When I was a little girl, my parents used to take me shopping to various malls every Saturday. Wandering through the labyrinths of Wannamakers and Gimbels, through their tight made beds shrouded with matching comforters and shams, the creepy mannequins, looking like the victims of torture with their clawed fingers and grotesque painted lips, I was supernaturally bored, so stiflingly out of my element at the age of 4 or so that I tried to create some excitement by ducking under the metal racks of clothing and not responding to my mother's frantic calls. Or, wanting to avoid my father's wrath, I merely stood in a stupor so profound that it almost qualified as an altered state of consciousness. I stood in the three-framed mirrors contemplating myself, wishing that for once, the person who appeared there could be someone entirely different, someone I had never seen before. When I stared into the silvery receding distance of the mirror, like a veil of mist, I would imagine that the substance of that world before me would soften and part, allowing me, a latter-day Alice in a suburban Wonderland, to step in. Funny how what was so uninteresting and ordinary on my side of this barrier could be so fascinating that I would wish to sever my ties to this world altogether to get to it.
Today, I was the adult, with my mother in her Other-land of dementia. She wandered through the aisles, her head cocked like a sparrow's, eyes not quite focusing on the gleaming bangles and watches in the jewelry department of Steinmart. Quite frequently, like a small child, she picked things up and wanted to stuff them in our basket, oddments, random clothes in no one's size,---generally hidious--sweet, unhealthy foods, expensive perfumes that I know she would pour immediately over her head if I bought them (something I know because I have bought them for her before, and have been asked, politely, by the caregiver, not to do it again because the powerful fumes almost made the caregiver pass out). Today it was a watch. She says her watch doesn't work. Of course, she has never told me this, so that I could get a battery for it. She just stuck it in a drawer and assumed I didn't want her to have a working watch.
So today I said yes to a bracelet watch with a turquoise band. My mother can no longer wear regular watch bands. She can't manage them because her hand shakes too much to do up and undo them. So I bought her a bracelet watch last year, and it worked well. Even though the watches at Steinmart were locked into their boxes and we couldn't try them on, I assumed that any of them with a bracelet would be okay. The chain ones are always too big--for me as well as her. Our wrists are like twigs. so that the watches flop about, threatening to fall off. The upshot of this is that I cheerfully bought this watch, put it on mom's wrist, and packed my parents and the purchases into the car. An hour later, I was home again, and the phone rang. It was my dad, sounding so sad that he scared me for a minute. "It's about Lydia," he said. "What's wrong?" I was getting ready to run back to the car, to the emergency room, or maybe it was too late for that. "She lost the watch." It was a relief. Probably even now it is lying in the back seat, stuffed between the cushions. Or maybe on the floor. I haven't gone to look yet, but I have to laugh, thinking that the shoe is now certainly on the other foot.