Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Toast by Madama Sebastian

But it’s not how I imagined it! 

How YOU imagined it?  Well, poor you!  YOU aren’t the one who is dying.

I can’t believe you won’t at least fight.

Fight what?  Who?  I’m 83 and can’t get out of this bed to do anything without an escort.  That includes a lot of things other people shouldn’t be able to see me do.  You can get up and go when you want. 

But, giving up isn’t the answer.

It’s not your answer but there’s a difference between giving up and being alright with things, honey.

You’re going.

Yes, I am. Look at me!  Is this the way you want to think of me?  Tucked in this bed like a broken pocket watch?  That’s not what I want.  I miss being able to read to myself and seeing a different view than a parking lot.  My body won’t move the way I want.

I’m losing you.

To death…but how is this a surprise?  Did you forget I’m supposed to go before you?  Stop this. Aren’t you the one who should be making me feel better?  I’m the one with two months left on the clock.

You should try.

Let me tell you what, my healthy young child…

I’m 19.

Oh, if my big toe could just be 19, I might change my mind!  Honey!  I’ve been where you are but you don’t know what its like to be me.  Your bones and joints don’t argue and bite.  Your heart can take whatever joys and sorrows are around the corner and your mind, your mind has so much more room in it than mine.  You have your own teeth!

You want to die because of dentures?  You’re not that old!

Compared to what?  How old should I be?  Did you have something in mind?  If I promise to make it to 92 like Mrs. Petrofsky down the hall? Bed pans and dementia and she thinks she’s still teaching third grade.  All she can say is multiplication tables!   Would that be enough? Yes, I absolutely want you to be able to tell someone I fought till the end!  The hell with that.  I refuse to be neat and tidy about it.  I’m tired.

So…rest until you feel better.  You’re having a bad day.

A good day was before they put me here.  I’ve been resting two years in this place and there is no “better.”  When the nurses talk about “better” they’re comparing yesterday’s poop to today’s poop.  This is only about surviving long enough so my relatives don’t feel guilty. 

If you would just….

Hang on?  Please tell me the what and the why of that!  Little one, I had a good life.  I did mostly as I pleased, had some wonderful friends, one alright husband and one that was a bastard.  Outlived them both, too.  I traveled and read and laughed.  I danced them down at the Legion on Locust Lane.  There isn’t any mountain I would climb now even if I had the ability. 

Nobody wants you to climb a mountain.  They just want you to live.

For them…they want me to live for them.  This is not living, not my version.  If you don’t believe me, please trade places with me for just one day.  I’m sure Nurse Ratchet out there will be happy to introduce you to the enema bag. 

You must be feeling better.  You’re making jokes.

Honey!  Look at me.  I’m done with this and I want to be done with this.

Don’t say that!

Why not?  I’m fine with death.  It’s everybody else who wants me to avoid it.


Have I ever told you how to live, Sweetheart?


I mean besides trying to teach you some things. Have I?


Then please do me the favor of NOT telling me how to die.  Death doesn’t scare me.  Dying…that might hurt, being on the way out but, once I get there, I don’t think it will be that bad.

I can’t hear this!

You better hear it because it’s what I want and how I feel.  If it disappoints you I’m sorry.  I don’t want you to feel sad.

Thinking about death makes me sad.

Really?  I guess I remember feeling that once, but now I think death could be a relief.  All this talking and breathing and trying—that old skin smell.  Ahhhhckkk,  enough!

No, it’s….

…fine, honey.  I’m not going out in a big way or anything.  I’m just going to put my mind to it.  It’s worked for everything else I ever wanted to do.  Hopefully, if I’m good at this, I can drop off in my sleep.

Don’t talk like that!

Why?  Isn’t that how everybody else in the world really wants to die?  Who cares about all the particulars?  Life and death are not like in the movies—deep last words to remember me by and nice hair.  It’s nothing like that.

But I love you, Mammy.

Me, too Honey…I love you very much and all of this, all this is the way it’s supposed to go.  You didn’t think I’d be around forever, did you?

Yes….well, a lot longer than this.

Please don’t make me stay.  I’m due a good nap, one that isn’t interrupted every four hours by pain and pills for the pain.  I need the peace.  Do you remember what I used to make you for breakfast before your mother got up?

Tea and toast. 

Yep…I can’t have either one of those any more, thanks to the damn doctor.

Want me to get you some?

Would you?

Only if it’s got a lot of milk and we can dunk the toast in the tea.

It sounds delicious.

The doctor won’t like it.

You better hurry up, honey.  It’s quarter till and the coffee shop doesn’t serve breakfast after 9.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lost and Found

“Where are my keys?”

A whole family question that James dad asked at least once a week. A question hoping for answers it didn’t get from the back room where James mother separated the unmentionables from the clothes you could talk about, from the upstairs bathroom where his sister committed early crimes of beauty or from the back steps where James sat now.

James knew where the keys were supposed to be—on top of the hall table with the inkless pens, partly gone-over fruit, the math book with unreasonable fractions, overstretched hair bands, and the dusty cardinal

salt n pepper shakers that his mother only used on red-themed holidays.

Next to and just above this scatter of unrelated things made by related people was a key hanger from Aunt Cindy, a rectangular plaque with metal hooks and “Keys” carved or maybe burnt into the wood, perhaps so it might never be mistaken for a tie rack. The only keys hanging on it were to things that were lost or broken. Despite its nearly vacant purpose, Aunt Cindy’s gift would not be removed, not as long as she came to visit and would notice. IF there was a next Aunt Cindy visit, now that James parents had decided to be-apart-for-awhile-because-they-had-to-think-about-things-James.

“Keys? Little help…anybody?”

His father sounded more needle-y now as if turning up his voice would guarantee a response. It didn’t. James thought about another easier time when no one knew where the keys were. His sister found them in the refrigerator lying right on top of the mozzarella. “Moz-za-REL-la,” James spoke a little bit out loud. It was a good word to say, especially all by itself with no other words near it, the best was the “REL” part. “Moz-za-REL-la,” James repeated as he walked away from the house of unanswered questions and into a morning shined up by the night’s rain. He thought the thoughts of a boy on his own time….

…Like how good cereal tastes when you first put milk on it but doesn’t even one minute later when the milk gets too far into it. How balloons lose a lot of air even if you keep them in your room in the closet and nobody touches them overnight. How cats could change their minds about liking you in two seconds but dogs couldn’t. And then, because his sneaker lace loops were too big, James tripped and fell.

James didn’t cry. In 4th grade the ground isn’t such a long way to fall yet and besides, no one was around to see. Instead, James took the accidental opportunity to get where he already wanted to go which was level with a cool, soaked earth. A water bug danced on a puddle nearby. James tried to go eye to eye with it until he realized he didn’t know where its bug eyes were. Before he could figure it out, the bug lifted off into sunlight too bright to show James where it went. He accepted it with unselfconscious awe and no regret.

James sneaker was already up to the next thing, toeing a hole into the wet ground two paces beyond Mr. Murphy’s crabapple bush. The number of paces was how a pirate gave directions to his long buried treasure. Paces were Genius! to James because, even if a dirty map thief came along, the only way he could find the treasure is if he had the exact same size feet as the pirate who buried it. James didn’t need a map because his feet wouldn’t be the same size next year as they were today and because he didn’t want to come back.

The dirt of the treasure hole got drier as it got deeper and more stubborn. James put his full attention into the work, his young brow decorated with scuds of dirt and sweat-made mud wiped from the back of his hands.

He wanted the keys to go away for good, to trust this hole with no reminders of how to find it again. Because if the keys disappeared without paces or pirates, even if James had to hide his stealing inside for all eternity plus one day, it would all be worth it to keep his dad…home asking whole family questions, in regular and sharp tones if he wanted, on or off holidays with red themes and salt n pepper birds. The keys dropped from James hand like the last tear of someone tired crying, down into a hole that had to be quiet forever.

As James was covering the keys as fast as he could so he could begin to forget where they were, his father stopped asking questions. Instead, James father began looking and feeling among the still life of discards on the hall table. In the time it takes to break a heart, he lifted the math book of unreasonable fractions and picked up his wife’s extra set of keys.