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The Dragon Slayer
By Leigh Kilton-Smith

And when she drifts off, I realize I am holding my mother's hands for the first time in my life. I feel the tears and start to sink when the voice comes again, reminding me, she is a monster, she is a monster, nostalgia is not needed or welcomed right now. I hear the voice issue a massive warning, retreat, retreat behind the walls, quickly, this is not an attack we could have anticipated, the dragon is going after the dragon slayer's heart!

But I stay. And when she pulls away, I feel her pain overwhelming her. I stand and go into the tiny kitchen and get her pill, I find a spoon, wash it, and with the pill in the spoon, I add water and lift it to her mouth. She takes it and is instantly relaxed. I cover her and notice how blue her feet are becoming and her hands as well.

It's coming to an end soon, I know it, I can feel it, and I still don't know why I am here. Why I, of all her children. Why I, whose very life is one long fuck-you to her. Why am I here nursing her on what is looking to be her last night on the planet? Is it as simple as quid pro quo, she was there for my first, I am here for her last? And what did Dad mean I was the only one he could trust, what crap.

It's 4:30 in the morning when, once again, I awake to her moving about. She is half-mumbling, but moving quickly, she stretches and tugs at her nightgown, not happy with it. I try to calm her but she is not having it and I just sit, waiting for her to get tired. But then she gets her gown halfway up and then all the way up and I watch as my mother takes off her nightgown and gathers it in a wad under her chin.

I am simply stunned. Stunned. I have never seen my mother's breasts. I have never thought of her as a woman, so it stands to reason I certainly have never thought of her as having breasts, let alone a vagina. But there she is, no dragon, no monster, just a woman. Like me. Similar breasts. I look at my own and compare. Huh, I am bigger.

I had never thought of my mother as a woman. She is just a woman, yes a tortured, saddened dark woman, but at the end of the journey, just a woman.

She's a monster.

No, I argue with the voice, she's just a woman.

Look at her! She's a little, old, frail, dying woman. No dragon more powerful than me, she is just a woman.

She is a monster, the voice argues, and I am crying, trying to get to this, this voice in my head, screaming at me, telling me how stupid I am to give in to the cliché of softening in battle just because someone is dying. And then something starts to click, but then the voice, louder, more powerful. She's a monster, you idiot, don't you remember? She is a monster and you are too stupid to remember.

And then, in the silence of a breath, I recognize the voice. It is my mother's voice, just as clear as it was all those years ago when I was so small and she was so big.

How could I not have known this sooner? Through all my self-help books and my self-help friends, there were still the friendships that I had written off along the way because of this transgression, or that offense. How did I not hear it sooner? My fear of change, my inability to have any relationship with the word "forgive" other than what I found in the dictionary? How?

That is one moment.

And in the next moment I forgive, I forgive her for the obvious; I forgive him for the not-so-obvious.

And I also forgive myself, for not knowing better and being too powerless to change it. I forgive it all. This is the real deal. True forgiveness feels better than the battle of fear the voice and I have waged all those years.

And then the voice disappears. Completely.

The moment forgiveness becomes more than a word, I am released and I understand.

After a bit, I return to the room from the carnage of my internal battlefield and all I see is a woman lying on the top of her blanket.

A naked woman, exhausted from the battle as well. I ever so quietly ask, "Mama, would you like a different nightgown?" She nods. I get her one and I dress her, the way she must have once dressed me. She must have! Right?

I silently tell her what I have learned in my travels, that these hands, identical to hers, have learned a gentle touch. I demonstrate the loving way. I check a forehead for fever. I pull the covers up over her chest and I brush the hair back from her face and I sit holding her hand for the second time in my life, 'til the morning light.

I am my mother's daughter, though no child will ever know the touch of my hand delivered in anger.

I am my mother's daughter though no one will ever go hungry in my presence.

I am my mother's daughter though my anger comes and goes but I own it and I try to attend to all the bruises I may carelessly inflict.

I am my mother's daughter because I have taken the life she offered and said no to it and forged my own way.

I am my mother's daughter because her/my stubbornness almost kept me from what I would only learn here, could only learn here.

And my biggest challenge now lay in a clean gown in a hospital bed, sleeping peacefully, hours away from death.


In the morning Boomer comes slinking in, looking a little parched. I take the Circle K Day Breaker Travel Cup, pry off the top and give him some water. And when he's lapped down as far as he can without falling in, I get him some more water and hold him while he drinks.

And then I put him down, because… well, because… he is, after all, nasty… and a Chihuahua.

Hours later, as she dies, the dragon slayer watches the dragon breathe its last…

And then, as Daddy throws himself onto the bed, crying out, "No, no!" and my brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles pile into the tiny apartment and begin to wail loudly, the dragon slayer gets in her rental car and drives to a nearby lake and sits outside, underneath thick, water-heavy Texas clouds. And she sits 'til the rain comes and washes away what armor is left. Her sword disappears, her heart is laid bare, and she cries and she doesn't die.

And I am what is left.

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