Jennifer L. Freed
Eight Months After My Mother’s Stroke, My Parents Decide To Leave Assisted Living

She wants capers, cumin, garlic. Fresh basil
in the salad. Feta cheese.
She wants olives with the pits. The whole
chicken—skin and bone and dark.
She wants the carcass
for soup. She’ll risk
a few spills.
She needs
to try, to know what will happen
if she tries.

He speaks of escaping
the bingo, the sing-alongs,
the bland faces, bland chatter.
He thinks he can see well enough
to do what she used to,
as long as she tells him
what to do. He thinks
he can hear well enough to hear her
instructions. He doesn’t think
of what a woman holding her walker
can’t lift or carry or clean.
He doesn’t know
how much time he would have to give
to rinsing salad greens, bringing plates to the table.
He doesn’t know how often
she’d want to wash the sheets,
or how long it would take him
to help put them back on the bed,
or how little of the day he’d have left
after emptying the dishwasher
and sweeping the floor, and keeping watch
outside her bathroom door. I know
it is hope
that carries him away.
Eight months in this place.
He feels buried alive
in this place full of waiting
to die.