Rained on

The first change is years before the palpable sickness when my mother finds that jogging has become more difficult than it normally is.  I do not notice because I am 8.  She is diagnosed with a lung disease and is on prednisone for the rest of her life.  It makes her moody and cranky and she warns us before she starts taking it so that we should know not to take her anger to heart.
She is the light of my world.  She is my mother so she is the sun, the gravity that holds the universe together.  She makes me aware of myself, my faults, and my goodness.  She sees me as a human being, not just her daughter or as a child, and she loves my brother and me more than anything.
She is not like other mothers.  She doesn’t wear makeup.  She wears tennis shoes, jeans, and baggy silk shirts.  Her hair is black and short and she doesn’t dye it to hide the silver hairs.  She does not get manicures, pedicures, or massages.  She does not get waxed or plucked.  She is worried that she is fat and this makes her upset.  It always makes her upset but she is not fat.  She has gotten older and time is not easy on the body.
I become her disciple.  I ask her questions and she answers them honestly and without hesitation.  She imparts her wisdom to me, her spirituality, her hopefulness, her extraordinary love.  She does not give me her cynicism or hypersensitivity or her anger but not for lack of trying.
She is proud and forceful.  Sharp and biting.  Stubbornly independent.  Sensitive, critical, judgmental.  She does not like small talk and she is almost always right.  She tries not to fight with my father in front of my brother and me.
She teaches me independence.  She says, You cannot be happy unless you are happy by yourself.
She comforts me.  I am all full of hormones, I am awkward and unattractive.  She takes me into her arms and tells me I am beautiful, always, and that there will be a time when I will see that too.  It does come eventually and forever I rejoice in the encouragement.
My brother and my mother engage in screaming matches regularly for years.  I generally avoid them by retreating to my room.   The impending fury and cussing from my brother makes me shake with anxiety.   I am generally not caught in the middle of the fighting but it affects me nonetheless.  My brother is terror.  I am careful around him so that I do not anger him in some way.  Otherwise, the yelling commences and I am the focus.  He knows this and he has always known this.  He is how he is regardless.
The palpable sickness hits when I am in high school.  At first, my mother laughs at the oxygen machine.  “My doctor thinks I should use it! How ridiculous.”
Reluctantly and slowly, it becomes a part of her.  At first she only uses at home but within a few months she has to take it with her everywhere.  It’s hiss stays with me, the familiar sound punctuates my life and is a painful reminder.
For my sixteenth birthday and for mother’s day, we all go to the beach.  My mother has to bring her oxygen tanks with her.  She can barely walk around outside.  My mother’s favorite thing in the world is the ocean and she cannot go to the shore and lift her hands to the sky and praise its immensity.  Her illness is some stranger that is commandeering her life and refusing her the joys of the body and the earth.  It is all killing her spirit.
The morning after we get back into the city, she cannot get enough oxygen from the tank at home. My father says he is taking her to the hospital.  From this moment, panic resides in our household.  I go to school anyway.
She stays in the hospital, she cannot come home.  She needs a lung transplant or she’ll die.  She cannot come home or she will die.  We wait.
I feel as if I am barely treading water.  A friend writes me a letter and says I cannot act like a bitch for no reason.  I sit on a bench before school starts one morning, trying to get perspective, trying to breathe and I cannot.  It is an invisible struggle that I do not know how to name: she was at home, always, when I got home.  She took me to school in the mornings.  She picked me up from tennis practice after school and took me to Sonic.  She was awake before I woke, she was up when I went to sleep.  Now I cannot even be alone with her.  Now, people crowd her hospital room as if they just realized she was alive.  Now, she no longer belongs to me.
Once and only once, she shoos away my father to be alone with me.  I say, What do I do when I lose my cornerstone?  It is dramatic but it is as honest as I can be.
She recognizes my grief, she knows.  She motions to me to lie beside her in the hospital bed. It is the last time I feel her comfort.
It is July in Texas.   I have just taken a shower and am standing in the hallway of the house I grew up in.  I am wearing a robe and my hair is wrapped in a towel.  I am looking at my brother who has an indescribable look on his face.  He hands me the phone, then walks away.  It’s my father, who’s at the hospital with my mother.  She has been unconscious for a month since her lung transplant.  My father is asking for the approval but it sounds more like he is telling us we will have to take my mother off life support.  I can’t say anything because I barely know anything.  I ask if we can wait.  My father, who is a doctor, does not think we can.
I don’t know what I do after I get off the phone.  At some point I walk past the living room and my brother is praying with all his might, crying, saying, Please, please.  I have never seen him pray in my life and I don’t think he believes in a god but that does not matter.  I feel I cannot comfort him because he would be angry and ashamed so I walk by and do not say a thing.
I do not go to the hospital to watch my mother die.  She is not there, she has not been there.  She cannot say goodbye, neither can I.  Her body dies almost immediately after the machines are turned off.
Peter takes me out for icecream later.
At her memorial service, my father’s youngest brother asks me if my mother had a relationship with Christ.  Irritated, and confused as to why this matters and why he would ask such a question, I mutter something so that he’ll leave me alone.  We are in a church before everyone has arrived.
When people begin to pour in, I am overwhelmed, touched by the attendance of so many of my friends, of my mother’s friends, of people we weren’t even that close to.   I cry constantly throughout the ceremony.  My mother’s youngest brother plays the piano and sings during the service.  It is one of the most beautiful moments of my entire life.  I feel as if I have never understood my mother’s relationship with her brother, never glimpsed it.  And suddenly every part of human nature, everything about my life and my mother’s life and my father’s life and my brother’s life and everyone I have ever known or met, our secrets and our shame and our memories and our lies, everything is mysterious but everything is revealed.  It is all heartbreaking and my father cries.
I cry as everyone in attendance approaches to give condolences.  Close friends and their families hug me tightly and I am choked with the shared love for my mother.
At some point I turn to look at her urn and say, She used to be so much taller.  My friends laugh uncomfortably.
I do not remember eating, waking, laughing, for ages.  My father cries more than I’ve ever seen him cry in my whole life.  It makes me angry and resentful.  We do not have a strong relationship. I see his forgetfulness and awkwardness as his ignorance of my self.   I am stunned at being forced into this and I often sense that I have been left with the lesser parent.
People bring us lots of food and this makes me angry.  Some of the food is offensively mediocre.  It seems ridiculous to me that people would bring food to people who know how to feed themselves.
Because of my relationship with my mother, I do not accept anyone’s offers for help or talking.   I have been isolated for so long, so concentrated on her love and wisdom alone that I cannot even begin to reach out.  I recognize it is alienating but I know no other way.
My father, my brother, my grandmother and I drive down to the coast in my Honda to scatter some of my mother’s ashes.  I feel so overwhelmingly empty and lost that it hurts to breathe.  This feeling never stops.
By October, my father is dating a woman he met at work.  I meet her at a function for their work and I am civil.  He seems happy to have someone.  My brother and I feel it is too soon.  He says, It is time to make our family whole again.  But our family is not broken.  I do not begrudge him his happiness, it is his obliviousness and his unwillingness to comprehend our objections that are offensive.
The woman is and always is kind.  But she is not my mother and she is not like my mother.  She does dye her hair every 6 weeks to hide the grey, she does wear makeup, pluck her eyebrows, wax her legs.  She wears heels.  She is younger than my father, seems younger.  She is not angered by my father’s arrogance.  My father is behaving like a teenager and it disgusts me and no one seems to hear me.
My father’s family is happy he is moving on.  More than half of his entire life spent with the mother of his children and his heart’s love and three months is all it takes.  Once, I try to bring it up tactfully while we are eating in a restaurant but my father scowls and says I am just jealous because he no longer spends all his time with me.  It is the most impossible thing, the worst misunderstanding of my life.  He doesn’t get it and he never will.  I never again talk to him about how his relationship affects me.  Anger makes a home in me and remains for a long time.


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