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Written by M.A. Eppolito
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copyright 1999 M.A. Eppolito
"I need to ask y’all something while I have every one together." Her southern Pennsylvanian accent was muffled by the exhale of smoke. Quickly she drew from the unfiltered camel before continuing. Her hand shook as she withdrew the cigarette. "Where do you want him to die? Her or at the hospital?"
Words and smoke flew out with control. Probably the last bit of concise control my Aunt was able to manage before switching to auto pilot. She asked this question to my parents and my grandmother. To herself as well. We had grouped in my parents kitchen, a warm sumptuous haven that has seen us through every aspect of familial life. They sat around the round glass topped table trimmed in oiled wood.
My mother was on the far side, head resting on the white plaster wall. Aunt to her right, sitting by the side door which leads to the backyard. Grandmother to Aunts right, facing my mother her back to me and the rest of the room. Then my father, sandwiched between his wife and mother in law, back turn from the room behind him, his bulk shielding Aunts view into the old living room.
Old living room turned new dying room. I orbited this group in a haphazard semi circle of nervous puttering. Watching. Watching eyes, hands, even the turn of an ankle. The body always tell the other side of the story. The undertones of emotion cascading out of fingertips while the monotoned business voices continued their reasoning courses.
Truth is told in the body not the voice. Torture swaying like water. Torments retold by the three women and single man. For the man in the other room had lost his voice. Wife, sister, mother brother friend. Mix and match they are all the same, the dynamics of a loved one discussing the death of the man on the hospital bed not fifteen feet away.
The man in the room behind my father. I stopped listening to the word. The discussion, the choice wasn’t mine, I was merely comfort, support in a heroes trial. Their heroes trial. But what I did listen to was the hand holding the paper napkin. Not dangling loosely at the side but clenched to the point of not being able to discern the bloodless knuckle from the bleached paper. I listened to the ankle twinned around the leg of a chair.
Hanging on tightly, rooting the leg firmly to the wooden furnishing as if to make sure the body doesn’t fly out, leaving the earth for the sun of frustration and fear. Panic. Look at the eyes darting quickly from one scene to another. Never allowing the brain to become bored. Never allowing the full meaning of the conversation to be fully absorbed. Keeping cool. Eyes dart to the microwave to the clock then fridge then magnets, the things to do list; buy adult diapers-milk-baby food-Call Doctor-Call Visiting Nurse. Now those eyes move down to the tiled floor to her own bare feet to the black shod feet of the man next to her. Scanning the clutter of the counter tops.
Never once the those eyes near a full glimps of the man fifteen feet away. He laid glazed and panting in the periphery. Fingers fidget with cigarettes and a lighter. Fingers with heavily bitten nails. Squares are drawn on scraps of paper. Nervous hand fidget with calming objects. As I orbit and watch I save the faces for last.
Mothers soft and flushed. Unfamiliar in grief. Giving me a youthful red-rimmed wink. Trying to reassure me that ‘Yes, she was okay. Don’t worry..’. Later, alone with Dad the break down will come. Quietly so as not to disturb the rest of the people in the house. Later, when this business is completed they will hold each other.
My Aunt . That is where you can see it all. The past two and a half years laboriously etched on her face. From the first mild seizure in the spider web of grey at her temples to the operation that cut away part of his brain in the thick lines around her mouth and eyes. To the last few days, oddly the hardest yet with the repeated grand mal seizures and the systematic shutting down of his body stooped her shoulders into a question mark. Why her frame seemed to ask. The loss of hope more evident than ever in the pale curdled milk colour of her skin, drawn taunt over the angle of her cheeks. At 37 she could be easily mistaken for 60. She was dying along side her husband.
My Grandmothers face is almost unchanged. A worried pull to her mouth an extra furrow on her forehead and between he deep brown eyes. Life has taught her too well. She knows what to expect. She knows the death rattle. Those damned quick half breaths. Knocking and clamoring inside the chest as if the ribs were pulverized and trying to escape by tearing into the soft flesh of the lungs in the exodus. To endure was a way of life for her. She has no choice. The stone face of my Father is a comfort. He would be what they need him to be, the earth on which the stones lay. A rasping cough comes from the death room. Halting the whispered discussion. Full attention went to the bed and body. Only heads move, fearing to disturb the pendulate sleep. Full resting sleep is rare now.
The pneumonia which lay in his lungs grew like the tumor that eats his mind. I watch him now. Glazed and dying. Not much life left. Lips drawn, dried saliva at the corners of his once laughing mouth. Yellow mottled skin screamed his kidneys were shutting down. All his muscles were long since gone, leaving a mushy hollow husk. Five, maybe six, days ago, now was the last communication any of had with him. Just a simple wave of a pinkie. Hello. Not much before, nothing since. Watching. Orbiting. I can not help but wonder What makes him hold on? What in this room keeps him here?
A portrait of his granddaughter sits on the piano among the smokey yellow bottles, dark brown bottles of tang coloured liquid. Boxes of morphine patches stacked three high next to the photo of the blond girl in pig tails. Stress therapy balls of various sizes and textures, when he is frightened he likes to grip.
Also in this litter of sickness sits a small white medical diary, in which is methodically recorded how long he is awake or asleep or in that in between world, medicine dosages, time of morphine patch replacement, bladder and bowel functions. A calculated account of his deterioration. The warm home aromas have long since fled over powered by the plasticy-powdery smell of adult diapers. Mint from the tiger balm floats above the sweet smell of the tang coloured liquid. Stale Soda and the boiled spew of the baby food hides in the corners of the room.
And the earthy grave like scent of the body in the bed. Boggy and wet. All the heavy aromas of an invalid. Aimed at his hospital bed is the continuously playing television, his eyes no longer see the flickering images. Could it be that simple fact that jeopardy is on that keeps him bound to his body. Is this why he wont let go? Or is it that he is in the home of his sister. An ancestral tie, the feel of the of the past keeping him from moving on. Tied to those who hover and roam about his weakening body.
The women. The three women and single man. Does his wounded brain know their touch? Their voices cooing gently while they roll him sooth his brow with cool water lift him love him with tentative fingers? Massaging the atrophying muscles. Speaking through their touches. They need him t o be there, in that room, the one living room. To usher him into death with a gentle uncorrupt love.
There is nothing a hospital could give him now except an antiseptic death. Sterile. With tubes down his throat and up hi nose. Beeps and bleeps and squeals. Slow drip drip, drip. No cooing soft voices remembering even the occasional sorrowful laugh. And soon the families will filter in, coming to celebrate his life and embrace his death.
They too will watch. For however strong his body and spirit were once they are now winding down, unable to keep the rhythm of life. Release will be soon. Battles all over. And though devine the release will rip us apart. Grief will be a life mate for a long time to come. Dishes done and put away. Counters cleared and wiped clean. Cups and saucers brought out, preparing for the onslaught. The coffee overpowering the sickness for a little while. All of us now circling orbiting one another, and puttering as the discussion settles among us. And all we will be able to wait. And all we can so is listen.
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