In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Medicine

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To the doctors again, I loaded the car with the wheelchair and its 

inhabitant and the inhabitant’s 62-year marriage distracting mate.

My dementia-ravaged mother’s caretaker naturally came along.

She and I lifted my mother’s stiff resisting 95-pound taut body high

into the van, me pulling from the seat above, she pushing from

the cement driveway below, the two of us nearly thankful she has 

wasted to such an accommodating weight, making the task feasible.

 

On her wedding day, she was 95 pounds, so my father repeats to

anyone who will listen, including the new neurologist who observes,

examines my mother while my father offers his opinions in a blared

recital of facts: “She was an English Major and wrote a thesis on, on…

Saul Bellow. It’s in Long Beach in the school somewhere. She was a

good wife. The best you could ask for. But you never know how much

you have in a person until she’s gone.” And so goes his secular litany.

 

Struggling not to once again remind him that she hears and is alive

and beat down the growing irritation, I explain that she fractured 

her shoulder somehow while in a nursing home and so protects it.

The doctor nods, hmmm’s and continues manipulating my mother’s

rigid limbs, tries to uncurl her fingers long-ago cemented into C’s.

She murmurs her observations in one word confirmed diagnoses: 

“Spasticity…atrophy…tremors…neuropathy…” as she plies tissue.

 

My father answers, “Her left arm doesn’t work at all,” when the 

neurologist inquires about body movement, and I snap, “Not true.”

I shush him a few times as his need grows to run the show, talk to 

someone who will hear what he repeats like a skipping vinyl record, 

evoke sympathy from new flesh (the same old audience tires), 

release nervousness or some other cause of his inaccurate, 

inappropriate and irrelevant comments–and I immediately soften.

 

He needs so much too, but then he has always stolen more from her.

The pink and blue light sabers clash in stinging zaps inside my body.

She is a White Walker sans the unstoppable malice, with bones 

for a face and fallen flesh failing to disguise human skeleton, I muse.

 

In the car trip to the office, she sneezed, and I marveled at her voice,

the familiar sound of her reflex, which flooded me with spinning

memory flinches of every moment I had ever heard it, pouring

gooey thick amniotic washing into the bones of my sense of time

and destination, the immediate and outward, unknown, unseen.

In Arabic death ritual, relatives painstakingly and lovingly wash the
 
corpse to send it onward in its journey while leaving blessings behind.

 

But the miasma of missing Mom living right before my eyes, mouth,

nose, ears and skin, who I touch and purr to and who sometimes

gaping-mouthed, wild eyed, crazy-toothed, lopsided smiles at me with

oh-my-God-of-the-moment recognition, cherished, ecstatic familiarity 

and connection for us both, confuses us, me, who churns with the incongruity 

and daze of seeing him well enough to complain, repeat the same jokes and other 

grating, mindless habits he has long held, and just as long refused to change–

 

and yet see him as short-term too, gone in a cardiac flash or in interminable dribs

and drabs of life-leaking, irrefutable, genuine  horror for him, me, everyone but 

the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians and equipment and drug 

manufacturers who gain from decay, his, theirs and ours, the dying.

 

At home, I hear the wheelchair wheels squeak by as my 20-year old

10-months now concussed daughter, chair-splayed, giggles at the electronic 

buzzes emitted from her palm’s worship, the small God of life she knows, 

my mother never knew, its advent arriving too late, my father acknowledges

then glances away from, its mystery blinding, and I know far too well, prey to 

its opiates, but not enough to forego profit and sneer nor succumb to its disease.

Shall we call this nature and proceed with a sun-spreading daylight’s delivery?

  

    

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