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My mother had been saying “I need to get out of here” for hours. The night before, she had called out into the darkness from her recliner, lost in the woods and needing help finding her way home. The only time we had left the house during my visit to Connecticut was for a doctor’s appointment two days earlier, to get more bad news she couldn’t understand. It was time, no matter the approaching storm nor the fact that she wasn’t able to walk.
I got her into the wheelchair, laboriously pivoted her into the car, closed the door. We drove downtown to get her watchband fixed. She was so worried about her watch, the only concrete item on her mental list. She sat in the car as I ran into the jeweler’s, and the rain was almost impenetrable when I returned. Mommy was so glad to put her watch on, although she couldn’t remember which wrist. We drove on. Getting out had been so much work, and it seemed to be doing her some good.
She had a urinary tract infection, adding restlessness to her disorientation and the tremor in her arm, but she wanted to keep going past the point where we could have turned for home. On an impulse, I headed toward a famously rough, steep road, and the tires ground over wet gravel. Had we been listening to the radio, we would have heard flash flood warnings.
The road was washing out from underneath us, a chunk of it falling away down a steep slope as we struggled upward, the car bolting like a startled animal. I swore and gasped, Mommy laughed, and we rounded the bend at the crest of the hill, clearing the danger. She said, “I’ve never felt so much agony and so much thrill at the same time.” The brush with disaster had caused me to forget about her discomfort. “Do you want to go home?” I asked, and she replied, “Oh, no, never.”
Rain still pouring down, we returned to paved road, and she said, “Daddy will want to marry someone else when I die, someone who moves quickly and who’s fun to walk next to.” I feebly attempted to reassure her, but she shrugged and said, “I know, I know.” Then the sun emerged, and we found ourselves on a stretch of road lined with the most brilliant red maples. “This’ll be the last of them,” she said. “The leaves will all be washed away.” I pulled over, and we stared at the color as though it would be gone in less than a minute.
The rain started again, and she grew anxious. We were just a few minutes from home, but our arrival felt like a return from very far away. My sister couldn’t believe we had gone out. It wasn’t the time to say I was sure the excursion would make things better.
We were dripping when we got inside, but Mommy’s face was bright as I toweled her off, and she said, “That was the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me.” Daddy and Jennifer stared silently when we told them where we had been. Maybe they thought we were making too much out of a small adventure, or maybe they could see that we were washed clean, filled with a sense of having done what we set out to do.
The next day was my husband’s birthday, so I left for Boston early to take him to lunch. The leaves had, indeed, blown away. I noticed how briskly we walked to the neighborhood seafood joint, how I kept up with him under the cloudless sky, how nothing hurt but there wasn’t much to say.
Three weeks later she was gone. Like the leaves, the rain, the road beneath our wheels.Vivian Montgomery is a musician in Medford. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag. Tell your story. E-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.