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Lions Roar : January 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2012 56 back now into that room where she died, I would still be curious, as I was then, about the details of her body. I’d wait to catch sight again of the velvet density of the blood-thick urine that barely met the first line of measurement in the triangular recep- tacle that funneled it into the catheter bag, signal- ing the shutdown of her kidneys. I’d listen in again on the conversations of the staff for the specifics of dosages: in what increments did the nurse on duty ratchet up the morphine as her discomfort escalated. My own discomfort spiked as the dose increased: Were we killing her? I’d want to track more closely the progression from talk to pure breath. When did her breath start serving purely for sustenance; when did she stop loading her breaths with language? What was the exact progression of her breaths toward the last exhalation—the precise span of spaces expanding— of her lungs’ gradual collapse. I want to impose a gorgeous mathematical precision onto those last, racking Cheyne-Stokes breaths. How many sec- onds spanned the space before the last one? Did the breaths spiral with even bands, or, graphed, would they swell and narrow? I want to see them charted, confident in the ruled comfort of quadrille. Does the spiraling down of breath follow a Fibonacci sequence? Could I map my mother’s last breaths onto the seeds of a sunflower, onto the ripples in a tidal pool, or the germination of trees in a forest? In the days and weeks before that night, I wanted her to breathe deeply. In that mint-green room, where the windows only opened out along the floor line, and only for grave emergencies, I mas- saged her back and coaxed her to breathe deeply, to bathe her red blood cells with oxygen. I wanted to feel her breath expand her abdomen, in full bel- lows breaths, but her inhalations stayed shallow. I wondered, as she sat up on that bed, exaggerating her breath by making it louder, or quicker, but still achieving no depth, if this was not only because leukemia had shortened her breaths. Maybe an unborrowed breath had never felt available for her. Maintaining a perpetual alert, waiting for my father to come back from a flight, or responding to what any of seven children would need of her at any moment, could she afford a full breath? Spreading my fingers—improbably long fingers, as were hers—against the cool skin of her back, I wanted her to feel that this was her body, not ours. AFTER SHE DIED, dreams quickly taught me to read past her body, coaxed me beyond the easy text of flesh. Whether these dreams are actual vis- its or my own mind fabricating something I need doesn’t matter to me at the time. I find either prop- osition to be of great comfort: that my own mind can come up with these scenarios might even be more of a comfort—that we have articulate mecha- nisms that tailor what feels like a reality so we can feel it for a while, and somehow it helps us. In one such dream, I’m in a therapist’s office. The therapist draws a diagram making a case that I really did come out well from the breakup of a relationship that began in the year after my mother died and had just come to an end. The diagram turns out to be a game of hangman, with the spaces still left blank. I really want to play the game, rel- ishing the moment when, with the revelation of one more letter, a word diverges from what it looks like it could be and shifts into another. When what looks like fusion becomes desire (the moment you realize you are not your mother). There’s a knock on the door. Before the thera- pist or I can answer, the door opens. Light pours in around the form of my mother in the frame, the negative space, the precise shape of her absence. From across the room, she looks radiant; her skin glows white, pearly. As I approach her, I hear a car idling and glance out onto the parking lot where I see a white Volvo running, and I’m think- ing “nice touch” now that she no longer needs the legendary protection a Volvo offers. A little inside joke among the immaterial, pointing up the dreary corporeal concerns of the living, our quaint con- cessions to our safety. As I get closer, I can see that her skin is dark and has dried blood or stitching, quick haphaz- ard sutures, as if she’d been put back together in haste and with no concern for artifice. The shab- biness almost seems practiced, as if to underline that this proxy body was slapped together just so I could recognize her, approximating what could be summed up in a pronoun, so I’d buy this ringer as her. I see through the infelicitous craftwork, through the ghoulish metapresence, to a perfect vision of her warmth and love I do not know how to receive. Hello, she says. As I reach my arm around her waist, I am unsure whether I will actually be able to feel her or if my arm will pass right through her. Who is she if her