Her mother was in hospice, waiting to die. The daughter thought of the argument she and her mother had had about the rug.
Six months earlier, the letter had come: “Now that you’re approaching 65,” the HMO said, “It’s time to remove rugs. The leading cause of injuries in the elderly is falling.” This letter was sent to the daughter’s husband who biked, hiked and climbed on the roof to do repairs. He didn’t need this advice, except when he wasn’t looking where he was going and bumped into lamp posts.
The daughter decided this advice was meant for her eighty-eight year old mother. The corners of the rug in her mother’s dark apartment curled up and stuck in the door. When her mother entered, she couldn’t see the rug until she turned on the light, an accident waiting to happen. Her mother’s own doctor hadn’t given her any advice about rugs, but he missed many things. She’d nagged her mother about the rug several times over the past five years. She tucked away the HMO letter in the back of her mind for future use The HMO’s letter would lend authority to what she’d been saying.
It was when they were driving home from the mother’s visit to the eye doctor that the daughter spoke up. The doctor had told them that the mother was blind in one eye, something neither of them had known although the mother had guessed. Being blind in one eye meant you couldn’t measure depth. She pictured her mother falling on the rug.
“Mother,” she said in the close quarters of the small car. “You have to get rid of the rug.”
“I like it,” her mother said.
“But you might fall.”
“I haven’t fallen yet.”
“I got a letter from my HMO saying I should get rid of my rugs. If I should, certainly you should.”
“I haven’t fallen yet.”
“Yet?” she yelled. “Yet?” Her mother’s stubborn repetition was infuriating. It was like jumping off a skyscraper and saying on the way down, “I haven’t died yet.”
“Mother,” she continued yelling, “you have to do the things to help your children so there isn’t an emergency where one of your kids has to jump on the plane and come help.”
“I haven’t done that.”
“Yes, you have.”
“Well,” she said, “I haven’t done it by falling on the rug. I’m sorry I just don’t drop dead and die. I’m sorry I’ve lived this long.”
“You know I’m not saying that.”
“Yes, I do, but it’s what it feels like.”
When the daughter apologized that evening, her mother said, “It’s the 6th day. No one should stay more than 5 days. Your sister yelled at me on the 6th day.”
The daughter was glad to hear it. She didn’t think her sister ever yelled.
“I also blame it on the rental car,” her mother added. “You’re not used to a stick shift.”
The daughter had worried she wouldn’t be able to shift easily but it was what the doctor had said that made her anxious enough to yell at her mother in confines of an unfamiliar car as they drove through traffic.
When she returned to her own home after seven days, she told her siblings about the fight. Not until she had repeated the story four times did she understand what her mother meant by “yet.” Her mother was saying she’d been careful, she hadn’t fallen, yet. She could still manage on her own.
A month later, her mother sent her a magazine article on a family of Ashkenazi Jews who lived to one hundred years old in good mental and physical health.
“Even though I’m Ashkenazi,” her mother said when they talked, “I’m definitely not part of that family.”
“Did you notice that the 104 year Ashkenazi Jewish woman, who was in excellent health, died from tripping on a rug?”
“No, I didn’t.”
A few months later, she flew back to her mother’s.
“Look!” Her mother pointed to the entryway. The rug wasn’t there.
“Congratulations.” The daughter produced a wide, pleased smile.
“Look,” her mother said again and pointed towards the living room. The rug lay under the coffee table, ends curled, ready to trip her as she sat down or rose from the couch.
That was the rug story.
As her mother lay dying in hospice, she bent to her mother’s ear and said, “You were right, the rug didn’t get you.” Her mother smiled.
The daughter keeps the rug in her entryway to remind her she doesn’t know everything. The ends still curl.
“It’s an ugly old rug,” her husband said, “and one of us is going to fall and break a bone.”
“We haven’t yet,” she said.