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Meryl Biju

Humans of Dementia Winner

My Mother Doesn’t Know Who I Am

My mother doesn’t know who I am. When I walk into the room, she smiles pleasantly like she has all the time in the world for me. But I know that smile, it is the same smile she gives strangers, the same smile she gives people walking down the street. My mother calls me “molu”- sweetheart- because she is too embarrassed to admit that she does not remember my name. My mother serves me chai everytime I come over, like I am a guest she needs to serve. She nods along to my stories pretending to recognize the names of everyone I mention, but I think she just likes the sound of my voice.

My mother doesn’t know who I am. She doesn’t know who my children are either. But whenever they’re in her house, she puts out a plate of sliced fruits and biscuits, like she did for me and my friends growing up. My mother has no idea that the girl lying across her lap, calling her “Ammachi”, is her granddaughter, but she strokes her hair anyway. I know those strokes, it is the same strokes she used on me whenever I complained about a headache. My mother has no idea who these kids running around her house are, but she always tears up when it is time for them to leave.

My mother doesn’t know who I am, but she does remember how to do calculus. My mother used to be a math teacher and that is a part of herself she cannot forget. So I test her ability, pulling out the same multiplication flashcards I use to teach my kids. My mother speeds through them, getting every question right. I ask her to help me find a derivative and she walks me through the steps- slowly, methodically- like I am the student and she is once again the master. She is patient and kind. When I determine the correct answer, she celebrates my accomplishment like I did it by myself. In her eyes, I can see joy. I can see pride. I can see the woman who raised me for a short moment in time.

My mother doesn’t know who I am, but she does remember how to make dosa. Every morning like clockwork, she wakes and starts mixing ingredients. I always follow her in, worried she will start a fire. But the kitchen is my mother’s element and she knows exactly how to manage it. I watch as those frail, worn hands knead the dough like they are on autopilot. My panic rises as she turns on the stove and then deems a spatula unnecessary, opting to use her hands to flip each dosa instead. My fears are needless as her fingers come back from each flip unburned- experts at the task at hand. I take a seat in the dining room and she lovingly places two dosas on my plate, commanding me to take more afterwards.

My mother doesn’t know who I am, but she does remember bible verses. The same verses she made me memorize when I was a kid, I now recite with her. When she gets too tired to speak from memory, I read the Bible to her as she falls asleep. Every night we pray together and each night I remember that she was the one who first taught me how to pray. Her lessons that it does not matter what I say as long as I say something sticks with me to this day. Does she know that all my prayers recently have been about her?

My mother taught me how to pray, how to cook, how to read, how to dance, how to sing, how to braid my hair, how to survive a period, how to stop a run in my stockings, how to laugh, how to cry, how to grieve, how to love, how to be me. My mother is who I called when I had my first child convinced I was doing everything wrong. My mother taught me to be strong. She still teaches me strength to this day, despite her Alzheimer’s. My mother sees every day as a new beginning and her optimism is contagious. My mother is my hero.

My mother doesn’t know who I am, but I know who she is. She will always be my mom.