to connect to the flight that will get us to our true destination: either a place that used to be home or the place that is now home. In either case, we usually end up running through the concourse, anxious to see the family or friends waiting for us. This time, it was my mother who would receive us. And this time, during a bleak, snowy Detroit afternoon, we moseyed. We stopped for a beer. I should have known then what would happen, that if I don’t end up running at full force toward a destination, I do not want to be there.

Nervous: forcible; spirited; easily excited or annoyed. When Dan and I get off the final plane, we continue to saunter. I follow a crowd that is moving in the Manchester Airport. Dan redirects me down the stairs. We get into a brief fight; we are both nervous. We move down the escalator, and, sure enough, there’s my mother, in a bright red coat that I sent to her in December. She is waving frantically, like we will save her from a tidal wave. My Aunt Barb is at her side. We hug. My mother cries. When tears start rolling down her long, pale face, I get nervous. Her eyes are sallow. Her cheeks are hollow. She looks ten years older than she should. My aunt came along for the ride in order to see us. She looks great, trim, pink. We walk to the car. Inside, after we pay the short-term parking ticket and get on the highway toward Lyme, I stare out the window. I try to tell my mother about my summer teaching job back in Kansas. She sighs. She is nervous that I will never return to New Hampshire and I am nervous that she will be unhappy when I don’t. After a few minutes of this, the conversation turns to birdseed and mice. I swallow. Already, I am nervous.

Uneasy: Disturbed by pain or worry; restless; unstable. At my mother’s house, she places her purse in the downstairs den while we put our things in the spare bedroom. When I walk downstairs, she says, “I put my purse in the den. Remind me if I start to get panicky.” She talks to the cats and feeds them. Dan and I wander the house, wringing our hands. We are supposed to go to dinner with Aunt Barb and Uncle Keith. By the time we do, my mother has panicked about losing her purse three times. On the third, Dan walks out of the room.

ALS Disease: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association). In November, my Uncle Keith, a man who hosted my marriage to Dan on his back lawn, was diagnosed with ALS Disease. His legs were going out from underneath him. His right arm was nearly useless; he could barely cut tree limbs for firewood anymore, and he kept contracting pneumonia. Finally, the doctors found the cause. As devastated as Dan and I were, we wanted to keep positive. We told Barb how lucky it was that they have been married for almost forty years, we told them we loved them, we planned this visit. At a nearby diner, finally able to see Keith, he looks weaker, balder, but okay. He jokes, he drinks, he eats a whole pizza. His cheeks are flushed and he gets tired easily. He says he loves us in the parking lot as we part ways. On the drive home in my mother’s car, she tells us that she’s never liked Keith, that he used to throw Barb down the stairs. On our way into Lyme, back to her small house, Dan and I hold our breath, having nothing to say and nowhere to go.

Fatigue: Weariness from labor or stress; the tendency of a material to break under repeated stress. My birthday falls on the second day of our visit. My mother seems to be suffering from a head cold, or an allergy. She cannot stop coughing; it is tiring. She sets out a gift for me: a card and a bracelet. The bracelet says, “Just Be.” I think this is nice. I think maybe we’ll have a celebration this evening with wine and dinner. During errands, she asks what I’d like to have. I reply, “Macaroni and cheese.” She makes it best, creamy and thick. She agrees and coughs. On the way home, we pick up cakes my father has ordered by phone from Minnesota. My mother thinks this is all a big drama: what could he have sent me from King Arthur Flour Company? Cakes, I reason. We pick them up: a triple chocolate round cake, and a layered raspberry vanilla. They are beautiful. My mother looks at the receipts left on them and exclaims, “My God! How can he afford this? Who spends fifty dollars on cakes?”

At home, my mother naps. She watches Fox News and sips a drink. Dan and I stare numbly at the television. He offers to make dinner. My mother declines his help. Finally, at eight o’clock in the evening, she offers to make her favorite dish: tomatoes, sausage, and angel hair pasta. I say yes because I am starving. I say yes because I am tired, fatigued, weary.

Trouble: To agitate mentally or spiritually; an instance of stress or annoyance. By the third day of our visit, I become troubled. Aside from her coughing fits, she also neglects to eat. I have yet to see her have breakfast. For my birthday, we meet Barb at a local Hanover pub for lunch. My mother orders the least expensive item on the menu and barely touches her French Onion soup. At lunch, the topics include a wedding she doesn’t want to attend, the weight gain of a family member, the drug use of another, my father’s mysterious behavior, and their aging mother. My mother coughs into her soup until we stand to leave. She offers to pay for lunch and lets Barb pay instead. Outside, she says wistfully, “I wish I felt better; we could go birthday shopping.” I stand and see the mountains all around us and witness mothers and daughters gliding by in the winter sunshine. I take Dan’s hand and we walk behind my mother back to Barb’s office, where we watch Barb field phone calls for an hour. My mother is not at all troubled to stare out Barb’s icy window.

Alzheimer’s Disease: A degenerative disease of the central nervous system characterized especially by premature senile mental deterioration. My maternal grandmother has Alzheimer’s Disease, and she moved into a retirement community with her husband, my step-grandfather, Harold, whom my mother hates. My grandmother is sweet, with white hair, and she has gotten dressed for our visit to see her new apartment. To ease the obvious trouble she is having with where we have come from, we keep repeating the opening phrase, “Well, in Kansas...” and she nods. She does not know there is two feet of snow on the ground outside but remembers my name, which is all that matters to me today. Harold says little and elicits Dan’s help lugging a reclining chair from the storage unit into their living room. They show us their dining room, the fireplace, the library, the Nurse’s Station. It’s all very pretty and very, very hot inside. I tell my grandmother that I love her and I search her face for traces of me. I study her intently. On the way home, my mother says, “I cannot believe Harold, saying I never visit. I come over all the time.” At home, she calls up Barb to tell her what Harold said.

Agitate: To disturb or excite emotionally. My mother believes that her cats are agitating her respiratory system, and this is what is causing the coughing fits. That, or the wood-burning stove. Or the cold winter. Or the dry air. She says half-sentences until she coughs. She refuses breakfast or exercise. When we go into the Lyme Public Library, she stops and talks to a Lyme resident who leans into me and says, “You know, it’s good to see her, we never see much of her anymore.” My mom is agitated; her face turns red. She sighs and says, “Now, that’s not true. Don’t say that to my only daughter. What will she think?”

Depression: A condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal; sadness greater and more prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason. When my mother’s boyfriend died, she went into a deep depression. He was carrying a Christmas tree off his Christmas Tree Farm across the street from her house, smack in the center of Lyme. He collapsed and died. It was his heart. My mother’s heart went, too. She sunk into a pit, saying things like, “The world is not good,” and “All politicians are bad people,” or “There’s no one else left for me out there, I am all alone.” Dan and I try our best, we really do. I tell her of the power of positive thinking. Dan makes her half-laugh in the kitchen. She eats a piece of leftover, expensive triple chocolate cake. She laughs little and coughs a lot. Her depression weaves its veiny way across her temple, over her rough, red cheeks, and maneuvers itself into her lungs, where she tries and tries to ignore it, coughing up rough old bits.

Mother: Something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else. I try to mother my mother, and I fail. I try to give her bacon at breakfast; she turns it down. I ask her if I can make her a doctor’s appointment, and she declines. I ask her to revisit her therapist, and she replies, “But at my last session, she said everything was fine and I was back to my normal self, that I didn’t need any more help.” I lower my eyelids when she says this, and try not to pull out my hair. On the long drive to the airport, we pass out of Lyme and its red schoolhouse, its pristine town square, and I have to guide her to the right roads. She nearly misses the exit to the airport; I point feverishly at the airplane icon on the sign and tell her to switch lanes. It’s as if I am teaching her to drive again. I am.

Mother: A woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother. When I say goodbye to my mother at the airport, I weep. I weep as I am asked to take off my sweatshirt for security reasons. I weep as I walk through the metal detector. I weep and watch her wave from behind the glass. I weep and watch her go; she weeps and watches me go. I consider moving back to Lyme and I know I never will. I consider moving her to Kansas and I know she won’t come. She is consumed by Lyme and its vast fields of family history. I wave until I cannot any longer, and then I order a glass of white wine in the airport bar, and I weep into it as Dan mothers me and we board the plane for home.

* Definitions found in The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1994 unless otherwise noted. My mother gave me this dictionary in 1994 for Christmas.


Samantha Bell is an Assistant Professor of English at Johnson County Community College in Kansas. She is a contributing editor with Emprise Review, and her work has appeared in a variety of places, most recently in In Posse Review, Shadowbox Magazine, and The Prose Poem Project. She lives in Lawrence with her husband Dan.

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