In search of story


Killer instinct

I knew I could kill. That was a revelation very early in motherhood. I had no idea such an instinct lay dormant in me until labor and birth awakened it: I knew that if something or someone came at my baby to harm him, I could kill. That was more than a revelation; it was a shock. I’m pretty well known as a wimp, and proud to say it.

Recently I had cause to reflect on my latent killer instinct. I was driving on a lazy street with little traffic, thank goodness, when I spotted an obstacle in the middle of my lane. An ugly, greasy, stupid, arrogant, fat, feathered hog. Yes, a Canadian goose. The Protected. Grudgingly I slowed and, as an inveterate non-honker, fumbled for my horn. One good honk deserves another, right?

But he stood fast, immobile, intractable, feigning deafness. He was taller than the hood of my SUV and that single beady little eye was fixed on me. I double-dog dare you! it said. I sensed federal agents hiding in the bushes, taping the encounter. Nonetheless, I inched forward, leonine, taut, tempted.

Closer, closer. Was he scared? Not a bit. It was a stand-off. SUV vs goose. Would one flattened goose really be such a devastating loss to the planet?

I don’t know if my front bumper made contact — I hoped not because then I’d have to wash it — but it was close. What arose in me was perhaps not the same thing as mother’s instinct so much as the preference not to be bested by this girth-bound bird-brain, but still the urge was strong even as he eventually waddled off in antagonizing slow-motion.

We will meet again.


A daughter on Mothers’ Day

Mom was struggling to breathe, so I drove her to the ER. Pericardial effusion, they said, then emergency surgery, biopsy, and pathologist’s report: possible cancer. A week later, wanting only an understanding of what was happening to her and a proper bath and shampoo, she lay in her hospital bed.

Telling my mother to do anything was usually not an option for me. However, after that surgery and that week, I told her we were going to the University of Chicago Hospitals, and I told her to ask her primary care physician for a referral there. Uncharacteristically, she did not argue.

That’s how things stood that day when I was sitting in a chair at the foot of Mom’s bed, and he came in. He gave Mom a Chicago doctor’s name, a name he’d picked, he said, because he found it amusing. A cardiologist. Mom expressed her surprise, that she’d expected to be referred to an oncologist.

Stabbing his finger in the air at her, he raised his voice: “I NEVER SAID YOU HAD CANCER! NO ONE EVER SAID YOU HAD CANCER!”

Mom started to shake and reached for the oxygen, but she persisted, asking why, then, the pathologist had mentioned possible cancer cells.

“Because,” he snapped, “she’s a woman and she’s covering her ass!”

Less than two months later, Mom died. Cancer in her brain, lung, lymph nodes, pericardium and heart. We never knew where it started or where else it had metastasized.

Mom’s dying was tortured, brutal. I was there, and I can still see it. “I NEVER SAID YOU HAD CANCER” sounds in infinite loop around it.

My stomach hurts as I write this. Where do caregivers go with these memories? Where are the words for the anger and the helplessness?

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When you’ve had enough…

“You’re talking about me! I know you’re talking about me!”

I looked up. There came my mother full tilt down the hall.

Yes, Mom, I’m talking about you! This is the nurses’ station and I am going home for the night! I’m telling them there is no one with you now!

There was no patience in my voice. I’d had enough of her paranoia and enough of not knowing who she was.

A few years later, my father threatened me. I walked out of his hospital room fighting back the tears, to a different nurses’ station, where I told them I was leaving and didn’t give a damn what my father did.

I’d had enough of Dad’s dementia and enough of not knowing who he was.

My mother’s last Mothers’ Day present was chemotherapy. On Dad’s last Fathers’ Day we took a ride and hit a rough patch of road which caused me to exclaim “It’s a good thing we haven’t eaten yet!” He replied, “You mean we ate already?”

A lot about caregiving comes back to me at this time of year. Dad died at the end of March. Mom went into crisis in mid-April and died mid-June. Different years, same season. Same me. Mom’s brain tumors, Dad’s dementia, spring, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day…it all blends together like muck and mud.

Sometimes you have your parents but you don’t. You see and hear only the look-alikes that disease has left in their stead. They know you, but you don’t know them. Eventually they don’t know you either. So where’s the Hallmark card that says “Happy Mothers’ Day, Whoever You Are,” or “Happy Fathers’ Day from the Daughter You Don’t Know”?

Forget “When you care enough.” It should be “When you’ve had enough.”

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Recitative for Mothers’ Day

Where are you going,
little girl, little boy?
Out of my life
into yours?

Will you take me with you?
Part of me
with part of you
for always?

What will you do,
little girl, little boy?
Will you be happy and
will you tell stories
about me
when you are happy
with people who
never knew me
when you look around
your world
not quite
remembering —

autumn fruit crescents
Bosc brown
over sweet grainy white

Honeycrisp red
popping in your teeth
snappy cold

you said.

yellow cheese

parades of golden raisins
dotted lines
on peanut butter goo

glassy green olive oil

You forgot crackers!
you said.

soapy foam clouds
herbed fingers
proof of clean

you said.

neon lime popsicle creeks
running in July
bearding your chins
ringing your fingers

you said.

Clocks ticked
suns climbed the sky
and slid down

time to go

Bye, Grandma!
you said.