“An Isolation That Always Existed”
A Short Story
I never really knew of the loves she had, except one, and it wasn’t the love of another human.
Still, it didn’t keep me from looking, from asking the leading question, from even coming right out and almost demanding an answer from her.
She would just say, “of course I loved your father, I was married to him for 60 years”. That statement was always followed with her rattling off the atrocities he’d committed during those 60 years. A series of slights, wrongs and misdeeds. Sins, is what she would call them. Sins never confessed to a priest, as she had wanted him to do, and sins never confessed to her, taken with him to the grave a few years back, but which she was sure he had committed, mostly against her.
She lay there on the hospice bed, drugged mercifully with morphine to let her go gentle into whatever awaited her. Her hair was white, cheeks of chalk and sunken, eyes closed, and her long and delicate fingers that use to stroke through my hair when I was a young girl, wrapped with a rosary. I wondered if she was reciting the endless Hail Mary’s even now.
I fought against all that I had of her in me – parts of her personality handed down to me. The almost psychotic want to believe in faith was foremost. Certainly not the faith that she had – I resisted that from the moment I turned 14. I resisted all faith, thinking that by having it, even a trace of it, I would end up like her, believing in a God that one could pray to for whatever needs, for whatever grace as Mom referred to it, but always the same God who answered nary a prayer of hers during her entire life. A faith that she attempted to pound into each of her children, particularly me, for I was always told that of all her 5 children, I was most like her – I resisted.
I would have held her hand but I was superstitious, and thought that if I even nudged the rosary in her hand out of place, I would be putting myself between her and the God she had loved her entire life, the God who never replied to her prayers, the God who ignored her, the God I repelled and the God she prayed to incessantly to for the salvation of my soul. Instead, I stroked her white hair between my fingers, the same looking fingers she had. Another part of her that she had given to me that I chose to ignore when, while I was still a teenager, and played the piano, I was encouraged by friends, siblings and my father to continue playing, as I had the same hand as my mother. I quickly abandoned my studies. Instead, I chose to study the violin, an instrument she wasn’t particularly fond of, and became an accomplished violinist, good enough to play in the philharmonic all my adult life. I allowed our mutual love of classical music to blossom and grow in me. It was the only thing we shared in common that I didn’t maim or banish.
She was a prude, that I was sure of – a Catholic woman who believed that sex was for men and that it was something that a woman, a wife, just had to put up with, aside from the pro-creation angle – then and only then was it a glorious manifestation of God’s love for all. And absolutely abhorrent idea to me, I made it a point to find all the glory of the mystical sex she forbid me from knowing about, and gave it all an exclamation point by never marrying and never having children.
Yet, with all the differences, we were always close, as long as we stayed on the peripheral of life. We allowed each other to stay in the isolation that had been with each of us from the beginning. Isolation she was born with, handed down to her from generations before, and mine from the same lineage, an isolation we could not get around.
Every so often, she would sigh as she lay there – the same sigh I heard throughout my life of her disappointment of what I, her oldest and dearest daughter had become. She was conservative, I was liberal. She loved her home, I loved to travel. She was an outstanding cook, I couldn’t read a recipe correctly, she loved children, I found them irritating and troublesome. Whatever she was or might have wanted to be, I consciously chose the opposite.
She died peacefully that early evening, some 5 years ago. Brothers and sisters were too late in coming. I, her dearest and most rebellious was the only one at her side as she took her last breath. The beads of her rosary moved ever so slightly as she exhaled her last. I looked up, smiled, with much cynicism in my heart, assured at the time, that whatever god she believed in had played its final joke on her.
I had been in a car accident, I was told – a very bad one. I had just regained consciousness and wasn’t sure at first whether remembering my mother’s death was something that had already happened, or was still to come.
My sister was by my side, holding my hand, telling me that I would be okay. Behind her were the doctors – the look on their faces said otherwise.
I asked my sister about Mom. She just smiled and said she was in heaven. If I could have laughed at such a statement I would have but the pain and disorientation kept me in my isolation.
My sister asked what I needed, what could she do for me. I looked behind her and said to the doctors and then to her, “more drugs…and classical music please.”
One of the doctors took my hand and placed the pump in it. He told me I could press the button whenever needed, and the morphine would be instantly administered. My sister whispered into my ear that she would manage the music for me.
My life of isolation had kept me from thinking of this moment – the moment of death. I wasn’t prepared and certainly wasn’t ready.
I pressed the button. I could feel the pain ease, and any coherence of the present my mind was holding onto, slowly drifted away.
My eyes closed, I could see the void there before me – the boundary between earth and what was beyond. I could choose to stay or move beyond the void but found I didn’t want either, and so I let it all go, hoping that the prayers mom said for me through all her days, would somehow show me the way beyond the isolation that had always existed.
Tonight’s musical offering:
Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet Suite: Friar Laurence · Riccardo Muti/Chicago Symphony Orchestra