This piece may seem a bit off topic in my series about Claddagh. However she was with me when the whole situation occurred in my writing. My landlady had found a lost dog, and that dog got along with Claddagh, so I kept it for the night. While the dogs were playing, things got a little rough and I was on the floor between them. The scuffle turned into a fight, so in the process of pulling the dogs apart, the visiting dog bit me. I was hit with a lost childhood memory of being bitten by a puppy while staying with my aunt. Minutes after this memory returned, I received a call from my family saying that said aunt was in the ICU.
I was completely bowled over with emotions. I wasn’t completely sure what her prognosis was, but it sounded pretty bleak. As a coping mechanism, I explored what my family might be going through in that moment, especially focusing on my cousin but at the same time realizing the attributes I didn’t like about her, were/are prevalent in me.
My aunt did not die that night. It would turn into a drawn out process that would take another three uneasy years. The following piece is my raw expression from that night.
July 18, 2009
Skin is thin. A scratch, a paper cut, a scrape. Blood from a small wound, the pain radiates for a day; a reminder of some lame excuse for not paying close enough attention.
I am bleeding from a scratch and a bite. Slightly deeper than superficial. This is payment for being a good Samaritan. I can’t be mad, it was harmless fun gone awry by animals who communicate some other way.
How often in human reality does this happen? We are asked to play nicely, then some words are said in jest causing a friend to unravel enough to fight back. A fight unseen on the horizon.
It was just two beings- doing and then there was an unseen spark. One took something the wrong way and since I am not fluent in dog play language, I find myself in the middle. I’ve pulled larger dogs apart without incident. Why tonight?
As I assess the bite on my forearm and I am taken into an old memory of being bitten by a puppy when I was two or three. I am in the care of my aunt, playing in the front yard of her humble apartment with a small puppy belonging to the neighbor. The bite catches me off guard.
The phone rings.
It is my father telling me that my aunt is in the hospital and things look grim.
The timing of all of this makes me reel. I have to write it all down, the perceptions I am having in this moment thousands of miles away from my family. I’m not sure what is going on, and I know writing will calm me down so that I can process the bite and it’s deeper meaning.
I am jaded on death; the cycle of life few seem to live, all reaching variations of the same end. Those who live their lives like tomorrow will never come because they already know it’s on its way to greet them.
Then there are those aching to leave their mark, they live for posterity. For now I am ambivalent, watching it as it comes and goes; feeling l’ve already lost so many important ones and still there are more to come as I continue to keep loving.
There are no words for this, no way to convey the normality of it, despite the pain and what it seems to be. It is what I call the Death Diet. It comes and goes, as we all do, in it’s own time- staying for short and sometimes long duration. A visitor, unannounced, unwelcome.
As to not forget those I’ve lost; how can the relationship continue, how can each of us live on and keep those who were once here and dear to us, after they depart?
Is Spirit not something that speaks in each ear in due time? Do remnants of the past not live and breathe around us, still?
And so they do; each person, place or thing. Our interaction with them is not at all lost when voices stop humming and hearts stop beating; body buried below. Beyond the picture enveloped in memory…
Perhaps that is the reason I like chicken and dumpling soup. The one thing she would fix for me that was recognizably made from scratch and not from a can. I’ve not seen her in years and tonight she lays under anesthesia in a hospital. She lays in a deep sleep from two heart attacks in a row.
She was found barely breathing by grandparents; those kind and gentle souls who’ve seen one daughter die away already.
Does Leslie sit next to Terri as she lays in medicated limbo?
Does she hold her hand in spirit?
Does Terri ask, in a morphine induced dream, the same thing Leslie asked when she lay deteriorating her own hospital room over two decades ago? The same hospital many renovations ago; a place Leslie never left again, alive.
Is Leslie there, and is she honest? Does she say “No, you aren’t going to make it. I tell you this because I am your sister and I won’t lie to you. I am going to sit here with you until you go… and then I am going to see you to the other side, where all of us are covered in rainbows. I am going to give you the biggest bear hug.” Does Leslie then squeeze Terri’s hand?
Leslie is eternally twenty-six, or maybe she shows up as a seventeen year old; thin and vibrant. Healthy and cancer-free. A spirit in a dream only recognized by the dreamer.
Family waits in the hall. The son acknowledges his distance. A certain sense of discontent and regret boil beneath the surface. He questions her sadness and why she couldn’t do more for herself and him. He knows he distanced himself out of fear and retaliation.
She left him fifteen years ago. She gave up being a responsible mother despite how much she loved him, despite how much he loved her… Something inside of him felt sick with longing and regret, disgust and confusion. He knew this was coming and in some way it was a waiting and a relief at letting this subconscious worry go. Yet he knew, this wouldn’t be the end of his worry, there would be others- the grandparents who sat next to him, for instance.
No. This would be a double edged sword of worry, like, “one down, two to go.” This loss would only breed more anxious anticipation. This thought was neglecting to add the dozen or more people he also adored and maybe even loved. He was focused in this moment on family ties of blood.
In the face of their differences in belief or opinion, he saw and valued whatever it was that this was – “however fucked up.” This was the only place the son was suppose to be right now. There was much to acknowledge and heady thoughts to consider. This was an act all too grown up for anyone to want to take on; he was no stranger to responsibility but this was a first when it came to what many may consider posthumous intimacies- him being an only child of a husband-less mother.
There seemed to be a question of “deserving this.” Was it something he deserved for being less involved with his mother than perhaps he should have been? For keeping busy for more time than it seemed necessary in the mentality that “Life is Short. Love Hard. Visit Your Mom”? He knows he should have visited more. He shouldn’t have been so fearful of seeing her and trying to help her out.
Questions just become answers that lead to more questions.
Here is where he should be. Waiting in an ICU waiting room; thinking about all of this. Taking it all in.
Next to him are his grandparents, now in their eighties. They’ve been less than active for years, left to sit at home with injuries that happened later in life and never healed properly. Here they were, watching their second daughter fade before their eyes. She’d been back home for nearly seven years now. About as long as she’d been gone when one day she decided to abandon her home and her son for some internet love affair.
She had bought a home just a block away from her parents. She was working as a nurse when one day she just quit going to work because the internet was more important and interesting than helping the geriatric folks she was employed to care for at the assisted living home.
One day she got in her car, and drove to the east coast to meet a man that she would come to realize he wasn’t who he said he was, only to leave him for another far off man who was not who he claimed to be.
She left the son in the abandoned house and the utilities were systematically shut off. The mortgage went unpaid and the son was displaced. She left debt and pain in her wake, only to show up back home – ill of health needing a place to stay. She would be fifty-three and living in her parents basement.
I suppose we all have regrets. I wonder if this is hers?
My family is susceptible to addiction but they are also susceptible to will power, drive and sarcasm. I’ve fallen into the categories. Right now my addictions are strong and my will has been weak. This must switch because I have things to do and I suspect my dead mother is sitting with my dying aunt in a hospital room.
I never really got to know my mom but I’ve had my whole life to observe my aunts actions and consequences. At my youngest, when my mother was still around, she was having a hard time dealing with a smart ass two year old daughter. It was too much. My mother would leave me on the door step in only a diaper because “if you don’t want to live here, you are going to leave the way you came in. Naked.” And screaming.
My mother would call my aunt and tell her that she couldn’t handle me, that she had locked me out front. My aunt who lived a couple of blocks away would come to get me and dress me in over sized clothes belonging to her son. She would take me to her apartment to ride out the emotional storm. I would play with my cousin and watch movies until I wanted to go back to my mom.
My aunt would bundle be back up and take me home. This back and forth is part of my earliest memories.
From what I can tell, my aunt had horrible taste in men. Manipulators; liars, drunks and a gay man who was in the military. She chased men that seemed to share her dreams only to leave her in the dust. Her will was weak, she neglected to see these things in advance. She was always waiting to be saved from her own squalor so that she could ACTUALLY LIVE!
She wanted to have it provided for her by someone she cared for and in the meantime she drowned her sorrows in some other reality. A place where she could meet other “real people” feeling the same way she did. Perhaps she didn’t see that they were all reflections of her. Lonely, sick and addicted. Weak-willed and seeking, only bound to find one another.
Lost in a basement on oxygen, typing away. Beauty of youth lost long ago, only to live in a shadow of cyber script. She stopped living a long time ago. She craved the life we all do- To love and be loved.
She adored nature, but she rarely visited it in the end. There were times when I was very young, when she would take us fishing, early in the morning before the sun rise. The thermos would be full of hot coffee, (and though I scowl at parents who allow small children to drink coffee,) she would pour each of us a cup mixed with a hot cocoa packet. A poor man’s mocha at sunrise.
How did a person so close to nature, move so far away from it? How did that sanctuary neglect to hold her interest? Loneliness.
We don’t all wish to be hermits. How sad to age before your time- what a predicament to want love and to be too sick to attain it. Family was never enough.
She was married twice in her youth, but her youth is a bit of a mystery to me. The eldest child, the oldest sister of three other siblings. Did my grandparents have high expectations for her? Did she lack guidance? What was the exact moment that made her give up?
She had her son, young, with a Native man who would disappear from the picture shortly after it was taken. Her next husband would be a closeted homosexual in the military who would tend to be abusive.
Her long time friend Loyd would love her desperately over the year, and their friendship would grow, but it would never be the relationship both of them were longing for.
She smoked cigarettes her entire life, until she couldn’t. They were always the cheap smokes, GCP’s or what ever was affordable.
She loved babies and believed that everyone that she was able to hold, was a little bit hers and that included me.
I guess I never really viewed her as the adventurous type. When she left, she must have really believed things were going to change for the better; but she was already lost in a confusion that misaligned her radar.
As this story unfolds under my finger tips, I unabashedly see the personal similarities in myself, things I would rather not admit to.
Now I am left with a dog bite, reminding me of who I do not want to become.