My mom is...better.
Forty-eight hours ago, my mother had been given last rites and all the doctors were waiting for her to simply stop breathing. I was discussing with my cousin plans for the coming funeral, weeping copiously and struggling with guilt over the simultaneous wave of relief that it was finally over.
Now she's better.
We are an amazing family. Nuts and maniacs and galloping addicts but by God, we're hard to kill. I went through ten years of debilitating illness and almost died on the table during the hysterectomy. My aunt lived with pancreatic cancer for seven years with no treatment whatsoever. She was in her nineties when diagnosed and refused any treatment. Called the lump in her body "the little unwelcome guest." My diabetic father, when he was seventy-eight, passed out at the wheel of his tiny Toyota and got broadsided by a gigantic SUV going seventy-two miles an hour. It hit on the driver's side. The accident broke Dad's back, neck, shoulder, arm, seven ribs and his leg, and he developed five pulmonary emboli in his lungs due to an unknown allergy to Hepron. He's fine.
But Mom takes the cake. This is now the seventh time the doctors have told us to say goodbye, this is it, she's done for, and she's proven them wrong. Even I had begun to believe that this was it. The last three times were the worst. Four years ago, an operation to put stents in her heart tore the artery in her leg wide open. They had to give my five-foot-nothing teeny weeny mother ten units of blood. The room looked like it "had been hosed down with blood" the nurse practitioner told me. I saw when it started bleeding again; the bed was soaked in moments. She was in the hospital for over a month but survived. Then, right before we put her in the nursing home, before she'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she had forgotten how to eat, walk and breathe. They told us she had maybe a month at the home, then she'd be gone. That was two years ago.
And then this latest foray into Death's Doorway. As I've written before, you all know about her mood swings and repugnant revenge scenarios as the Alzheimer's shook her mind loose from sanity. She went into the hospital with double pneumonia. She wasn't responding to the antibiotics and her heart went into A-fib. I talked to a nurse friend of mine and she described A-fib as "a can of quiet worms that suddenly go nuts and wiggle all over the place uncontrolled." Rather disturbing description. Mom hasn't been able to talk for almost two weeks because the oxygen saturation level in her blood was so low, it dropped to lethal levels when she tried to speak. Late yesterday, I heard her garbled voice for about sixty seconds. This morning, we talked for five breathy minutes. She told me she felt better than she has in months. She also told me that my brother Frank had come to visit and was such a good boy. Frank isn't there, hasn't been there the whole time. He lives out of state. But she seemed chipper.
I feel a bit like Tom Cruise's character in the movie Magnolia, when he sits by his unworthy father's deathbed and glares for a few defiant moments before becoming a sobbing basket case. As much as a person wants to hate their parents, as much as they actually DO hate their parents, there's also that kid who doesn't want ma and pa to kick off. Just a fact of life. It makes me think about something I figured out about my father years ago.
Dad has a very hard time at Christmas. He goes into these black sob modes, actually wailing and gnashing his teeth, but the cause is a strange one. He misses Ian, my beloved brother who was killed in the motorcycle accident forty years ago now. If you've read my memoir FREAK, you know exactly how horrible Dad was to Ian. He beat the shit out of him all the time and told him he was the son of a rapist (a man raped Mom on a blind date when she was a teenager). So for years, we all wondered what the hell Dad was talking about during his yuletide rants. "Ian was the best friend I ever had!" "Nobody understood me like that boy." "We loved each other. I was closer to him than anybody else in the world. He was wonderful, just wonderful." This is the kind of fantasy that pours out of my father's mouth between Thanksgiving and New Year's.
Then I figured it out. Dad's very smug about his own sadistic past. He knows what a monster he is and he knows exactly how terrible he truly was. But he also knows he has the option to apologize. He never will, but he knows he has the option. With Ian dead, that option's gone forever. He blew his chance. I think that's why he freaks out every Christmas.
In us abused basket cases, maybe we too are waiting for that shiny wrapped gift of apology. I know I've fantasized over the years, especially when I was a teenager, that my parents would suddenly become decent human beings and beg my forgiveness. I didn't even need the drama of tears and bent knee; I'd have been perfectly, gloriously content with "sorry I fucked you, sweetheart. Don't know what I was thinking" or "I really did you wrong calling you an incestuous slut. I'm sorry I broke your finger that time." The little kid in all of us wants the fairy tale of parental love and sturdiness, something strong and firm and kind to cling to. It's tough enough just growing up without the Manson family as your foundation.
So I did something strange tonight. I stood in front of the mirror and put my palm against the glass. Hand to hand, we looked at each other, my reflection and me. I saw the shadows that shouldn't have been forced into those eyes. I saw the humor and the good spirit, thanks to my daily exercises of self love. It's a gift that I can see those at long last. I also see the lonely longing, the brutalized kid peeping out, scared but hopeful for words that will never come from our parents. So I said them.
"I'm sorry, baby. I'm sorry you went through that. I'm sorry there's still so much rage and pain and insecurity inside of you. I'm sorry that in times of stress like these, you have to keep such a tight rein on the monster within. I know you want to let it out. I know how good it would feel to let it out. So thank you for being brave. Thank you for staying such a good person. I'm here for you. I'm your mother, your father, your sister and your brother. I'm your friend. I'm your family. I will never leave you and I will always love you. Together we'll keep on working toward accepting the past and refusing to let it eat us alive anymore. It'll get bites in, but it'll never chew us up and shit us out again."
A strange litany to babble to myself in a bathroom mirror, but a profound one as well. The insecurity addict in me has been hard at work these past two weeks, trying its damnedest to drag me back down into that rut I crawled out of. I've fallen backwards into it so many times, sinking into that oh-so-familiar pit of misery and self-loathing, bad company and worse decisions. But I stayed out of it this time. Because I meant those words I said to myself. I am here for me. Always. May you all find a champion in yourself, for yourself, and forever. There's a steady war inside of us that nobody can afford to lose and so many of us do. I've lost many, many battles, done things I'm embarrassed and ashamed of, been a coward, a loser and a repulsive whiner. But that's not all I've been. I've also been a hero, a friend, a good mother and a brave soul. We're always changing. There's always hope, defeat, sorrow, joy and victory. So lighten up when you find yourself hating that fucker in the mirror. Give them a break. Love them. You can do it. Believe even when it's impossible. You can do it.