I’m looking at my mother and touching her hand, but she doesn’t look back at me. She stays still, folded on herself, her back bent forward, looking down; then she shuts her eyes as hard as she can. She is trying to keep out the sounds and the images that seem to attack her from the outside. The world around her is frightening. Elvira tells me that my mother no longer wants to leave the house. The familiar and comforting meaning of things seems lost to her. Sometimes the world falls on her as a wall of noise, loud and unpleasant. All she can do is shutting it off.
I’m sitting with my mother in her kitchen in Rome, at the white folding table she bought many years ago (in the world of my parents, I notice, things last much longer; they are so much more permanent than mine). I’ve always liked this tiled room, all white and aqua and filled with light (the Roman light: open, merciless, and with a weightless quality I’ve not found anywhere else.)
She is wearing a white nightgown, a long burgundy robe, and a shawl of the same color. “She is always cold,” tells me Elvira. She also tells me that my mother doesn’t want to take baths. She used to take her clothes off, before they changed her medications.
I know she still recognizes me: she lets me sit close to her and talk to her. Occasionally, she does look in my eyes. Then she says: “Andiamo,” let’s go. I take her hand, which is cold, and we start walking in a circle through the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the hallway that goes by her bathroom and her bedroom, then the kitchen again. We go around and around at a slow, careful pace that reminds me of walking meditation. It is walking meditation: I try to be present. I try to feel her. What is left of her, I notice myself thinking.