I tell the truth. I learned the value of doing it from my parents. Somewhere in my late twenties my brother once told me his insight on the truth, “You are responsible for telling the truth. You are not responsible for a person’s reaction to the truth.” This sounds simple. I imagine he learned the value of telling the truth from our parents as well.
Kathy DeMarco tells the truth. In the progression of her mental illness her honesty levels have sky-rocketed. Ask her any question and she will answer it honestly 98% of the time*. Ask her the right “type” of question and she will answer it honestly 100% of the time.
We are quickly progressing to a point where she will only repeat back what you have asked, and most times while she will answer a question with the added benefit of echolalia (where she repeats her statement over and over again). However, there are still moments, albeit brief, when she will answer your question in a normal, simple, direct, yet perfect and profound way. An example from last weekend:
Me: Mom, do you like milkshakes?
Mom: No. I don’t like milkshakes.
Me: You don’t like milkshakes?
Mom: No. I love milkshakes.
(I paused for a moment and just stared into my mom’s face. Wow, what a perfect statement.)
The progression of this disease has taken the inflection out of my Mom’s voice. Sometimes, her monotone delivery hits your ears flat and sharp, like a razor, but the simple honesty hits your brain like a ton of bricks. There are times, like that one, where I am caught off guard by the sincerity in her answer. I’ve never weighed the emotional attachment to milkshakes in such a way.
“I don’t like milkshakes. I love milkshakes.” This has been stuck in my head for the last few days. Ask a simple question and you get a simple answer. Sometimes, and quite rarely, you get a perfect answer. An answer where there is nothing more you can add. My mom has produced a few of those.
Back in the Hiawatha days, when Mom was living in Elkins, West Virginia, we went for our routine walk through Big Lots. In those days our routine consisted of picking up Kathy, stopping first for a visit at the Hiawatha store, then Big Lots, then Wal-Mart, and then a stop at Wendy’s (the cherry on top!).
We started our snaking back and forth among the aisles in the front of the store, in the bath and beauty section. As we entered the aisle on one side an older lady (white short hair, sweater with a cat or fruit or kid with a kite on it, and mouth scowling with disdain that someone else dares to shop at Big Lots at the same time as her) entered the aisle on the opposite end. We squeezed pass each other’s shopping carts in the middle of the row, me smiling and nodding, her mouth pursed like a cat’s ass and a look as if I just walked on her white carpet with mud on my shoes.
This pattern continued up multiple aisles, from bath and body through home goods and picture frames, and now into kitchen supplies. The older lady stared at my Mom in each aisle. You could look at my Mom and tell something was not “normal”, and I was already used to the stares from the public, but this felt different. The older lady wasn’t simply starring, it was more like studying. I didn’t approve.
We were an aisle away from pets and food, in the back of the store, when we met for the last time. Kathy and I entered the row from one end, the older lady from the other. When we were almost in the middle, where we had previously squeezed past one another, the women looked at my Mom and then opened her mouth.
Woman: Wei-ell there. Lewk at ye-ew in yeur peink shirt. Aeren’t ye-ew pretty. (Her old women twang is bent on the words like music notes. The accent was so syrupy sweet and southern. It oozed with insincerity. I hate that about southern accents. The melodic tone put on condescending statements makes you feel like a wad of gum they just found on the bottom of their shoe.)
Mom: (Mom turned her whole body to face the woman) Hi.
Woman: Hi-ee. (She made “hi” a two syllable word.) Howh are yieeew todayee?
Mom: I have to piss and shit.
Time stood still in Big Lots for a moment. The old woman’s jaw had dropped open, and her face contorted. Her horrified expression suggested she was frozen on the spot, helpless, and my mother was trying to light her on fire.
Kathy just stood there. Waiting patiently if there was anything else the woman wanted to talk about. When Kathy lost interest in the shocked woman she turned away, and started walking down aisle.
The old woman turned to me, still wearing her shock and horror. I think she wanted to say something. Her mouth sort of flapped once like she wanted to speak, but then couldn’t find the words. I was positively beaming.
Me: We have to piss and shit. Have a nice day. (I didn’t wait for a response just followed Kathy down the row.)
Matt DeMarco once told me, “You are responsible for the truth. You are not responsible for someone’s reaction to the truth.” I imagine he learned this from my Mom. If you ask her the right “type” of question and she will answer it honestly 100% of the time. Sometimes, her monotone delivery hits your ears flat and sharp, like a razor, but the simple honesty hits your brain like a ton of bricks.
My Mom, Kathy, doesn’t like milkshakes. No. She loves them.
And that’s the truth.
*The 2% of the time:
(Kathy sits/lays down in the dentist chair. Dental Hygienist sits on a rolling stool in front of her. Me, I’m standing up against the counter, making sure things don’t go pear shaped.)
Dental Hygienist (DH): Kathy, I’m going to ask you some questions now. Okay?
Kathy (KD): Yes.
Me: Pardon miss, but you might want to avoid asking her “yes or no” questions if you want accurate information.
DH: I work with Alzheimer’s patients. I know what I’m doing.
Me: Okay then.
DH: Kathy, do your teeth hurt?
DH: Do some of your teeth hurt or…
KD: (interrupting) Yes.
DH: Or, do all of your teeth hurt?
DH: All you teeth hurt?
Me: Miss, I don’t think you are asking the right questions?
DH: She says all her teeth hurt. She most likely has trouble eating. I know what I’m doing.
Me: Right. But if you don’t mind, just humor me for a second. Mom?
KD: Yes, Joey.
Me: Do all your teeth hurt?
KD: Yes. (The dental hygienist opens her mouth and inhales. She is about to speak. I put my hand up to silence her, and then continue without looking in her direction.)
Me: Mom, were you born on Jupiter?
Me: Mom, were you really born on the planet Jupiter?
Me: Mom, where were you born?
KD: Charleston. West Virginia.
Me: Mom, which of your teeth hurt?
KD: My teeth don’t hurt, Joey.
Me: Miss, you can continue your questions now.