I wrote this back in 2012, I tried to get it published. I have yet to succeed. I was doing a lot of writing in my head while I was caring for my mother. It was very difficult organizing my writing, editing, and so on – all in my head. I don’t want this piece to be confused with my Bill Cosby Forever moment piece because of the title and repetition of introspection. I almost changed the title and edited some things out just to keep it from being confused. But, I decided against it.
There is some creative license I’ve used in writing this. It is not a play by-play, everything did not occur in its exact order, it is not a verbatim literal account of events. It is merely a piece I wrote to understand and appreciate myself and humanity in this cruel world where a person’s life can be forever changed in an instant.
Pushing on the bar that ran the width of the glass door, which led to the outside, the door remained as I found it, unopened. Holding onto that bar I leaned back all the way to the soles of my feet and rocked on my heels, with the momentum I gave an effusive push and opened the door wide with room to spare. Free from the door, I walked outside.
I stood in a courtyard of squared concrete, the sun had shifted in the sky leaving long-fingered shadows, yet keeping the heat and swallowing me with the humidity. A wooden pergola stood in the middle to offer shade for the concrete picnic table full of picnickers invisible from sight. Hard rectangle slabs of concrete formed benches that surrounded the courtyard where no one sat. From behind I heard, “Here she is.” The nurse had brought my mother in her wheelchair. I told the nurse, “She likes to be outside.” The nurse looked me in the eyes, but said nothing, and walked away.
She sat in her wheelchair complete with a headrest to keep her head stable. Pillows had been positioned in the seat to keep her from slumping to one side or the other. Her PEG-tube, which for some reason was a good four feet extending from her stomach, had been coiled and neatly tucked into her elastic waist band knit pants. The left side of her lower lip dragged down and allowed saliva to escape and form a tiny pool at the corner of her mouth not much larger than a tear drop. I still had not gotten used to this newly altered state of my mother’s once perfectly precise and put together appearance.
My mind wandered back to the moment in the kitchen and the image now burned into my brain that replayed on a never-ending loop I couldn’t stop and caused my whole body to seize with terror, my muscles to contract and stiffen as if awaiting an expectant blow. I knew the moment it happened; I had been at work diligently pounding out the tasks that allowed me to be employed, then something stopped, quietly and without words, I knew, yet did not know, nor did I know what to do. A persistent pull like a child’s tug at her mother’s skirt hem never left my mind or heart until I finally left work, early and unsure. When I arrived at my mother’s home, the window in the front porch which allowed welcome guests access into the home’s hub, the kitchen, I saw. I dropped everything in my hands, even my keys, fumbling to recover the keys and searching for the one key that opened the front door, my heart beat wildly out of control and all I heard was the boom of my blood pumping out of my heart and filling my ears with cacophonous explosions. I ran into the kitchen taking note of her glasses neatly folded one arm under the other lying upright on the opened oven door, not the door to the large oven that could cook a turkey but the small oven door on top that was used to cook gingersnaps and sugary snickerdoodles, I found my mother lying face down on the over-sized ceramic tile floor.
“Stroke”, the doctor told me with the grace of an East German Olympic athlete during the Cold War, with one word the doctor reduced the whole of my mother, her intelligence, her wit, her beauty, her soul, into a non-thing, a word which was to replace all other adjectives I had ever believed and known about her before. “I can show you the CAT-Scan, “ the faceless doctor insistently urged in his cold metallic manner because he perceived my reaction as disbelief. He tried to placate me by placing his fine un-calloused hand on my shoulder; all I felt from him were the flimsy textbook pages from which he had studied for years and the coolness with which he understood it all. I turned my head and thinned my lips, and with everything in me I resisted the impulse to snap his arm off from his shoulder.
The stroke left one side of her body unable to remember how to work and function, how to step and walk, how to grasp and release, how to chew and swallow, but the real war lay buried deep behind countless steel doors, one shut upon the other, all different sizes, shapes, configurations, and a constant search to find the master-key. Connections in her brain were severed, blocked, malfunctioning, out-of-order, round pegs in square holes trying to find how to fit together again. She spoke in single words, not in sentences and only sometimes, you had to be there for it to happen because she was not able to repeat it again. Her hearing was intact, yet the device that allows us all to comprehend and perceive words out of the noise and sounds that fill our ears, was lost.
The air lay stagnant inside the courtyard, I feel the long shadow from the oak tree just beyond the courtyard slice me with its generous shade leaving my feet to be the only part of me lit in the falling sunlight. I search my mother’s face trying to remember who she was before the metal chair she is sitting in, before her lying face down on the over-sized ceramic tile floor, when she was strong and so capable and like a superhero to me with her ability to find a solution to every single problem I encountered, and I feel myself failing, the crispness of her body has already started to fade, blurring, the edges are no longer traced with a black line. I begin to wonder who we really were to one another. She is my mother and I am her daughter, but we weren’t always friends or even friendly at times just like most mothers’ and daughters. I feel a strange sensation not like nostalgia grip me in the small tidy corners of myself where I keep the stories I never tell anyone neatly tucked away.
Parts of me covered in shadow are begging to speak, to know, to understand, to tell and share secrets, I don’t feel the desire to reminisce about how my mother would help me fall asleep when I was scared or too excited to want to lie still by taking her finger and tracing a letter on my back and I would guess the letter and eventually the word, or how she taught me to bake bread by kneading the dough with the heel of my hand, or the time she physically shoved me into the room where the Drama club was meeting and slammed the door, forcing me to overcome my irascible shyness and bring out my gregarious giggles that I barely showed anyone. I want to share with her about the times we didn’t talk to one another.
I remember when puberty came and stole the simple and unaffected language we used with each other. My first love was a hard one for my mom to accept. I fell in love with black eyeliner. I felt the gap begin to open between us the first day I left for school with my love circled eyes. Black eyeliner and I were soul mates finally discovering each other, and black eyeliner soon became the only friend I would speak to, confide in, and share secrets with, leaving my mother out. Quickly followed were the years of flirting with boys trying to figure out that dance, but never really succeeding, or understanding all the dance steps and I soon became convinced that my dutiful and faithful mother’s words, I love you, were merely the words of an actor playing their role. The rebelliousness of teenage years left a distance between my mother and I that grew into a wide ravine awaiting a flash flood.
Then the day came when he walked into a room and I smiled at him like the little girl I still was, he said he loved me, so I left home for him because I thought this is how I start my own life, and as fast as I walked out the door, I fell away from everything I had ever known. The next two years I spent moving, always moving away. I moved seven times because I had to move because his love was a love that hurts. I found myself walking one day when I saw a police station. I stopped for a moment staring at the police station on the other side of the street when I decided right then, I could not go in, I turned and went the other way, and just as the police station left my periphery I felt the white-hot metal pour its liquid lava over me, starting at my head, washing over me in waves until it reached my toes and into the ground. I felt it cauterize every pore, every organ, and every cell to the depths of my soul, and then I kept walking because I knew that was the only way to survive.
Once I was able to walk back to my mother and try talking to her again, I could never tell her my shame and why I always, always, always looked over my shoulder. It kept a space between use physically and emotionally, yet she was still my dutiful and faithful mother who told me she loved me.
A tiny lizard hurriedly crossed the courtyard and stopped almost dead in front of me; I squatted down to get a better look at him. His eye tilted upward to get a better look at me. I turned my gaze toward the interior of the courtyard studying the harsh landscape when I heard my mother say, “I love you.” She had only spoken about a dozen words in the nearly forty days since her stroke, yet the moment she spoke I dismissed her precious words like one swats away a buzzing fly. My mind was still concentrating and consumed with myself and what I wanted to say and how could I possibly tell or share anything with my mother anymore when I stopped just for a moment and felt something shift in the deepest part of me, an un-stumbling of blocks, of sands shifting.
My mother, the last person in the world I had left who loved me, yet I ignored and distrusted her and her words. Then, without warning, I felt a trickle of a thought, who had my mother been before she was my mother? I knew what she had been, a child, a daughter, a teenager, a young adult, but who had she been? Did she have dreams that never came true, had she known disappointment, sorrow, hurt, pain, joy beyond motherhood, happiness without regret, blind passion, unbearable forgiveness, sweet satisfying sex, a tender touch that melts the world away? Had I ever really looked at her beyond the fact of being my mother? Had I ever loved her beyond being my mother? Sometimes isn’t that why we say, “I love you” to fill in the gaps that we can’t yet reach? We know those gaps and spaces exist, yet we fill the holes with those three words until we can mend our own wounded gaps, fill the spaces, or acknowledge our own tidy corners.
Suddenly, for the first time what I heard was not simply, I love you, what I heard was I see you, I believe in you, I see you. I understood my mother for the first, I began to know my mother for the first time, I started to glimpse my mother for the first time. I fell to my knees with tears streaming, trying to place all my emotions and hold on to my newly softened understanding, and I felt a sloughing off of all that dead skin I had held so tightly that I never realized had deformed me, the deadened tangled nerves, a labyrinth of dead ends I created to keep anyone including myself from finding, me.
I walked over to my mother, I gently brushed away the hair from her forehead, and I kissed her cheek and said, knowing even as I said these words that she could hear me, but she would not understand me, “I love you.”
I stepped behind her wheelchair, grabbed a hold of the handles and rocked back on my heels and pushed until the wheels in the wheelchair began to move as I pushed her inside.