“Do you remember me?”
“Yes. Of course, I remember you mom.”
Tears, welled from pain and heartbreak, seeped from her eyes, catching a pale, robin egg blue, a chalk smear of low South Carolina early winter morning light, drawn by a delicate child’s hands beyond the window blinds, forever out of reach.
“You are still, right here, mom.”
I stand on her left side. My hand lays on her shoulder, I feel sweat and heat from her body, stuck too long in that same position. Her tears continue to drain from her heart, water separated from her very blood. They do not fall away uselessly down onto the thin cotton sheet tucked around her waist. I know with each darkening spot on her clothing, her heart has deteriorated, just as fluidly as her mind is leaving. I cannot fathom the pain in each of those tears.
I remember, when I was young and angry and disloyal, a bastard on most accounts, facing off with my mother at the top of the stairway of our house. I hate you she said. I know she meant it. I was not my mother’s son. I told her that I was much stronger than her and then pushed her to the floor and walked away.
Now, I am older and angry, and facing off with my mother at the side of her bed, our eyes locked, I am worried and attempting to remove all layers of past disloyalty, but I am no bastard. I am my mother’s son. I love you she said. I know she meant it. I wanted desperately to pick her up from this bed, and carry her away, instead, it was not my place to do so. Instead, it was almost time for me to walk away.
Between my mother and I lay a giraffe that my mother made for my sister’s oldest child. It then went to my sister’s youngest; my son is next in line to inherit it. About three feet tall, covered in fuzzy fabric, colored in bold geometric patterns, faded now. “Giraffe,” is my mother’s closest companion now, her steadfast guardian and silent confidant that listens to her cry herself to sleep during the stretches of time between visits by my father. It waits with her through the spaces of horror and loneliness between each tick of the clock and each shift of growing and fading light pushing or disappearing between the slates of the blinds covering her one window. I envy the giraffe, and its loyalty to her. My Mom’s hands, unsteady, quivering, reach for it, her fingers find split seams, white polyester filler bulging out.
“Giraffe, you have holes Giraffe.” She says. New tears cascade from another tear of her heart.
My hand, still placed against her shoulder, rises and falls with the sobs coming from within her chest. My hand, filled with guilt, waits for the moment to pass. My hand scarred and healed, and scared and healed again, offers only a passing shadow of comfort. Her body, loose inside slackening skin, a vessel for despair to thrive, already knows everything within her, and outside of her is passing.
Again she pleads, “Do you remember me?”
“Yes mom.” I pray you have forgotten how I was sometimes.
Just outside the doorway, open to the wide sanitized hallway, brightly lit with florescent bulbs, my wife, stooped forwards, grasping Strong Land’s hands in hers, stabilizing him as he wavered on two feet, offered me compassion with her eyes.
“Is it okay if I go to sleep?” my mother asks. This is her way now; we all understand. When it is too much to bear, sleep, her last protective barrier against the pain, is a godsend.
My mother’s eyes close, her jaw drops closer to her pillow, towards my hand on her shoulder.
“I love you mom.” I draw my hand back. Her skin has dried. Her tears have vanished. It is my turn now. I leave the room.
I want to pick my son up and carry him. Just fourteen months old, he is damned sure determined he is gonna walk out of there. Two months ago, that’s all it would have taken my mom to get out of this place, if she could just make her legs work. But they don’t. And we know now, they will not, ever again. And that was too simple anyways. Nothing will be simple about this anymore. Well, the heartbreak is simple. It’s real simple. And devastating.
My wife and I make our way through the facility; black nurses and white patients, all women as far as I can see. We say hello to the nurses, avoid a patient who seems way too interested in our boy. The only thing that stops him is a live bird display just inside the main hallway. He squeals with delight, watching the birds flit from bar to bird house. He squeals when the birds chirp. He squeals when they disappear into cover. He doesn’t understand. All they have to do is fly away and return to where they belong; they do not belong here—my mother does not belong here—just leave... But it ain’t that simple. God dammit. Tomorrow is Christmas. Fuck Santa Claus; God, what will you bring for my mother?
Opening the door, stepping outside, I know my mom is in her bed, clutching Giraffe and weeping. I can hear her ask, “Giraffe, do you remember me?”