look around the apartment, government housing, acquired just as
she was diagnosed with lung cancer, so it doesn't yet smell of burned
grease and cigarettes. The walls are fairly new, no holes. There
is, however, this really odd assortment of ceramic animal plaques.
There is a black panther, reminiscent of a school mascot, framed
by two seemingly brave cheerful squirrels insanely scampering directly
towards the panther. There is also a leopard and a cockatiel within
friendly distance of each other. A propane company calendar, September
seems to be the white-tailed deer month. I sneer at the hypocrisy.
Deer hunting is, second to football, the most anticipated season
are three wooden decoupage plaques that seem thematically connected,
with beautiful pink roses on each of them though each bear a different
greeting. One reads, "I love you Mom," the next reads,
"I love you Bro," then, "I love you Sis," and
finally, "I love you Dad." The last bears a signature.
I look closer, recognize my brother's name and I realize these plaques
must make up the "my son that I gave away who, surprise! wound
up in prison making stupid plaques" collection.
plaques. Stupid Chihuahuas. What am I doing here?
were always Chihuahuas, always. She showered them with the affection
she didn't, couldn't, show her children, giving them oh-so-subtle
names like Chico and Paco and Taco. Once, after a particularly bad
beating, I tried to bake Chiquita in the oven. Mama and Daddy had
left to go somewhere that I am sure involved Coca-Cola, cigarettes
or beer. I watched them go and then I put the stupid dog in the
oven, but I didn't know how to turn it on so eventually I let it
out because it kept barking and scratching and, besides, the gas
wheezes and claws at her chest. The nurse earlier explained that
this was normal for people whose lungs are collapsing. I ask if
she needs anything, her eyes stay closed, but she just shakes her
at a safe distance, keeping watch.
when she touched her lips over and over I thought she wanted a kiss.
I leaned in and she slapped me. Perfect. Seems she wanted a cigarette.
sleepy, I pull the blankets off the sofa cushions and make a pallet
nearer so I can see her just by looking up. I lay back down.
at the irony that I am, once again, on a pallet on a cold floor
while she is a few feet away in a bed.
it's not the same as before. I am grown and I am strong. My friends,
when they hear a noise outside, come to me to make them feel safe;
children hold onto me when they get scared. I have recognized that
this is my role and I have taken comfort in this -- and have also
outgrown it somewhat. See, I have these amazing friends and an amazing
husband who make sure I am as good at receiving love as I am at
dispensing courage; still lessons to learn, but hanging in there.
also outgrown the role of abused child, lived long enough to have
tired of talking about it, watched as my friends grew weary of me
always winning the "my childhood sucked" competition.
up a while later when I hear her stirring. I open my eyes, she settles,
but I, oh for fuck's sake, can't believe what I am seeing. She is
lying in her bed with her arms extended upwards, bent at the elbow
so her forearms rest on the top of her head.
And I am lying in the exact same position.
up, breathing hard, old fears causing my heart to pound. I am not
her, she is not me! No! Okay, okay, okay, it's okay, it's okay,
so what? People sleep in weird
oh whatever, quit looking for
meaning behind everything. Jesus.
my dad in the bedroom. He cries out, still asleep, "Oh I love
ya." Then I hear him shuffle, awake now. He goes to the bathroom
and back to bed and never sees me. I am standing right there.
has moved towards the rail of the county-provided hospital bed.
I move her slowly, gently back towards the middle. Her skin feels
like a dragon's, scaly, loose and hanging in heavy folds. She is
incredibly tiny. She was never more than five feet tall but the
terror that she wielded in her life was worthy of the biggest, most
fearsome dragon, never without cigarettes and Coca-Colas, so she
often, literally, breathed and belched fire
and yet here she
was, so tiny, so weak, so
fuck her, I was a kid, a fucking kid, fuck her, I could kill her
right now if I wanted to, I could slay this fucking dragon, I could
give back to her every bruise my body ever suffered, I could, I
tries to pull the covers up under her chin, she can't hold onto
the blanket and I watch her struggle, but only for a moment, then
I help her.
did not raise me to be heartless.
I will never forget she is a monster. The monster.
again to never forget.
is quite lucid at times, demanding a cigarette, demanding water,
demanding, demanding, then other times the pain is too much and
the morphine is dispensed and she goes in and out of pseudo-conscious
sleep, I am afraid to sleep; afraid I will wake up in the same position
I decide to check on Daddy. I half-open the door, Boomer barks like
he's on cocaine. I viciously flip him off and shut the door.
is turning her head from side to side like Faye Dunaway in Chinatown,
my daughter, my sister, my daughter. She smiles in her sleep and
kicks the covers off. I watch, waiting for her to calm down. She
touches her lips. Now, I know. I know it's a cigarette she wants
and not affection, but I offer water and she kinda nods, so I lift
the Circle K Day Breaker Travel Cup to her parched lips, I push
the bendable straw in and she sucks greedily for ten seconds and
then stops. I wonder for a moment if this is it
but she mumbles
something grumpily and claws at her chest again.
going for it, so I gently lift her nails away from her chest, so
now she claws at air.
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