Thursday, November 01, 2007

In 2002, my mother became ill. For months, I watched her health deteriorate. With no clue as to what was wrong with her, she went from doctor to doctor seeking some kind of solution. She went to just about every –ist in the medical profession: gynecologist, oncologist, etc. etc. She took test after test after test. They swabbed, poked, X-rayed, and took samples of every bodily fluid. All tests came back clear. But that still didn’t explain why she had absolutely no energy to do the simplest task like crossing the street, or washing dishes. This went on for months. Initially, I was ok, thinking the doctors are handling this. But as her condition began to incapacitate her, I was simply afraid. Afraid that this was it. My mother lost her father at the age of 26, was I destined live out the same fate? Luckily, she finally saw a kidney specialist who thought my mother's lab results were erroneous. She called on a Sunday (how rare is that??) and said she wanted to see my mother in her office first thing Tuesday morning (Monday was Labor Day). She told my mother this must be a lab error because no one should be walking around with these kinds of numbers. That Tuesday morning, I had to bathe and dress my mother. She was simply too weak to do it anymore. In the cab ride to her doctor's office, I remember my mother kept patting my hand and telling me that everything was "just fine." I looked at her like she was nuts but I just nodded my head and watched the FDR Drive and the East River blur into one.

We later found out that her initial lab results weren't wrong, my mother was just that sick. She was admitted into the hospital that day for the 3rd time in my life (the first time being when I was born so she kind of had to be there for that one…hahahahah). The last time my mother was in the hospital was to have her gall bladder removed, and I was 4 years old. My most vivid memory during that time was my grandfather trying to tame my long, thick unruly mass of hair. Frustrated and without any other hair holding device left in the house (because he broke them all), he bunched my hair into a massive ponytail on top of my head with his hand- no brush, wrapped duct tape around the "ponytail" to hold it in place and took me to school. Yes, you read that correctly, duct tape. Needless to say, my nursery school teacher spent the better part of the morning doing my hair. The next day a cousin came over and braided my hair into long cornrows with pretty beads, a first for me. I just recall the sounds the beads made and how all I wanted to do was jump, run, turn my head from side to side, just to hear the sound of the beads hitting each other. I remember being told that my mother was in the hospital but didn’t quite grasp the concept. I vaguely remember going to visit her once but all I remember is climbing into her bed so she could play with the beads in my hair.

This time around I was 26 and without my grandfather to hold my hand or to take care of the situation. After calling my boss to inform him I wouldn’t be coming in, I didn't know what to do. My mother had to tell me to call the family. I had no clue what to do. I was lost. I sat down and did something my mother does everyday. I wrote a list. My mother can't make a move without writing a damn list. I always roll my eyes at her crazy list. But it gave me something to focus on. While I was writing my list of who to call, what to bring from the apartment, the doctor came over to speak with me. He informed me that my mother's "levels" were dangerously low. In doctorspeak, he threw all kinds of medical terms my way. All I heard at the end of his monologue was I may want to discuss with my mother her "plans". I remember I wanted to scream. I wanted to yell. I wanted to bash his head against the medicine cart so he would stop talking. Just mush him one good time and watch his dome bounce off the industrial sturdy plastic. Instead I asked a few questions and thanked him before he scurried off down the corridor in a blur of hospital scrubs and lab coat. I didn’t leave her side that night. For the next 3 months, I spent at least 5 nights a week in that hospital. I would leave in the morning, take a taxi home, shower, change, feed Tabitha, my mother's cat and go to work. Leave work, go to hospital, speak with doctors, nurses, specialists, have dinner with my mother, entertain her always lively dementia suffering roommate, then fall asleep in my mother's bedside chair. Wake up and my day would start all over again.

Everyday my boss, my contractors, my friends, and my neighbors would ask "How's your mom?" "She's okay." became my mantra. I realize that it still is today. I may switch it up with "She's fine" or "She's good" or the classic " "Getting on my nerves so she must be okay". What else am I supposed to say? It's automatic at this point, even though I see the signs that she isn't doing as great lately. I see the fatigue setting in again and I feel the fear creeping in again. I nag her like a bill collector about her going to see the doctor. She tries to wave me off but there is no feeling that compares to seeing the person who made you, raised you, and loves you, lying on bleary white sheets in a motorized twin size bed with tubes sprouting out of them like tentacles. I could close my eyes right now and still see her laying there, her hazel eyes not as clear and feel her hands as cold as a December morning. That memory is forever etched on my soul. I don't want to relive that feeling again.

My mom and I talk a lot all the time. But lately, we've been talking about my future. We discuss my move, and how she can decorate the second bedroom of my home for whenever she wants to rack up some frequent flier miles and come to visit. We talk about my future kids, and what she will and won't tolerate from her grandbabies. We talk about my decision to stop teaching to find my true calling in life. We discuss the changes I've made in my life. We talk about my book. She's the only person who has read a portion of Chapter 1 (I won't let her read any more than that and she is sworn to secrecy. hahahahaha). We talk about her current work on her completing her degree, and what she plans to do next. I love these talks with my mom. I see that twinkle in her hazel eyes dazzling and I feel like all is right in the world. But there is a part of me, all the way in the back of my mind, way, way in that little corner, that whispers how much of this will she be here for?? Will my children really know her or will they create her in their mind from stories I tell them and the pictures they see of her? Who will tell them that Mommy is a writer because Grandma used to help her make little books out of construction paper and the cardboard insert from pantyhose packaging when she was their age or younger? Will they ever experience the joy of tasting my mother's famous Carrot Cake or will they just have to accept my substitution (SIDEBAR: to my friends: I will NOT be making the alcohol cakes for the children, ummkay?? hahahahahah) ?? How many of my books will she have read? Will she actually get to accomplish the plans she has for her next phase in life? Lately, these are the questions that swirl in my mind when I see her get tired sooner rather than later. No she's not dying tomorrow, but ever since she was hospitalized 5 years ago, the actual possibility has always been more that a theory and more liking something lurking right around the corner. And yes I panic when I think of all that her absence would mean in my life. I wish that thought process and its accompanying feelings on no one.

I've never verbalized this story or these fears, not even when I was told to discuss "her plans" with her. I've kept it all in. No one knew about the doctors instructions. To verbalize it, makes it real. That is just a reality I wasn't ready to accept, not then or now. There is a song by Tamia, called "Smile". In it, she simply but emotionally sings:

"So I put on my make up/ put a smile on my face/ and if anyone ask me,/ 'everything is ok'/ I'm laughing cuz no one knows the joke is on me/ cuz I'm dyin inside with my pride/ and a smile on my face.../on my face singing, la la la, la la, lalala, la la, la la, la la, la la, la la, la la la Laaaa"

This is me whenever I hear "How's your mom?"

3 comments:

rashad said...

1)I dig the new layout
2)I can both dig and appreciate this story. My mother used to lives 20 min away from me, and now she's 4 hrs away in NC, and I worry about her all the time, because she's basically alone. This entry makes me want to call her
3)i'll expect an alcohol cake on january 20th

Around The Way Girl said...

this was beautiful.

Anonymous said...

you can always share my mother...