1. Jacobson, Joy MFA

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My mother and I are on my parents' screened-in porch. They have lived in this assisted-living facility in Florida for the three years since my mother's diagnosis with Lewy body dementia and Capgras syndrome, a rare psychosis in which the patient believes that imposters have replaced a loved one. My father is her full-time caregiver, deftly managing medications, appointments, therapies, and hallucinations. I visit quarterly. Now she's staring at the grass beyond the pond, where, she says, Jake is working. Can I see him? I can't, I tell her. There, can't I see him working in the grass?

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We go out for a walk, passing first through the apartment, where Dad is watching TV. She says a perfunctory good-bye, refusing his suggestion that we take the walker. We stroll toward the garden, on the way passing Jake's hill and the building where, she believes, he lives without her now. "Why can't I just accept it?" she asks, fighting tears. As we near a dementia unit, she veers toward it, pulling me with unforeseeable strength.


"Where are you going, Mom?" I ask.


"I'm going to see Jake."


"Mom, I'm certain Dad isn't in there."


"How do you know? Did somebody tell you?"


This glimpse of her shrewdness hurts, like looking at the sun.


"Well," I answer-rigid with fear of defying the one who made me-"I know it because we just saw him at home. You believe there are two Jakes because of the disease you have, the Capgras-"


"No!! That's not true!!" she says. We're wandering away from the building now, toward the garden, looking for a bench, but they've been dismantled in preparation for a hurricane. We poke through the plants, neither of us able to name the flowers, not even the bright red ones Mom had bordered our driveway with years ago.


I never was a gardener, not like her. The differences between us, taken for granted for so long, seem glaring to me now, and awful. But her dementia, vile though it is, has given us a new kind of intimacy. In their kitchen, Mom is dictating letters to old friends. I transcribe, help with words. I ask her, "What do you think of when you think of Carol?" Carol's been her friend for 60 years. "Hooves," my mother says, and so we write a poem for Carol, which begins, "When Doris thinks of you she thinks of horses." The poem ends


Doris loves the funniest horses because


They are so smacky, they rear up


And try to scare everybody


There. Which is fine and true, for some


Reason. Amen.


For weeks afterward I read it over and over, this proof of her brilliance.


After several years without a break, my father has begun to speak of not being able to continue with her care. Despite his devoted ministrations, her body seems to be abbreviating itself: the shuffle of the gait, the hump on the spine, the quiver in the arms. She takes a small dose of an antipsychotic each afternoon, and by early evening she is nearly faint if she hasn't napped. She holds the telephone with the earpiece at her mouth. She can barely write her name. She can play Yahtzee, although Dad must keep score. She reads. She recognizes me. She eats as much chocolate as she can.


On my most recent visit she had fallen; she wasn't hurt, but I couldn't get her up without my father's help. One accepts what one must, and then one takes it to the river. On a sunless afternoon I walk home from work alone along the Hudson. It is unseasonably warm. I stroll in my tank top. Wind slaps at the current and at my face and arms. I ask it, What is best for my mother? Its answer comes in gusts. Maybe, it says. Maybe now, or soon. As a mercy. The decease of struggle. For her. Perhaps you might. Permit this death.


I don't stop walking. I stare at the unfathomable brown waters of the Hudson. Damn this wind, I hiss, as the tiny whitecaps nod their assent.


The one true Jake visits daily now that she's in the special-care unit. It's urgent that she tell him something-she has loved him all along-but she can't make her mouth form the words. Each day a large man appears in her doorway. Good Morning, Miss Doris, he sings, Rise and Shine. But she cannot rise. He sings of a yellow shirt he will put on her body. She knows all about yellow from the afternoon sun. She has heard the sun hum when they leave her to nap, trapped in the bed. That's when Jake might arrive, through the slats in the window, to sit in her chair.