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I took my leave because there’s nothing left to do. I thought I’d be more upset, saying goodbye for the last time and knowing it was finally, truly the last time. She moaned in agony. I patted her shoulder and left. I mumbled “I love you” on the way out.

I thought
I’ll be glad when she’s dead.

The guilty thoughts—wishing my aunt dead, not paying enough attention to her, not caring enough, thinking her a chore—I take them out of context so that I suffer more. So that I’ll suffer longer. Because she’s dead after all and I’m not. I tell myself that I wished her dead, as if I wished her dead in a vacuum. The context is she was dying. The context is she suffered and I wanted it to end. The context is I was selfish, but most people are. The context is my thoughts and reactions were completely understandable for a caregiver over the long haul. Death sucks, you do what you can.

The context is
she had cancer,
motherfucking, no-cure cancer.

The context is
I wished her dead, yes,
but. the thought. did. not. kill. her.

I’ve been crying since I was eight years old. Blame Lurlene McDaniel. I do.

In the summer of 1987, I found death on a shelf at the Lee County Library in Sanford, North Carolina. I had been looking for those pre-teen romance novels, the ones where boys didn’t have naughty intentions and girls said no to drugs even in the midst of the popular kids. I had devoured these sorts of books all summer and had finally exhausted the library’s moderate selection. So, as any other little girl would do, I began perusing books for the coolest, hippest teenage girls on the cover, the girls I wanted to be.

It was time to go and I was desperate to find something to read. By chance (or was it?), I saw a really pretty blond girl, whose hair was crimped and massive, sitting with her mother. I hastily picked up the book and ran to the check out.

Later, I examined the book more closely. The book was called Mother, Please Don’t Die. Which, of course, meant Mother was, in fact, going to die (but I wasn’t a savvy reader back then so I held out hope things would end well). The book followed a girl’s journey through her mother’s dying and her own grief as well as the difficult transition from being a little girl to being a teenager. Megan made sense of her mom’s worsening symptoms as best she could as a young girl; she told me about the terrible pressure and the anger bubbled to the surface at baseball practice, resulting in her consequent suspension. After her sister’s wedding, Megan sat with her mother and they had the first truly frank conversation about death that I had ever read; Mother was not going to be there for Megan’s wedding. She was dying.

And when she did die, my heart was shattered and I sobbed out loud. I’ve been reading and sobbing ever since. I developed a voracious appetite for the dying genre. Through my middle and high school years, I learned about living with diabetes, juvenile arthritis, kidney failure, and AIDs. I felt enlightened with each page. I groped for all the empathetic artifacts in the words that were written. I began to live with all of these hardships. I felt I knew what it was like.

The year before, 1986, had been a bad year. In January, my grandfather died of lung cancer. It was the first death I’d experienced. It was scary flying from North Carolina to Arkansas, only to see a dead body, dressed in blue and not breathing in a wooden bed. Two weeks later, I sat forward with the rest of my class, eyes glued to the television as the Challenger exploded and everyone on board was killed. They sent school counselors around to speak to us about dying and grief. I felt terrible for the teacher on the Challenger, but I cried terrible, painful tears for my grandfather.

Weeks later, I randomly asked my mother if she had had any other children before my brother and me one night before our bath. She hesitated and told us she had given birth to a little girl when she had been previously married, but the girl had died when she was a toddler from cancer. I nodded and soon forgot about it, as children will. It wasn’t long before my subconscious mind kicked in and I began to wonder if I had cancer, too, and asked my mother if I was going to die. Months I asked her and for months I must have drove a stake in her heart.

Little girls don’t understand these sorts of things. I didn’t. By the time I held a copy of Mother, Please Don’t Die in my hands, I needed to read about grief. The only problem is I never stopped grieving. The reading and the grieving is a question of insignificance; no matter if the chicken came before the egg, the chicken and the egg exist.

When I was eighteen, a very receptive former teacher gave me Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt as a graduation gift. Since then, it’s the real stories of laughter and pain that have touched me the most. Into Thin Air. Devil’s Knot. Young Men and Fire. Books about the Holocaust, 9/11, surviving freak accidents, OCD, alcoholism, depression. The stories are compelling but they are most important to me as conduits for processing my own life (and grief).

In a nutshell, I read books that are too sad for other people. A book is deemed good if I cry. It is deemed brilliant if I can still sob thinking about it a year later. There are many brilliant writers out there.

Right now, The Dark Tower: the Gunslinger is impatiently waiting on my bedside stand for me to finish it. The sojourn will be short and I will soon return to form. Stacked in the corner are my standard fair, books about the Taliban, mental illness, murder, the Mormon lifestyle…all await me. I can only think greedily of the sobs I am soon to cry.

I can’t help but think I’ve made Lurlene proud.

Tuesday
a day of extended anxiety
“on” for the job
“on” for my class

and just for kicks
when I’m tired
enough
to rest my head
a phone call
cancer is terminal
again
nothing the doctors can do

six months
twelve months
lungsthyroidbonemarrowandmoremoremore
cancer is a carnival worker
smiling to my family, leering at them
a two for one special
and if you’re really nice
a third for free

Between Birth and Decay

My aunt had cancer.
Actually, she still does.
It’s just rotting with her bones in an underground cavern.

Between birth and decay,
it’s the suffering that counts.
Malinger away.

Two other aunts have cancer now.
Don’t they deserve it, never coming to visit
never seeing the suffering until the end.

More endings coming forthwith.

 Miami

My ex-boyfriend had gone to Miami for four days in April.
I know because I drove him from the airport.

He went to a strip club.
He met and took pictures of girls he met there.
One night on the town, three pictures of these girls.
I know because one morning after he’d gone to work, I looked through the pictures on his camera.

Six months with me, not a one picture did he take.
I know because I was there.
I know because he’s so predictable.

I know because I drove him to the airport.

Bones

My dog had a bone
but no meat on it
not even much of a scent
where there should have been flavor and bite

My friend nodded
saying it’s a shame
puppies having puppies
but she didn’t know better

She just wanted a chance at a real bone
but she has the real thing now and I give her bacon-flavored bones everyday

See poeticgrin.com for the rules of this exercise.

Note: “Miami” and “Bones”  appear to have 11 lines; however, there is one line in each that is  too long for wordpress’s sensibilities.

Am I going to kill my mother? My Aunt Ty died. Now, two other aunts on that same side of the family have cancer. These three aunts have at least one thing in common: they always swore that there’d been a mistake and I was their daughter. My aunts soon to be dead or already so. And I wonder, if I’ve killed my other mothers, am I going to kill my own mother.

I didn’t put her away. I thought I would have. I thought I’d turned a corner.

For six weeks, an envelope with pictures of my dead aunt have been on my coffee table, waiting for me to do something with them. I have gotten teary-eyed just seeing the envelope. The last week has been especially difficult because I noticed that the pictures are halfway out of the envelope and the part I see is her exposed neck, her neck, the part that killed her. Or the cancer underneath. Whatever.

The pictures of her are when she was younger and healthier. Before she knew how she’d die or that the son (who was also in those pictures) would go before her.

I wrote her a letter before she died but didn’t get around to sending it. So I found it in my car, addressed and stamped, ready for her to read it. She’s not around to read it. She said she started a letter to me but couldn’t finish it because her hands were shaking so bad. I am sure the paper has been thrown away by now, but I’m haunted by what she may have said.

She told everyone I was her rock, but rocks don’t sob; they sit indifferent. And that I could never be.

The last words I’ll ever hear her speak are, “I’ve still got fight left in me.” Or maybe, “I don’t have no fight left in me.” I distinctly heard “fight left in me.”

I asked her how she was.  Dry: “I’m great.” Floated back into her morphine dreams or nightmares.

Later, when I was alone with her for a few moments, both of her hands in mine, I called her name. “Tywanua.” She opened her eyes. “Tywanua, I love you.” She was coherent enough to recognize me. “I love you, too.  I wish I could sit up a little more…but I’m just glad you’re here.”

 Atrocities of June 8, 2009

  • My aunt, who has terminal cancer, starts to rapidly decline as her body shuts down. There is concern she won’t make it through the night but the extra morphine improves her breathing and makes her more comfortable.
  • I see this otherworldly tumor on the side of her neck that makes me cringe and I’m glad my aunt is sleeping mostly. Not to be funny, but to give a visual: familiar with Coneheads on SNL? It’s like one of those heads is trying to grow out of the side of her neck. Ball your fists up, press them against the left side of your neck, and you can see how big that thing is. It’s like from a horror movie. Where the skin has been stretched to the limit and has cracked, she has bled. The whole top part has dark purple scabs and I’m sure some of that skin is black because it’s dead.
  • My family aren’t much of hand holders, but I know she likes to have her hand held so I try to model it for my family so that they can see the comfort it can give. Now, she’s hearing that she is loved and that’s all she (or any of us) has ever wanted.
  • My piece-of-the-most-unholiest-shit ex-uncle is a jealous, selfish coward. An obnoxious alcoholic, he keeps yelling at her, “you want something to eat, you want something eat?” I want to scream: She’s a little too busy with the business of breathing to eat. Besides, food will only prolong it now. Also, he apparently tries to have sex with her, while another aunt is in the same room, trying to sleep.
  • There’s too many people all around, wanting to desperately help her or those around her. The weariness of us all is heavy on the heart, and it’s the kind of heaviness that one can’t lose by going on a diet. It’s there for good.
  • I say goodbye to her and leave without a sob.
  • If not today,  June 9 or June 10, 2009 will be the day she dies. Maybe planning a death really is like planning a marriage. You concern yourself with the flowers and the weather.
  • Past and present tenses. She will die, but after that?  Will I say I had an aunt who died?  That tends to be the traditional form of reference. Or I have an aunt who died? Because is she still my aunt once she’s dead?  Will I ever be able to say I  lost an aunt or will it always be I am losing an aunt? I can’t go find her at the lost and found; she’s not a lost item or a lost person. Losing is active and implies infinity.

SOB with me

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