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Piece By Piece
By Nickolena Kassolis 

(Page 2 of 2)

Now, Mom is becoming a person for me. I am learning who Paula Kassolis is. And I am learning how much I like her. With Alzheimer’s disease, I cannot expect anything from her. She cannot disappoint me or embarrass me. She is what she is. The more time we have together, the more I appreciate her life and her love and her laugh. Her laugh is the best, a steady chuckle that begins with a roaring “Ah ha” and repeatedly peaks and plateaus, up and down, her hand on her stomach to control the giggles and her face red with delight. Her eyes tear when she laughs and I think crying and laughing might be one and the same because our bodies go through the same motions: short breath, erratic facial expressions, red face, tears.

I cycle through so many phases of coping with her disease. Anger passed quickly, but sadness resonates above my head. And today I realize how much I will miss her, not as a mother, but as a person. And I think I will miss her laugh the most.

Her three to five years are dwindling quickly. It’s been four years since her diagnosis, and now I am just waiting. She is almost living on borrowed time, and I am never sure of when I will become a nameless face she cannot identify. Time is a vacuum to her. It exists and she knows it exists, but it has no meaning. She wears a digital watch and can read the time back to me if I ask.
“Let’s see…eight, four,…seven,” she says. “It’s eight forty-seven. Yep, eight, four, seven.” But ask her what most people are doing at 8:47 in the evening and she won’t know. Ask her what time she wakes up in the morning and she will tell you noon.

Eastern philosophy speaks of time – of breath time, not clock time. We can measure time by the ticks of a clock or we can measure time with the breaths we take to fill our lungs with oxygen. I like to think that Mom is on breath time where the eight, the four, and the seven are just numbers that don’t have to mean anything at all.

A metal plate hangs on her bedroom wall. The copper was intricately cut to emulate both the sun and the moon and painted in a bleed of colors — teal, purple, orange and yellow. The sun’s exterior has twelve rays shapely carved to look like flames of fire. Inside the core sits a crescent moon with a face etched onto its surface. The plate is a sundial, an archaic way of calculating time. The sun and moon, working in tandem, depicted through metal that draws no distinction between when one ends and the other begins.


Nickolena Kassolis’ writing has appeared in Sonora Review and Welter. She is currently writing a book-length memoir about her mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease. Nickolena has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and publishing and lives with her husband, Scott, in Pennsylvania.


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