“tell them momma needs her babies” (text from mom to come home, spring 2015)
mom is home, her center. she connects us through our core, my brother and I metaphysically umbilically tied. he says my stomach heart hurts and I say I can feel it too. but then there are butterflies and waves of water and we feel her home that we carry with us center.
I want to remember her laugh and not the sound of her teeth cracking.
(I readied myself for her passing but not for her dying.)
The law of the conservation of mass requires that during any reaction in a closed system, the total mass of the reactants or starting materials must be equal to the mass of the products. The vibrancy of her living had to be equal to the violence of her dying.
(I told myself as she slipped in and out of seizures (seven). As I tried to keep her molars from cracking. As I tried to remove dried blood from her lip.)
In the moment, I was the only one in the living room. The hospice nurse had come early after a fitful sleepless night (three). Limbs bent back at angles acute lay soft. Breathing of her own volition calm shallow rhythms.
The law of conservation of mass implies that mass can neither be created nor destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, or the entities associated with it may be changed in form. I told her she is not her body. That she would be redistributed equal to her serenity.
(I told myself as she ceased in this form with soft breath. As I felt the air around me move.)
[and I can’t make you understand why it is that I can look at my hands for hours and not lose a moment]
[I watched them fall asleep on the couch, my mother’s legs across my father’s lap (hyperreal). Such distant intimacy felt as though I was looking at a hologram depicting mundane life of the past (a work of daily art). My museum shrine home.]
[Friday my shower timed with the mounting afternoon thunderstorm. I tilted the angle of my head until the sound of water cascading had the same sound as rain hitting the roof as I lie in bed listening at the ceiling.]
[I met my parents in a Love’s truck stop parking lot outside of Toledo on my drive from Madison to Syracuse. As my dad transferred my cats from their truck to my car, I talked to my mom. It was the first time I saw her wearing a headscarf. A few days earlier she sent a photo my grandmother took in the hallway—the juxtaposition of her small frame with the doorframe, her smile with surfacing sickness. I stood in front of her thinking of that photo. She was smiling. She hugged me; as she stepped back the wind caught her scarf, blowing it off her head and across the parking lot. She started to cry covering the top of her head. The distant back lighting of fluorescent bulbs in the dark and the tight shot of her face made by my proximity made the moment feel cinematic.]
my mother’s hair is falling out. she collects it in handfuls, remarking each one before laying it tenderly in the small trashcan beside her bed. i looked in there, it gathering her. i cried each night on my visit home at pieces of her lost, mourning the her that is lessening. but she is everywhere in the house: loose strands, used syringes, imprints of her form on pillows, and the rhythm of the bodies around her.
– time as pill piles strictly regimented (with notation if they should forcefully be un-took)
+ time as reduction in foot swelling so that birthday shoes finally fit (forty pounds of fluid retention expelled)
I look to my sewing kit as though I could embody knotted string pulled through insides taut. When asked, I already have “I’m okay” poised on tip of tongue and face tight. I make lists so as not to forget; everything gets an annotation tightly kept. At times I get lost looking at photographs; chest relaxes in breath and I remember I can smile. I must inventory and archive. Tick. I receive litanies of food tray items and object markers on slow walks. I thread together combinations of words and phrases sent to me across text strings: tropical atrium, leukocyte count, box of chocolate, Müllerian adenocarcinoma, “mom sends a big kiss”, epithelial tissue, “her spirit is high”, subcutaneous drain. Every update brings loose tears but I type tight statements emphatic. I mark days passed on my calendar and press back those we await. Tick. Tight. I oscillate between detachment through preoccupation and through lying prostrate. Let loose/hold tight. I exist in the limbo that is this room turning into that one, in time that passes without passing. Diagnosis too loose, no time. Tick. My dad sends photos that I can’t differentiate from hospital bed and plastic tube and day; I let the background blur liquid until myopic I see her smile. I try to speak smile on speaker as nurses come in and out, adjustments are made (tight), and utterances become ambience (loose). Tight voice frays, eyes loose. The corners of my mouth too tightly lifted, I talk to the insurance company about BRCA screening and try to laugh about the phrase “genetic counselor”. The joke is on them. I daydream tight string cell borders loose as we become that which flows between shared smiles. Unraveled but bound.
As someone interested in visualizations of information and composing image texts, I have been thinking about what I would create to illustrate (make visible) the cancer that consumed/s the women in my family. It seems morbid, or at least uncomfortable, to want to depict the disease without emphasizing narratives of overcoming or resilience, that letting it be seen as it is disembodies the bodies that have nurtured it. I have watched videos of surgeries on women that exist only as torsos or of cartoon monster cells sneaking throughout the body, and images that are illustrations of tumors forcing tissue into distorted asymmetries and photographs that look like alien fruit. I can see my own diagnosis as typeface and an exercise of balance and white space on the page, as calendar tickmarks taking inventory of days and anomalies in patterns of pain, and as Rorschach bloodblots that I am too fearful to interpret. I could show my family tree with attention drawn to deep bark carved, extending back, to the bough my mother and I now share. I could show each type of cancer with its corresponding woman/body: breast ___________, ovarian _____________, uterine ______________, cervical _________________. Not to forget the nodal tissues connected to these networks of disease as they thrived and spread: pectoralis major, kidney, colon, liver, fallopian tubes—trace the intractions. I could create charts that depict the age of diagnosis, comparisons of treatment undergone, or the duration of the disease. Or perhaps an archive of the women (of which I am living materiality), or poems and paintings of the affective dimensions of the rhetorics of silence and pain and disembodiment. Of strength and resilience. Or faces of women I love.