Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fanning the Flames of Love

Here's what the doctor suggested.  Get the stent installed.  Then, maybe she could eat again.  At the very least, it'd encourage the passage of liquids beyond the tumor that blocked her esophagus.  So we did what we were told.  We got the stent installed.

I brought my mother home after the procedure.  She was weak and far from optimistic.  I tried keeping my own expectations low.  I wanted her to enjoy a bowl of soup and a cup of tea.  It'd be so great if she could do that again.

"Let me get you something to drink, Mom.  Some juice."

"I'm not thirsty, love."

"I know.  But try and swallow something, just to see if it works."

"I'm afraid," she said.

"Me, too.  But you have to try."

"I'll try later."

I kissed her 'goodnight' and turned off the lamp next to the bed.  I checked on my children, dreaming sweetly down the hall.  I crawled under the covers and stared at the ceiling.

"She's not gonna make it," I said to my husband.

"You already knew that," David replied.

Several hours later, I heard her call my name.  I ran down the corridor and found her twisted up in the blankets, gasping for breath.  Her lungs had become resentful.  We called for an ambulance.

I followed the paramedics closely to Hackensack Hospital, wondering at every stoplight if she was taking her last few gulps of air in the back of that truck without me.  I wished she wasn't alone and I wasn't alone.  I wished a lot of different things.

By the time I parked the car and located her in the Emergency Room, she was resting more comfortably, with those little oxygen tubes up her nose.  I felt relieved.  And also, disappointed.  I didn't want Big Mare to die, but every day was so scary.  Her equipment was failing dramatically.  I found myself wishing God would take her.  But I guess He wasn't ready.  She's a big commitment.

"I smell gasoline," she said.

So did I.   The guy handcuffed to the gurney on the other side of the curtain reeked of it.  Despite the winter weather, his feet were bare and black.  The bottoms of his pant legs, torn and incinerated.

"I think it's him."  I pointed in the direction of a developing police presence.

"Who?  Where?"

"That man."

She propped herself up as best she could and gripped the sleeve of my coat.  The mere suggestion of criminal behavior bolstered her spirits.

"What's his deal?"

"I don't know, Mom.  I just got here."

"You have to find out.  And see if you can get me some ice cubes, will you, honey?  My lips are killing me."

Three uniformed officers lingered in the lobby.  One dragged a chair from the reception area and sat in the doorway, talking into a duplex radio.  My mother attempted to decode the conversation between the patrolman and his dispatcher.

"There's been a fire," she translated.  "He's involved."  She gestured toward the burn victim.  

I grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser and filled a plastic cup with cold water.  Big Mare no longer took any food or drink by mouth.  What nutrition she could tolerate was introduced through a feeding tube in her stomach.  I moistened the napkin and dabbed at her lips.  They were so dry and cracked.  My poor mom.

"I love cop shit," she whispered.

The two remaining officers had a lot of questions for Eugene, a fifty-year old caucasian man who, based on his inebriated condition and scorched lower extremities, was having a fucked up Saturday.

Here's what we knew, so far:

Eugene was upset with his mother.  She was upset with him.  He'd lost his job at the Dollar Store, and she'd asked him to leave the house.  During the course of the previous evening, he'd gone downstairs to the basement and drank most of a large bottle of Rebel Yell.  As the sun rose over the hills of Oakland, New Jersey beyond the small cape cod-style bungalow he grew up in, he emptied the remainder of the whiskey all over himself.  He reached for a convenient container of gasoline that he found under a work bench and poured the contents over a pile of his dirty clothes.  Then, he lit a match.

"If she wanted me out so bad," Eugene began, "she could have just said so.  She didn't have to call the cops.  That bitch knows I got warrants."

"Oh, he's too much," Big Mare sighed and adjusted her nose plugs.

"You need to be quiet," I reminded her.

The interview continued with cordial precision.

"Your mother owns the home, and she didn't want you there, Eugene.  You should have left.  Perhaps stay with a friend until things blew over.  But you refused.  And you did something really stupid.  Now, you're in a lot of trouble."

Officer #1 was good at laying out the details of the situation.  But Eugene was not so good at understanding the consequences.

"Yeah, okay.  I get that.  And I appreciate what you're saying.  But you don't know everything.  I got a complicated history with that woman.  She can't just kick me out.  It ain't right.  I'm her son."

"Had she requested you vacate the premises before?" Officer #1 continued.

"Sure.  A bunch of times.  But I didn't think she meant it.  Besides, I got nowhere else to go."

"Not a problem anymore," Officer #2 assured him.  "As soon as they patch you up here, you're heading to jail."

"But don't you see?  Running away ain't gonna solve nothing," Eugene insisted, as if he had a valid point.  I'm sure he truly thought he did.

Officer #1 crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head.  He glanced over at Big Mare and I.  She waved, and he waved back.

"He's handsome," she gushed.

"Eugene, I'm gonna share something with you, man-to-man.  I have a tense relationship with my mother, too.  She doesn't care for my wife.  She thinks she's lazy.  I married her anyway because she's beautiful.  Whenever we argue, I get the feeling my mother may be right.  But I know better than to go back there and burn her house down.  It's a crime."

"But I didn't know."

I looked at Mom and repeated, quietly, "He didn't know."

"Oh, he knew," she wheezed.

A nurse came in and checked on Big Mare's vitals.  Then, a doctor.  She was stable, but going forward, would need oxygen.  Her pipes were shot. 
"I've got a question.  Do you remember calling the cops on me the day I moved out?"

"No," she said.

"Yes, you do."

"Why ask me if you already have the answer?"


I stood on the stoop, waiting for my ride.  I'd made arrangements with a friend to stay with her family until the room I'd rented was ready the following week.  I had to make a break for it.  I couldn't stay, not one minute longer.

My mother didn't understand me.  She wanted to control everything.  She was trying to ruin my life.  My situation was so unique.  Besides, she had her own problems.  And she wasn't supposed to be hitting me anymore.  I was 20 years old, a grown woman.

I stood on the porch, clutching my worldly possessions.  Two pillowcases filled with clothes and shoes, a few stuffed animals in a black garbage bag.  I left the rest of them on the bed upstairs, the ones I didn't like as much.  A smiling banana from Rye Playland and the Easter bunny I'd gotten from a young man who switched to boys after we dated.

Big Mare came to the screen door, a half crazy look on her face.

"Get back in this house," she growled.

I said nothing.  I didn't even turn around.

"Bring your ass inside, you stupid son of a bitch."

I ignored her, bracing myself as she reloaded her cartridge belt of condescending remarks.

"Go ahead, then.  Run away!  But if you ever come back here again," she warned, "I swear to Christ, I'll kill you."

"I'd rather kill myself first!"  I grabbed my stuff and started walking toward the corner.


"What'd you think the police were gonna say?"

"I thought they'd make you stay.  But they told me there was nothing I could do.  You weren't ready to be in the world, and I didn't want anything to happen to you."

She paused and almost started to cry.  She never cried all the way.  It's how she managed her sorrow.

"Everything happened to you anyway, didn't it?"

"Yeah.  I guess."

"I was so tired of beating the shit out of you."

"I'm sorry, Mom."

"I'm sorry too, honey."

I watched my mother's eyelids grow heavy and drop to her sunken cheeks.  I took her hand and rubbed the loose skin that gathered at her wrist.  I listened to the machines that lulled her to sleep.  
I thought about who I used to be and how I got to where I was.  What I'd be like once she was gone.

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