I tell her, “Don’t cry. The tears will wash you away and leave you with only salt.”
“My babies are gone,” she says.
The woman was a girl once, was my mother now, could have been yours.
I tell her, “I’m still here.”
She looks at me like she’s peering down a well. “I don’t think you are.”
She’d been released from the psych ward last month. The only time she ever voluntarily admitted. After, she asked to move in with me. She didn’t have any place to go. She’d been living in a trailer that I needed to sell at Shady Oak RV Park. I had bills to pay. The vet said my dog had elbow dysplasia and needed hydrotherapy. I had dreams. I wanted to be a deep diver. Nothing was working out.
The Shady Oak owners wanted Mom out. They called her a menace. I called them, “money-grubbing slumlords trying to fuck over an elderly woman on a fixed income.”
They said, “Listen, our hands are tied. We have no hands. The neighbors are tired of her turning into a puddle that screams at the moon.”
I said, “She deserves a home.”
They said, “She’s scaring people. They’re moving away. We are losing customers.” I picture my mom: a tiny woman, a wizened water deity almost dried up, somebody’s bogeywoman.
They said, “She keeps talking to the hose.”
I said, “She cannot help how she flows.”
They said, “She is destroying our property. We worry about her. Even after the notices of violation, she continues to excavate the backyard. We thought she was digging her grave, but she said she was digging out a pool because she wanted to return home.”
They said, “After dark, she unspools her rosary, shrieking prayers at the moon, waking up the neighbors. The trailer lights switch on one by one, a patchwork quilt of rage and insomnia. She says the moon can save her. Says the moon dictates her waves, her moods, her mind.”
They said, “We are afraid Jimmy will hurt her. In the night when she turns into yelling water he comes out and stomps on her puddle. We don’t know how these things work.”
I said, “I give up.”
She came to live with me in blistering July. We became perspiration that day.
I had told her, “You either go for awhile to the Perpetual Help psych ward or two hours away to the Salvation Army in Austin; there are no other openings; and I won’t be able to see you because of the distance.”
She said, “But you are the only thing I have.”
I said, “If you stay on your meds, you can move in with me after. I promise.”
She never looked smaller than when the orderlies took away her socks and belt. She looked back as she went away.
My therapist had lectured me about enabling and surrogate spouse relationships and betrayal bonds and how I was cosigning enmeshment and codependency. He asked, “Do you know what covert incest is?” He asked me a lot of things. I stopped going to therapy.
Things are good for weeks. She cleans and cooks the meals of my childhood, does my laundry, avoids getting swallowed by the washer. We go for a hike of a mangrove forest, savor the heavy breeze, reminisce about how she taught me to swim.
Signs begin to tell. She stops seeing her psychiatrist, calls him an Enemy of Water, reassures me that she’s taking her meds. She talks about the moon. She overflows the tub, then apologizes as she towels down the no longer lonely linoleum. She starts sleeping outside under the stars, dancing under full moons. She nearly drowns my dog. I ask her if she is taking her meds. She parrots yes. I tell her to take her meds. She parrots again, gets quiet, then rages. I print out a daily med chart that I tape to the fridge. She agrees to check the checkboxes but never does. She banshee wails, and neighbors call the cops.
I say, “You can’t stay here or I’ll lose my home.” I see her reaction. Later, I look into the mirror and I see her reaction in me.
She says, “I’ll be better. I’ll take my meds.” I see tired eyes.
A couple days pass and the tub overflows. This time, the carpet is sopping wet and cold. I put on Crocs, Google, “how to prevent mold and mildew.”
I call her old psych ward. I call the mobile crisis unit. I call Adult Protective Services. I call the cops. People visit. She stops agreeing to see them. Everyone is a do-nothing. They say because she refuses assistance or because she appears stable or because she is living with me she is not a danger to herself or others and their hands are tied; in fact, they have no hands; and they refer me to the courts; they say that maybe I can file to be her guardian but that it’s not a quick fix because all good things take time.
I pack up her things. I place them outside the door. I tell her to leave in a voice I hope is convincing even as it shakes.
Her face is wet. She says, “You are the way everyone else always has been.”
She undoes herself, unleashing. She floods my third-floor apartment, soaks into the carpet, the baseboards, the subfloor. Now, I’ve received my own notice of violation. The landlord calls her an “undesirable occupant,” says I must pay for the damage done to my apartment and to the apartments below. But I don’t want to leave. My mom lives here now. I can see her. The laminate keeps sweating.
I sit down. I think about what to do, and then I mop the floor.
Aureleo Sans is a Colombian-American, non-binary, queer, formerly unhoused writer with a disability who resides in San Antonio, Texas. This year, she is a Sewanee Writers Conference Scholar, a Tin House Scholar, a Roots Wounds Words Writers Retreat fellow, a Lambda Literary fellow, an ASF Workshop Fellow, and a Periplus fellow. Her work has appeared in The Offing, Shenandoah, Salamander, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @aureleos.
Image: Henrik Sorensen/Getty