choosing my mental health over my mother

The last time my mother came to visit, she arrived smelling of cigarettes, coffee, and Blue Magic hairdress. I inhaled her familiar fragrance as I hugged her, then loaded up her things and drove the forty minutes from the Baltimore bus station back to my place, where she would stay for the next week.

At home, we were greeted by a note on the door saying the water had been turned off. My stomach tightened and my mind raced. The note said that even if we paid the bill immediately, the water company would not come out to turn the water back on until the next business day, two whole days away. I knew my mother would not do well with this: The problem had nothing to do with her, but she didn’t see it that way. In her eyes, trouble followed her. Someone was always after her, watching and plotting.

"I have to go," she said. "They don’t want me here."

She had no rest, and I had no rest when I was with her. She wouldn’t sit down or get comfortable and she kept her purse on her shoulder. She offered to stay at a hotel over the weekend, certain that if she left, the water would somehow be released. I stayed calm. I refused to take her to a hotel.

I remembered how to handle her. I still believed that if I tried hard enough, I could outsmart the voices in her head and make her feel safe.

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photo credit: getty images.