Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Last Call

I suppose there is no good time to get the call. But I got the first one while I was driving.

The worst part is knowing exactly what the call is going to be and knowing that you have to pick it up and knowing that you aren’t going to like it at all. Olivia called me, barely holding herself together. Her voice cracked as she told me we were in the last hours. It’s surreal to have that sinking feeling; of knowing where the natural chain of events is going, and despite that knowledge not feeling one bit better.

My legs went numb and my ability to drive separated from my self. I picked up Ciera somehow and we drove home, mostly in silence. I spent the rest of the day trying to feel something. Trying to understand my body and mind inverting their positions.

I sat in the chair all day and watched out the window as I tried to not feel trapped and scared. Ciera had to go to work again (she worked a double) and I was left to think to myself. A nap, a weak sketch. I felt breakable, fragile, and numb.

I called Olivia again and checked in with her. She said that there were less than 48 hours according to the nurse. We would have to just wait. I kept wondering to myself, “should I have gone to visit her this weekend?”

It was a tough call not to; I decided against it because I was told that she was barely awake at all. Thirty seconds here or there, a slight nod, glazed over eyes, and maybe a verbal acknowledgement. She was making the transition and we couldn’t follow. I couldn’t follow. I talked to my aunt Liz and uncle Joe and my mom and my sister; all just to decide if visiting would be the right thing to do.

I walked in the dark, up Queen Anne Hill, and as my breathing became heavy, my decision was made. “If you come this weekend it will be for you. She’s not really here anymore.” So I stayed in Seattle this weekend and felt the furthest I have ever felt from my family.

The call never comes at an opportune time. And the week before Christmas is a terribly difficult time.

Monday came somehow. Time never announces its comings and goings. And Ciera told me that Amberlee had lost someone unexpectedly. A mentor to her; a sudden and tragic death. She was going home. So we spent the evening with her, watching tv and hanging out. She packed and we promised to take her to the airport in the morning. Ciera got on Facebook before going to bed. A girl we had gone to high school with lost her older sister. The woman died in childbirth; fighting to give her child life.

I went to bed early; hoped that I wouldn’t feel groggy in the morning.

I was asleep; dreaming of the cliché that life and death are. I remember speaking of the absolute tragedy of loss in life to someone in my dream. They spoke of categories of loss and pain. I retorted that there is no scale for the loss of life in this world. They replied that humans are meaningless in the fabric of the cosmos and nothing is lost in death; all matter is retained, the body in life is the same as the body in death. The energy in a body transfers to another place, but is not lost. I wondered at this, opened my mouth to speak and then I heard my phone.

From across the expanse of sleep and wakefulness I heard a buzz. My body re-entered the waking world. My arm reached for my phone. It was my sister. The second call had come. She was crying, and I didn’t need to be told why she was calling. “At 12:31am Mama passed away.”

And I didn’t feel what I had expected. A pure numbness crept through my body. All I could think about was sleep. The only way to shake the moment was to drift back into the dream; maybe I would wake up in a world that was different. Maybe I would still have the opportunity to be with her a little bit longer.

I made sure Olivia was all right and I hung up the phone. My body shifted into sleep. And then the phone rang again. It was my father this time with the same news. It doesn't get better a second time.

Every call ends with “I love you.” And it is our way of saying so much more. It conveys all our hopes and fears and sadness and joy.

Work was a blur today. A hellish prison where I wasn't sure what I got done.

I can only have one-way conversations with Mama now; I will miss her southern charm and her regal nature. I will miss her moments of incisiveness and gentleness. She was there for my birth and helped me when my mom had brain surgery. She has been so strong and she never gave herself enough credit.

Whenever I talked to her and she did something clumsy or clueless she would brush it off, “that's just what happens when you get old.” I never believed her. She was never old; 82 was just the beginning.