In my mother’s guest room, the smell of the apple cinnamon carpet deodorizer she used religiously permeable throughout the whole of the house and keenly in this space too, I took to the bed. Samsonite, my mother’s dog that has once been my own before student housing found out about the terrier, accepted my unexpected presence with the bowl of kibble I gave him and the place beside me in bed that he assumed. I settled into the bed, and tried to put all the stressful things to the back of my head in an effort to accept sleep. Yet, although I had quit the responsibilities associated with an employment under Death, the duties hadn’t gotten the memo yet to quit me. As I felt myself losing consciousness, and the images start up once more, I found that I hadn’t even the energy to fight them. I let them come.
Death clusters and sticks to itself. Death is its own best friend and it keeps to itself. No one invites Death to dinner or out for drinks or to your child’s soccer game…but there he is just the same, the uninvited guest that everyone forgot about until just now.
Behind the veil of closed eyes, there was a multitude of falling shadows and as they fell, they piled upon one another. Everything is wet and loud, and there’s a panic that pushes so hard against your chest that you are absolutely certain it will cave. There is a beating beneath your rib cage that cannot possibly be contained much longer. You shush it like a small child, and you move your legs to a series of steps that form the dance of fleeing in the name of protecting that little bird in your chest. You chew the inside of your cheek, and know that you should stop. The world sways back and forth like your ship somehow got pushed to sea. There’s a tear in the skin of a a fruit you just picked from a passing tree. There’s a shot from a gun somewhere, several guns actually, and the field that was once reserved for livestock is now so smokey that you have no idea if the blurry shapes running here and there are ghosts or…You find yourself unable to focus. Everything is going a blurry blue and you find that you don’t care what is happening around you. There is nothing left but the strong hand that pushes you down and demands you submit to the absence.
When I woke up, my body was pressed against the wall that the bed rested alongside as though I was trying to escape from something. My dreams had been a nonsensical mess that I had no idea how to unknot . They were filled with color and roars of sound, and hundreds of deaths, but I had no idea who’s ends I had seen.
I rubbed Sams head and opened the back door so that he could go out to do his business, and made all the necessary dress preparations so that I could go see my mother. I checked in at the lobby floor info desk, and they let me know Mamma had been moved to a regular room on the third floor.
In her room, there was already a vase of great white lilies, although she couldn’t have been settled in the room for more than an hour when I got there. She was fussing over them, grooming them for wilted leaves like a primate might comb the skin of its fellows. She looked up from this as I entered the door, and smiled wide.
“My Angel, I am so happy to see you here. But you could have slept in!” she said, almost scolding. “The doctor has already been by, and he says I will be here at least another day to recuperate and make sure the medicine I take are good for my pain. He says I can start the chemo next week though, so this is good, right?”
“Well, Mamma, that’s what I came to talk with you about,” I said, sitting beside her bed.
“You’re going to need someone to take you to the doctor as you heal, and then chemo is nothing to take lightly. You will need someone to help cook for you, and clean when you get weak. Have you thought about what it’s going to take to hire someone to do this?”
She pursed her lips.
“You always worry Jorge. You were such a serious child, thinking everything is your responsibility to fix. This is bad, yes. I’m not naive. I know this could kill me,” she said.
“Don’t say that.” I interjected.
“You don’t have to be afraid for me,” she said, plucking at the flower leaves again. “I will not ask you to stay here with me and watch me wind down. You have your own life to get to, and I have mine. You cannot live for me, and this is the same for a helper I would hire. I will make it on my own.”
I didn’t know what to say to all that. Because, although she said I had a life of my own, I was wondering if I truly did. Before Dee had showed up, I wasn’t making great strides in the happiness and self-realization department. Sure, I was into the work in insurance right now, but a week solid of the stuff would turn me back to the cynical grouch I had been. After work, and on the weekends, I stayed at home and cooked myself a frozen dinner, I watched Netflix with Orpheus, and I read thick fantasy novels. I called myself not having the time to figure anything out about my life or what I wanted out of it, but really the thing was I had never seen a point in doing anything other than the minimum to survive. I was thinking now, how nice it would be to actually KNOW that there was a reason to exist. It would be worth seeking the answer to that question right?
It’d be worth spending my mother’s remaining years with her, and seeking the why, and helping others get to the path that would reveal their own shrouded answers…wouldn’t it? A little voice niggled this question at me, and I tried to wave it off.
To Mamma I said, “What if I wanted to live closer? Or stay with you and help?”
She smiled. “I would not complain, but I will not give you this answer you are scratching for. You must make your own choice on this. It would be too easy for me to tell you to come help me, and then you could say to yourself ‘I do this because it is my duty. I have no choice.’ It would also be too easy for you to go home, and say, ‘She is old, and she told me to go and have my own life.’ Your decision is your own. You must make your commitment to whatever will make you happy, and that is the hard part.”
This was not the answer I wanted, but she knew this. I stayed with her another couple of hour and we watched some loud and annoying television program that had a sassy judge as the lead role. It seemed to amuse Mamma though, because she laughed and laughed as she said that the judge knew how to put those people in their place.
As I stood to go, Mamma leaned over the side of her bed, gently minding her hip and knee and said: “I will fight, Jorge. I will fight this. This is what is best for me: to fight. You must fight too, my Angel. But you know your battle more than anyone else. Hand me that lily,” she added, pointing to the flower I’d put on the windowsill for her.
“The man who brought it in said it was from the garden club, but I know better. They would not send me such a thirsty plant. I must have an admirer.”
And she gave me a sly smile, that reminded me of the young woman she was, on a beach towel on a hot Florida day in a bathing suit that I was uncomfortable seeing my mother in and in memories I shouldn’t have had in my head anyway.
I left the hospital and suddenly felt a hunger like I’d never known. I hadn’t eaten all day, and had forgone the TV dinner last night in the harried travel I had made. My hunger was also made deeper and more clutching by the sadness that was weighing on me. I was sad because in my heart, I knew what my decision needed to be, and (like a lot of things) it exhausted me with a terrifying melancholy.
With the sad hunger on me, the only real choice for comfort was the warm overabundance that only a fast food hamburger could provide. And taking a full bag of burger and fries to the house to feast upon in the lonely company of a fiercely happy dog was not an option. Dining in among the hard plastic seats, greased tile floors, and top pop station was the only way to revel in sadness in a way that would produce the strange catharsis I was seeking.