By Janine Canty
You’ve been gone over four months. It feels like a finger snap. It feels like forever. A silent scream in my throat. Your weight in my belly. All 79 pounds. Many aspects of your death don’t feel real to me. The best part of the day is always that nano second before I open my eyes. That second, where you are still alive
somewhere in the world. That second I am not a motherless child. Then I remember and it doesn’t feel real. So I pull out the phone and stare at the final picture of you. The one I took in that ICU room. Where we fought over a cool ranch Dorito. Where we bed danced. Where I wished to swallow your freckles. Your skin and your hands. So that I could keep you here. Then my cheeks run wet with missing you. I reach up angrily to wipe them dry. I feel the contour of my cheekbones. Your cheekbones. You are gone and breathing on my face at the same time.
Every morning I promise myself I will delete this picture. It’s an awful picture, really. You are dozing with your mouth open. Pain visible on your forehead. Death laying itself on your chest and legs. I want to put a Salem Menthol in your fingers. Purple sandals on your feet. Red lipstick on your mouth. I want to lay beside you and feel you breathe. I want to hear your heartbeat. I want to fit in your lap. I want you to open your eyes and talk to me . I’ll listen forever and not roll my eyes, I promise. Every morning I stare at this awful picture of you. Wishing for everything I can’t have. My thumb trembles above the delete button. Asia screams for a bowl of cat chow and a hug. She’s all soft fur and green eyes. People don’t die in her world. I sit on the side of the bed. Blue comforter bunched in my lap. Your death in my hand. The argument for deleting it in my head. Asia on my toes. You are all tubes and needles and blood clots. If I look closely, I can see the corner of a catheter bag. Amber urine. Every morning my thumb moves downward and my mind screams: No. To delete the picture, would be to delete you. So I stand up. Wipe my tears on Asia’s purring fur. Feel her breathe. Listen to her heartbeat.
I wasn’t with dad when he died. When he began dying on a Monday evening, he did it alone. In front of his supper tray. Meatloaf and congealed gravy. I was 400 miles away. Washing the back of someone else’s father. They tell me I couldn’t have felt the intubation tube they forced down his throat. I did though. His death was immediately real to me. A brutal, physical fire .Ripping its way through my mouth. Past my tonsils. Lodging in my vocal chords. I can’t breathe. I can’t speak past the impending loss of my father. I do speak though. I scream at an intern in Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston. It’s 12:02 am. I’m in Maine. Pacing in a dark kitchen. Cell phone reception spotty. I forget everything you ever taught me about polite. Fuck polite. My father is a bloated shell on a ventilator. Intern dude doesn’t deserve polite. His father is alive and drinking a cocktail before bed. The next evening I sit in front of my computer desk, waiting for the call. I opted not to get on a bus at the crack of dawn. Not to sit in the middle of a gang of amish thugs. With my unwashed hair and my freshly painted on grief. I don’t want to hear the hiss of the ventilator. Don’t want to feel his claylike skin. It’s enough to sit in Maine. With his death scalding my mouth. My tonsils and my vocal cords. He dies at 5:03 pm. Cheryl holds his hand until it’s so cold she can’t stand it. I’m sitting on the other end of the phone, listening to you scream his name. Cheryl screamed this exact scream, nine and a half years later, when your heart monitor dropped to zero. I told her not to watch the machines.
Dad’s death was real and immediate for me in a way that yours isn’t. In a way that yours may never be real. I stepped off the bus at South Station and searched the bank of windows for his face. My eyes watered with the effort of trying to find him, dancing impatiently on the balls of his feet. I got on the subway alone. Sat next to a beautiful girl with a shaved head. She was reading Mary Roach’s “Stiff”. His death begins spinning slowly inside of me. Picking up speed with my heart and the wheels of the subway car. Throbbing through my bones. Swimming in my bloodstream. A singular word, set on repeat. A
sparkler standing in my brain. Daddy. Daddy. Daddy. His death is everywhere I look. It’s the harsh line you’ve made your mouth. It’s the anger in your eyes. The hole in his ugly green chair. I put my hand on the hole and on the change from his pocket. Trying to feel his heat. I sit on the groove his body left in the bed. If I close my eyes, the room almost echoes with him. Singing “Danny Boy”. Screaming at the Red Sox’s umpire. Calling my name. The room still smells like him. Old Spice. Birdseed. Lipton Tea. Lung Cancer and Chicken Soup. Maybe that’s the difference. Sitting alone in rooms he’d recently been alive in. Sitting still until his death caught up to me.
I began running from your death the day I signed you into the nursing home. I didn’t go with Cheryl to clean out your corner of a room. I’m no good with hefty bags and gloves. No good at deciding which parts of a life should be kept and which parts you can throw away. I listen and nod sympathetically when Cheryl describes going back a week later. When she tells me the nursing home took the special purple comforter from your bed. Replaced it with an industrial blue one. She sat on your bed, realizing it wasn’t your bed anymore. Realizing it was getting ready for someone else’s mother. We sit on the phone. A series of throat gulps and tears. Memories and fears keeping us anchored to this world and each other. Why didn’t I realize how much of me was tied into your smile and soul? How could I lose so much of myself when you left and still have so many unresolved pieces of myself walking around? You’re the mother. You’re supposed to have the answers to my questions. It’s not your fault I never had the courage to ask. Mom, when will your death feel real?
Janine Canty is a human trying to disguise herself as a writer. She loves words, especially the gritty or uncomfortable ones. She loves her kids, her granddaughters, and pepsi. Not necessarily in that order. Her work has been featured on the Weeklings and Sweatpants And coffee. As well as the Manifest Station. She can be found on facebook here.