Monday, February 19, 2007

Life's scars

"We're running late, Mouth." My mother's voice crackled, indicating the car she was calling from was closer to her home in the country than mine in the city. Towers, after all, can only cast clear signals so far.

"How late?" I asked, eyes darting to the clock on top of my refrigerator.

"We'll be there in an hour and fifteen minutes."

"Are you in the car?"




"You'll be here in 35 minutes."

"Alright. Well, we're on our way."

I hung up the phone, sighing. I remember a voice in my head, a year ago.

"Don't be dramatic, Mo. It'll pass. You don't really want to give up your family." L had said that to me, sipping a drink he'd fallen back into after 10 years of sobriety, sitting across a table we'd come to argue over like a judge's bench a few weeks later.

Months later, by another more settled voice rang clearly:

"I can't believe you tolerate it."

-I can't, either- my heart cried.

They picked me up from home, all bluster and noise, disturbing the quiet peace in my apartment.

"Let's go!" mother cried, flipping her sunglasses off. "Are you ready?"

"I've been ready for hours." I sat in a wing chair in my living room, my book in my lap, my packed suitcase at my feet.

"Oh." Mother looked deflated. "Well, get loaded up, then. Where's the cat?"

"In the bedroom." I knew what was coming.

"Well, go get him."

"Mother, it's six degrees outside. I'm going to be in the hospital for hours. You cant leave him in the car."

"You don't think he'd be okay with a blanket?" I raised my eyebrows. We'd gone through this same dance earlier in the week. "Oh, alright. We'll come back for him."

On the way to the hospital, both Jenny and mom complained about how hungry they were. "It's lunchtime," mother announced. Neither one of them seemed to remember that they'd had a full breakfast only hours ago, and that I hadn't eaten since dinner the evening before. "Oh, I can't wait. I'm getting sick to my stomach!" Mother tore into a pre-packed BLT in the backseat.

After I got to the hospital and got checked in, the nurse asked if I wanted my family to join me in the pre-op room. "Honestly?" I chuckled, then shook my head. "It's alright. Send them in."

-They need to see you- I told myself. -Nevermind the noise.-

Mother immediately began fussing with the blankets, asking over and over if I was warm enough, bumping my IV and snagging the tubes on the pressure monitors. Jenny sat in a chair, visibly stirring some internal pot. Finally, mother sat down. It took only a moment for Jenny to pounce.

"I've been going to group. I've been going to group twice a week. We all had to write letters to our families." She began fishing in her bag. "I wrote one for mommy, and one for daddy, and I wrote one for you."

"Jen, do we have to do this right now?"

My mother looked up from her magazine long enough to chastise me. "Oh, Mouth, stop. It's a nice letter. The least you can do is read it."

Jenny stuffed the letter in my hand. I worked my way down the page, deciphering child-like handwriting saying how much she admired me, and how much she is inspired by me. The last sentence hung like grease dropping from the bottom of the page:

"You love me and never gave up on me."


Guilt wielded like a weapon. Guilt that was used to pin down, to hold, to restrain. Guilt that shackled me to a life I didn't want, and refused to accept. I smiled at Jenny. "Thank you," I said. -Thank you for reminding me. Thank you for letting me see, one more time, that you'll never change, because you don't want to.-

I heard his voice in my head. "I don't accept guilt I didn't earn." I'd read that same line in the book he gave me, which was resting on my chest like a plate of armor.

"You know, Mo, I need your support now more than ever. I know you don't believe me that I didn't mean any of it, the cancer and all that. I'm sick, you know. The voices. I know you don't agree with the medication, and I know you don't believe I'm really sick, but I am."

"I don't want to talk about it, Jenny. I'm not going to say anything you want to hear."

"But I need to know you're going to be there for me! I need to know you're going to be there even if I have to go back to the hospital. I need to know you'll be there no matter what."

"I won't."

"What do you mean you won't? You weren't there the last time because we were fighting, but we're not fighting now! Why wouldn't you come?"

"Because I refuse to support your self-destruction."

"It's not self-destruction! It's part of the healing process!"

I eyed her arms, and her jean-clad legs. "Taking a razor blade to yourself is part of your healing process?"

"I make mistakes. I'm not perfect like you," she snapped. "If I can only stay out of the hospital for six months..." she trailed off.

"You can, but I'm not sure that you will, and I'm no more likely to visit you the next time than I was the last time."

"Why are you so terribly mean?"

"Because I'm laying in a hospital bed connected to machines, hoping to God and anything that will listen that when I wake up, the doctor will tell me everything's okay. Because I refuse to accept steps backwards as progress. Because I'm not going to tell you what you want to hear, just because it makes you more comfortable. I've told you I have nothing nice to say on the subject. Now, we can talk about this later if you'd like, but I would really appreciate it if you'd leave it alone for now. You'll have me trapped at mom's house as a captive audience all weekend. Surely it can wait until then."

"Now girls, let's not fight," mother jumped in, after the argument was obviously over to all parties involved.

Just before Jenny's mouth twisted open to lob another missile, the anesthesiologist peaked around the corner. "All ready to go, Miss Mouth?" I could see in his eyes that he'd heard it. I smiled weakly, both in embarrassment and in thanks.

"Yeah. I'm ready." He and three male nurses each took a corner of my bed, and wheeled me away from Jenny's steely glare.

"Wanna take a nap?" he laughed down at me.

"More than you can imagine," I sighed, watching him compress the plunger into my IV line.

I awoke to a militeresque post-op nurse barking orders for painkillers, telling me to sit up but not too far, take deep breaths but not move my abdomen, and try not to vomit. The doctor came by after I was awake enough to string two sentences together.

"That mass in your ovary? It was scar tissue. I removed it, but any idea where it came from?"

"Life," I snorted.

After an hour of recovery, they released my shaky, still-groggy body to my mother and sister, who whisked me into the car and headed back to my apartment. I vaguely remember laughing in half-sleep at my mothers report that my 'stupid cat' had peed on her when she tried to take him to the car.

I came to full consciousness somewhere between the glittering towers of the city and the rolling hills around my parents' farm. "There you are. What do you want for dinner?"

"I don't know, mother. I don't care. What's convenient?"

"Anything you want!" My mother beamed.

"Okay. What's thawed out?"

She thought for a moment. "Well... nothing."

"So there's nothing thawed out, but I can have anything I want?" Mother's mouth twisted in a humorless snarl.

"I didn't mean it like that. Look, we're about to drive through a town. There's food places there. Pick one."

I sighed and requested a tasteless glob of soyburger in a styrofoam box from any of the chains along the side of the highway. I remembered my dad asking me three weeks prior what I wanted, so they could grocery shop and have it ready when I got there. I'd listed two or three meals that were favorites of mine, and that the rest of the family enjoyed. Cardboard-packed fast food wasn't on the list.

We ate in silence, Jenny using her knees in an attempt to keep the car between the lines, cussing and making obscene gestures at the other cars who honked at her when she crossed the yellow center mark. I realized I was holding my breath as we crossed a narrow bridge that spanned a busy train-track.

"Doug's there," she said to me.

"Okay..." I wasn't sure where she was going with it.

"So we've got the couch all made up," she spat through her burger-stuffed mouth, "for you."

For... me?

Months ago, I'd sent my bedroom suite to my mother's house at her request, because she'd volunteered her home for entertaining family over Thanksgiving, but realized after the fact that she didn't have beds for all the bodies that were attending. Mr. M had come up over that weekend, as well. We'd slept on two twin mattresses pushed together in my bedroom floor.

She said she'd wanted to keep the bedroom set, "for when you visit, Mouth." My visits out to the farm were becoming less and less frequent. The twin mattresses are now stacked on one another in a corner in my room. I'm still sleeping on them.

"Is your friend coming out this weekend?"

"Pea? Yes." I didn't ask where he would sleep. I knew they didn't know.

Three nights, I slept on the sofa. Two of those nights, Pea slept by my side, curled in fetal position on a love seat. Sunday morning, I awoke to my family standing in the kitchen yelling at one another about whether or not they were going to church. Embarrassed, I turned my face away. Pea was woken up by the commotion, too. He was watching me.

I looked into his dark eyes, and saw an emotion I detest - Pity.

I stood up and started shoving clothing into my suitcase. Pea readily followed suit.

"What are you doing?" my mother asked.

"Packing," I answered.

"Where are you going?" asked my father.

"Home," I answered.

"I thought you were staying all weekend?" My sister demanded.

"I'm going home to sleep in my own bed, in my own home, with my own food and my own clothes, where it's quiet and I can rest."

My family blinked at me. Suddenly, as if called to action, they began bustling around, going through the motions of helping me pack and get ready to go. In reality, they were moving things from place to place, with no progression towards the car.

They each hugged me in turn, admonishing me to take it easy, to rest, to call if I needed anything. The unspoken, already-broken promise hung silently in the air - call if you need anything, but don't expect us to answer.

And so I'm home, and healing - in more ways than one. I told Pea I wanted to change my name, move, and start over. I don't know that I'll do it. I only know that I don't want to go back.

The fear associted with the past months has been like an alarm clock screaming in my soul. "Wake up!" it's saying. "Wake up and live!"

And that's exactly what I'm going to do.


MARLENE said...

life's made of infinite bits and pieces, some are surprisingly significant while some are merely trivial matters..i guess you must have taken a breath to write all that out. congratulations!since you did it,you'd have nerve to face all. for a being,the worst is not the stagnant unhappy scene ever there,but one cheats himself to escape with regret... welcome a happy day with a sunny smile:)

LV said...

Thinking of you... Hope you're feeling better.

Mouth said...

I've noticed things are easier to deal with, especially big things, the further you are away from them. The problem, of course, with holding things at arm's length, is that you don't get to feel the warmth they can bring.