A Perfect Ending

Thank the good Jesus for my high pain threshold. They’re always giving me strong pills when I hurt myself. I tell those doctors I don’t need any drugs, but they insist. The cabinet in the bathroom has enough chemicals in it to do myself in several times over. But I won’t. Dad and I used to talk about it when we were younger, but after he had his by-pass surgery, he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Which was fine by me. And, of course, he went in his sleep so that was just as good. Good for him but not for me. I still forget he’s dead sometimes, and – believe me – those are the better times.

Anyway, I don’t hurt much, but I look a mess. Donna just left and she gave me another long lecture about slowing down. I was just going into the kitchen to get something to eat when I fell. I was rushing because I didn’t want to turn that DVD thing off because sometimes I can’t get it started again in the right place. I didn’t want to miss too much of the movie. I love Myrna Loy. I didn’t really bother to put my shoes on – just shoved my foot into the toe and flopped off. But I didn’t tell Donna any of that. She was upset enough. Treats me like a child. She thinks I should be more careful, act old. I disagree, and I tell her I’m not just going to sit around this coffin of an apartment like I was already stiff. Today Donna pointed out that now my right arm is broken and I have stitches in my head, I can’t drive or do anything and isn’t that worse?

What she didn’t say was I look like hell. A week ago when I glimpsed myself in the bathroom mirror while getting out of the shower, I would have said I couldn’t look any worse, but – as usual – life proved me wrong. One whole side of my head is black and blue and I have a line of stitches across my forehead as if Dr. Frankenstein took the top of my skull off and sewed it back on again. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m a month overdue for a new perm, and so the bottom half of my hair is plastered to my skull and the ends are all kinked out. It’s clean, anyway, because Donna shampooed the blood out of it. It was right after that she started in on me.

I do wish Donna would give up lecturing me, but I doubt she ever will. She enjoys it too much. Standing there in her big old sneakers and blonde ponytail stuck through a Pirates baseball cap with her hands on her hips and swaying backwards and forwards, while she reminded me of all the things the doctor said I couldn’t do. Donna tried to hold back her smile as she reiterated the judgment the little man in white had just passed on me. Having the time of her life. Payback.

Lucy, on the other hand, never scolds me. She says I might was well enjoy my golden years. When I called her after Donna brought me back from the emergency room, she didn’t yell at me at all. She just said she was sorry it happened. Of course, she didn’t offer to come up from Maryland or anything so it is hard to know how much she respects my right to do what I want and how much of it is because she just doesn’t care that much, because she respects her own right to stay put in Maryland. Lucy was always kind of cold to me; I think she liked her father better, but then I was never sure she liked anyone all that much. But I shouldn’t complain. Even when Lucy was a child, it was kind of a relief she was so independent, that I didn’t have to feel responsible for her happiness. And now she’s grown up, Lucy at least treats me like an adult. After I broke my ankle playing tennis, she told Donna to lay off when I insisted on playing doubles again once the cast was off. When Donna didn’t want me to drive anymore after the old Buick died, Lucy offered me her old car which she was about to trade in. When my poor friend Betty was dying, nobody – not even her own family– would go to be with her so she could die at home. So I flew cross-country and stayed until the end. Donna had a fit, but Lucy said she thought it was very nice of me. I guess adult children are in the same no-win situation mothers are in – overprotective (read Donna) is not good, but negligent (maybe read Lucy) is always seen as worse. I am not sure I entirely agree.

            I wish Donna didn’t cry so much when I leave her at Miss Royal’s Nursery School – I feel so bad that I can’t even enjoy coffee downtown with my friend Betty. Oh, but that was a long time ago. Donna used to scream I don’t want to stay with you at poor old Miss Royal (who seemed so ancient but surely must have been younger than I am now) and clung to my leg so hard I lost my circulation. I had to try to keep my balance and patiently pry her off, while the old lady just looked at us sadly. When Lucy came along, I hoped it would be easier but then was sort of perversely sorry when it was. Lucy used to march right into Miss Royal’s and never look back. More than once I told Betty about it over our coffee and scones, and she always said the same thing. Every child is different. That’s fine but it means being a mother never gets any easier if you have to figure it out all over again with each kid. It makes me tired just to think about it.

Right now I am just glad to be alone. I’m thrilled Donna is gone for the day (I hope), and while I still miss Fred, at least I can watch what I like on television, eat what I want, and think about how I’m going to get home with my packages when I go down the street to Al’s Grocerette tomorrow. Which Donna would not approve of. But I like Al and I like to pick out my own food and it’s not very far. The coffee is awful though. I think the same pot sits there all day because most people in this neighborhood switch to more calming liquids by noon. I would have driven regardless of what the doctor said, but it’s my right arm and I’m not sure I could get the car in gear. I could steer fine though.

There is a senior services van, but it never comes on time and it smells funny. No way. And I feel like I have to dress up to get chauffeured around like that. Put on clean underwear. Not for Al’s though. I don’t even need to wear my prostheses − or even a bra. Much more comfortable without it, although I have never quite gotten used to looking right straight down at my crotch without anything in-between. The lopping-off worked though. It must be twenty years since the last operation and the only thing wrong with me now is I keep falling down. Have more scars from accidents than I ever had from surgery, and a whole collection of crutches, slings, and ace bandages. Let’s see, I’ve done: head (forehead and back), left palm, broken thumb, ditto on the right foot, and now my right arm. Self-inflicted wounds, Donna calls them when she is really angry – usually when we come home from the emergency room. She holds her tongue while I am still bleeding. It goes the same way every time. She says I need to stop doing so much, moving so quickly, taking so many risks. As I said before, that’s when I inform her I might as well be dead. She tells me at the rate I’m going that’s going to happen soon enough and meanwhile I’m making myself and everyone around me miserable. Mostly Donna means she will be miserable and seems to forget I’m the one with the plaster and the stitches.

But I don’t mind. As I said, my pain threshold is monumental and it gives me something real to think about – no need to imagine what can go wrong when you’re sitting here in a cast. I never was a great one for imagining bad things except when I was pregnant with Donna. Just after I found out the rabbit died (as they used to say), my sister Marge had a baby with water on the brain. Her little Tom only lasted a few days, but Marge was never the same and everyone who saw the poor thing said it was really pathetic. Because of my condition, they wouldn’t let me see little Tom. Marge never had any more kids, and she couldn’t stand to be around mine, so we never saw much of each other, even before she moved to the Army base in California. Gary was in the reserves after Korea and when he couldn’t get a good job, he decided to re-enlist in the real Army. I wrote to her for a long time but it’s been years since I have even gotten a Christmas card. Can’t blame her – as I said she was never right after she watched her baby swell up and die. I have no idea where they are now. If Marge died, I would have thought Gary would let me know. But, of course, I moved a few years ago and maybe he couldn’t find me. Or maybe they’re both dead. Or they both may be living on his Army pension in one of those retirement places in Arizona. I wish her well wherever she is, but I wish I knew where wherever was and I could talk to her.

Anyway, after what happened to Marge, I had an awful time worrying something would be wrong with my baby. Almost drove myself crazy. But when Donna was born fine, I swore I wasn’t going through that again, and I set my will to control my mind a little. You can’t stop the dreaming, but you can damn well stop making up nightmares in the sunshine. And you can’t decide to think about nothing, because – no matter what the Buddhists say – it doesn’t work. So I took up tennis and contract bridge and learning Spanish to fill my brain up. Besides Donna didn’t give me much time to worry when I was pregnant with her sister.

Why do I have to share a room with my sister? I hate her. She’s a little snot nose and she’s always looking sad. Oh, there I go again. That must have been more than fifty years ago. Donna hated sharing a room with Lucy when they were little. We bought a house when Donna was twelve and she finally got her own room. Never understood her problem, because I actually liked sharing a room with Marge. I still miss her. We used to talk late at night in the dark. This was forbidden of course; bedtime was bedtime just as firmly as six o’clock was dinner time. So we’d each move toward the other bed, laying our heads on the night table between us so Mom wouldn’t hear us and come in and threaten us with the breakfast dishes. We couldn’t see each other – my father thought it was good for children to get used to the dark – but we could hear. We talked for hours about everything. Marge and I would completely review what had happened that day and talk about the people around us and share what we were feeling. I still do that kind of talking incessantly inside of my head. Wait. I just realized that, really, I’m still talking to Marge − who is not even part of my life. No. That last bit is a lie. It’s as if she was always there on the other side of the nightstand even though I can’t see her. Marge is still part of my life. She just doesn’t know it.

Well, if Marge is dead, I hope she went easily. She had enough trouble in her life. And I hope I go easily. Just like with my pregnancy, I try to control my mind when it comes to end days.   I don’t care much about being dead, but I still fret a bit about the process of dying. It seems like it might just ruin your whole life if you spent the last part of it suffering terribly – and a lot of folks do. My mother went on for months, in and out of a coma − when she was conscious, wishing she wasn’t. We all wished she wasn’t. Those were awful days. What kind of god would make people suffer like that? And through all of it, we never heard from Marge.

I haven’t suffered much. Two mastectomies, but – again – my pain threshold is pretty high. Chemo was awful, but I got through it and torture is not so bad if you know there is an end to it. With chemo you just count the days and promise yourself strawberry milkshakes. But if there is no way to know how long it will go on…   Well, that’s why Fred and I looked into the Hemlock Society, but he lost interest and didn’t need it anyway. One yelp in the middle of the night and he was gone, bless his soul. I would have helped him to go out easy if he needed it, but I could never ask the girls to help me. Donna would have a fit and it wouldn’t be fair to ask Lucy, although she’d probably do it. And I don’t want the grandkids to hear Nana did herself in. Families being what they are, they’d hear it sooner or later. I remember no one acknowledged Aunt Ada – my grandmother’s sister – had ever been married, but all the grand-nieces and nephews knew she had married a bigamist when she was eighteen. And we found out my cousin Betty went away to have a baby. Kids have a way of finding out things, and they aren’t old enough to understand why old Nana might do it and not to take it personally. Or maybe they wouldn’t find it hard to understand at all – who would want to be old decrepit Nana?

~ ~ ~

Finally, that damn cast is off, and no one has given me any good reason I can’t drive. Donna argued with the doctor and then she argued with me and then she argued with the air on her way out, but she’s gone now. Lucy called to see how it went and when I told her I was going to drive again she said “good for you.” I didn’t really need to go anywhere, because Donna brought groceries when she came over to take me to Dr. Barry, but I went out anyway. Here I am at the Eastfield Mall, drinking cappuccino and looking at the escalator.

I wasn’t an overprotective mother. I really wasn’t. Once I decided to get my mind under control after spending my first pregnancy worried about hydrocephalic babies, I did a whole lot better than most mothers about giving the girls a little leeway. They could go a distance on their bikes and they never had the earliest curfew in the bunch. But I had a thing about escalators. Don’t know why. Must have had a dream or something because I never had a bad experience on one. And kids always want to ride an escalator. There I would be in Marshall’s Department Store trying to convince Donna and Lucy – well, mostly Donna because Lucy never looked like she thought it was worth arguing about – to take the elevator or the stairs. They have a nice elevator here at the mall – it’s all glass and you can watch the people go up and down and I am going to go up it as soon as I finish my cappuccino….

Up we go. It’s fun to watch all the people in the food court as the glass coffin goes up the wall slowly. And out we go. The mothers with strollers seem to take precedent over old ladies these days. And there is the escalator right beside us. Two metal conveyors, one up and one down. Get on the wrong one and you can go step against the tide forever and never get anywhere. And I make up my mind to take the elevator up again, but – for some strange reason – I decide to take the escalator down first. As I step onto the atrocious machine, I wonder why on earth I am doing this. Then my right foot gets taken away before my left foot is ready, and I am in the air.

Marge, it’s amazing how much you can ponder when you know there are only seconds left. I’m thinking how I can’t see any children on the escalators and I’m glad about that. I’m thinking about how Donna will say “I told her,” and Lucy will just roll her eyes and say that it was my life and at least it was over quickly.   And they both will be amazed that it happened on an escalator since they know how much I hated them. I’m thinking about the beautiful gladioli my mother used to grow out back and hoping they have some lavender ones at my memorial service. I am remembering Peaches, the only cat I ever had. That woman with the wide open mouth and big green eyes looks just like you, Marge. But she’s too young. You would be old like me now. I remember how pretty you were. Something just went by fluttering like a Luna moth. We saw one in the daytime once – which is very rare. Maybe someone threw something. I can see everything, but the eerie part is there’s no noise. Like someone hit the mute button.

Now I know why I kept having accidents. I was rehearsing for this. I was practicing for sudden death in overtime. But it’s really not so sudden at all – it seems to go on and on − and everything seems so peaceful and quiet. And slow. How is it I can think about so much just in the time since I tripped? What makes time go so slowly when it’s about to stop? It’s too bad all of life isn’t like this; you could really mull things over, re-live your days, make thoughtful decisions. Life would never be too short. It would be perfect. This is perfect….