I got the text during my morning tea,
the message terse, clipped,
hope already siphoned away.
Pray hard…Bev O’D in coma…doesn’t look good.
My tears came swiftly, fiercely,
then cleared with the suddenness of a summer storm,
and I was left with those ominous words
rolling around in my mind like marbles.
I shuffled through the morning, fogged with sorrow,
and sat down groggy
to lunch, brushing away new tears.
He was home that day, and listened patiently as I struggled to understand,
sifting aloud through the painful possibilities
of doesn’t look good becoming she’s gone.
And inside me simmered the reality that
here we get to be,
in this moment,
our heaving lungs, our able bodies,
lifting forks and moving plates at our dining table,
that walnut table I’d been so thrilled to find,
with its splayed midcentury base,
and four (FOUR!) additional leaves promising dinner parties,
comfortable conversations unfurling languidly
over vast meals.
It all seems so vain now,
so garishly optimistic,
that certainty of times ahead.
The new year that held such promise just days ago,
stretching out ahead,
now sits coiled like a snake,
the dazzling shimmer of expectation merely the glint
off its sinister scales.
My first meeting at
my first book club, where I would be eating
my first Indian meal.
Worn by grief, tempted to bow out,
but hating to disappoint the friend who’d invited me,
I enter Maharana and summon my weak smile.
There is refuge in the litany of new names and chattering book talk, everything
smooth and gentle and easy,
an inviting lull.
I sink into the menu, a transporting array of tikka masalas, vindaloos, and saags, startled to suddenly find the words furred by fresh tears.
blink, blink, blink
I barely hold them back as the garlic naan arrives
in a fragrant cloud of steam.
On the icy drive home, I give in and let them fall freely,
warm and salty,
glazing my cheeks and dripping off my chin.
They are a relief and a chastisement,
for even the tears smack of the privilege of life,
of one more day, hour, moment
I can cry or chuckle,
act or ponder,
hurry or linger.
I can collect first after first – a meal, a gathering, a friendship –
and it all seems gluttony because Bev cannot.
She has had her last first,
and her last last.
I want to vow that this will change me,
that where I used to accumulate firsts unwittingly, nonchalantly,
I will now be forever marked,
each experience pressing into me,
an indelible debossing.
My mom texts me (How was it?) and
I know all the words I can pour over her
about the nondescript strip mall with the glittering chandeliers,
the distant smile of the dark-eyed waiter,
the way my memory failed when I tried to recall what a fistula was,
the way I relished the discussion but also the time thinking about it afterwards.
And I realize that this is what plummets me into sorrow,
this knowing that from the moment Bev faded from sentience,
her daughter is fading too,
or maybe not so much fading
developing like film in a bath of solution,
waiting indefinitely for the photographer who’s never coming.
Every new thing she does,
every choice she makes or person she meets,
every book she reads or chance she takes,
her mom not knowing.
And I suffocate imagining the grief
of that oppressive loneliness,
a daughter going on collecting the intricate layers of self,
a true kaleidoscope
her mom will never glimpse.
Later, when I discover my tears have left faint rings on my coat, I don’t wash them away.
The tubes have been disconnected, the heart has stopped.
What we’ve known would be now is.
It seems impossible that the sun could ever rise again
but I see it there,
spreading itself pink and gold
across the ever-lightening sky.