ebogjonson.com's blood relations archive
March 17, 2007
thanks for asking!
I just wanted to thank everyone who wrote in ask how my nana was doing. ("Called in" for those of you I trust with my cell number.) The shorthand answer that I've been relying on is "as best can be expected," and, despite its aspects as autopilot, I guess that's as true as anything I could say. Diabetes, three heart attacks (well, one heart attack and two "cardiac episodes"), a non-functioning artery in her gut, a month in the hospital, 89 years working at thankless, largely manual labor on the bottom social rungs on ye olde Planet of the Earths: I should be grateful Saint Anne is just plain alive, in no pain and (relatively) mobile, that she is able to rouse to varied levels of excitement whenever the one-minute-to-the-hour teaser for her favorite re-run comes on. (Monk and any Law & Order show, basically.)
As best as can be expected, like I said.
Me, I'm doing as best as can be expected as well (thanks for asking!) which is to say I'm not exactly sure how I'm doing. First there has been the problem of recovering from the specific, unsettling horror of having spent all of Black History Month 2007 in Kendall, Miami. I mean, I can't really begin to describe how much energy it took for me just to get up to the humid Kendall morning, this given the choking, ground-hugging miasma of family BS and social pollution that hangs the place like a malevolent, soul-stealing fog. H.P Lovecraft's tombstone sez "I AM PROVIDENCE;" and effective description of the terror that is being stuck in Kendall could only be approached by a writer with contemporary Lovecraftian instincts and illnesses, someone who could legibly claim "I AM KENDALL" as his or hers. Calling Kendall a locus of ancient, corporate, mall-ish, suburban, unthinking, bourgie, non-black Hispanic, post-Cuban horror just scratches the surface.
(There is also a whole post to be written in the aftermath of my time in Kendall about the maddening judgment/mis-identification hijinks that occured whenever I encountered certain types of older, conservative Cuban folks, racist Cuban folks in a word, who thought I was some kind of bedredlocked rebel from their lifelong campaign to escape various forms of darkness. This post ain't it, however.)
Part of my problem is that thinking about all this provokes random, largely inexplicable fits of anger in me. The classic feelings of helplessness, as described in the relevant literature. For example, I literally wanted to write above: "AS BEST AS CAN BE EXPECTED, I said. Are you fucking deaf?" I wrote the line in and then deleted it, completely baffled by myself. Grief, no grief; sadness, no sadness; stress, no stress, helpless or helpful: I'm not so much confused by the fact that my head is fucked up (as worst as can be expected?) but by the specific contours the fucked-uppedness takes, as in the above almost-outburst about people not listening. Who could I possibly be yelling at in that highly specific way? Who isn't listening? Who strikes me as akin to deaf? Everyone has been pretty much grand, and those who haven't, well, they acted just as I expected them to, so really: no skin off my nose. So why the rage? I can't get mad at inaction from a god I don't believe in.
Like most everybody I have a hard enough time processing abrupt familial deaths, but the process of taking a slow stroll up to one involves its own series of wild, conflicting confrontations. Last time I posted I was grateful to have made it to Miami in time. Now my unique damage (maybe; incorrectly claiming uniqueness is a bad look for spring) is that I am, well, outraged that she's dying, this because it strikes me as an injustice even with the 89 years and counting. I'm not dwelling on all this in full-on rage, not letting existential anger distort my day-to-day living, but my adolescent science-fictional (luciferian?) impulses remain strong enough that my default thinking about the whole, er, death thing is that it's fundamentally unnecessary.
There are a lot of people I like who view my kind of wants - long life, going to Mars - as irresponsibity akin driving a Hummer, another set who thinks you can't be a card carrying member of the African diaspora without a firm belief in highly specific forms of hoodoo. And that's fine, really: you all can stay behind if you want to. Our conceptual tribe shares a lot of opinions, but self-consciously "responsible," non-science-fictional progressives often tend towards a zero-sum worldview that I reject, a guilt-driven mythology where the good are poor, denied and martyred, while only vampires, racists and thief capitalists live well and long, this at the cost of innocent human lives. Whatever. The way I see it it's always possible to live well and honestly and decently all at the time. Our choice isn't between, say, war for oil and a reduced, but "sustainable" standard of living; it's between making oil companies rich and doing the hard, largely scientific and technical, work of figuring out how to get exactly what you want without killing people or wrecking the environment. So why not try to live forever? Those stem cells aren't people like some claim they are; forever only requires drinking blood in the movies; I promise to remember you if you insist on dying like you were told to.
And despite all that random techno-optimism l am still angry. I guess the thing is that in addition to thinking it'd be great to live forever, I also genuinely don't see any reason not to assume future generations won't get what I want, on average having impressively longer life-spans than we do and making the accident of me riding on the historical-living shortbus akin to being cheated by history. Being one of those people who has always identified with Paradise Lost's Lucifer, I tend chafe whenever I feel forced to make peace with anything that strikes me as random, structural or circumstantial. I want to spit at anyone (especially anyone looking forward to a good 40 more years) who tries to tell me a "mature" reaction to Saint Anne's involuntary, pre-ordained decrepitude involves bending the knee to something as dumb as a number. (89 in this case.) I want to shout at people who think there is something greedy about wanting to live. I'm not really interested in the number unless it adds up for me, which is why I tend to want fourth, fifth and sixth opinions, why I think NYC beats LA because the last call is later/bigger. I'm perfectly willing to keep rolling the dice, keep seeing the doctors, keep refactoring the parameters until something gets fixed or something runs out - money, time, life. I wouldn' t want to bankrupt my kids or my neighbors to pay for my medical care, but if I already have a wad why not peel some off and toss it at the doctors? (Which is another way of saying: we haven't come within a mile of being financially burdened by Saint Anne's care. All we've risked so far is our comfort, and yet everyone is making peace with the idea that her fate is sealed. She's 89, you know. She's doing as well as can be expected.)
And don't get me wrong: I'm also completely down for accepting/defying the death sentence by throwing a party. There is a blog meme out that has involved asking the classic "what would you do if you had six months to live" question, and me, I would go sit on a beach (Lamu?) and read, get high, surf the web, play videogames, eat shellfish, do some writing and (Sweet Lord Jesus willing!) get laid pretty and plenty. You can join me or you can collect my corpse when it's time if you feel so inclined, or you can let it float out to sea, not my problem, I'm dying so I'm kind of focused on myself these days, sorry.
(Although, if you were able to collect my head, I would greatly appreciate it, as I'd like to have my brain frozen on the off chance that it can be reanimated at a later date. Thanks!)
I asked Saint Anne what she most desperately wanted to do when she got home and when she said "change into my own clothes," I have to shamefacedly admit I was disappointed in her, angry even. When it became obvious during Black History Month that she was going to survive, part of me fantasized that she'd jump up from her hospital bed and take up roller-skating or something, that having hit a kind of rock bottom she would now bounce, that some long unresolved, lifelong desire would come into focus and that she'd get her GED, see the pyramids (I'll push the wheelchair), do yoga, learn how to make the perfect soufflé - who can say for sure but her? Just something. Instead, she walked through and out of the shadow of the valley of death in order to watch re-runs and sleep in Kendall (aforementioned hell-on-earth Kendall!), every day receding just a bit more from us, her body and mind failing in tiny stages.
I know it's not her fault. She's just too tired to take up roller-skating, too beaten down by the facts and the numbers. (Let's not even get into a month on your back in a hospital in Kendall.) When Saint Anne was 88 she walked, talked and carried herself like a 65 year-old, but one year later time has finally caught up with her. Now she seems like what I imagine 89 should seem like: her movements are tentative, she uses a walker. She sleeps half the day and even though her lassitude alarms me, the second and third medical opinions (my mother is of a mind that fourth and fifth opinions are selfish and extravagant) view her decline as natural. It's not as a form of theft, I'm told, it's the inevitable end to a sort of bonus ++ period of sprightly-ness, Saint Anne's strength up to now an overtime that the universe had gifted her with and that had now expired. Turn that frown upside-down, little one, is what they are saying. To every season, turn turn, etc.
My sense that she has suddenly, abruptly declined hinges on the fact that I only knew and believed what I could see about her health. Saint Anne only seemed like a 65 year old when she was 88, she only looked that way to a me stuck there observing with mere human eyes, an amateur's mind assessing the situation without the aid of a medical degree or advanced diagnostic equipment. All these years that I've been smiling at her with such smug paternalism, marveling at how black really didn't crack, at how fresh and young she persisted in being while I (me!) was getting disturbingly older, there beneath the surface something was slowly unraveling, failing, running out, waiting for 89 to blow up in our faces.
Maybe if I'd had eyes capable of seeing beneath surfaces, see down to the unraveling in real time, she'd still be looking like a 65 year old. When I was in Miami I was in her hospital room late one night when a technician came in with a fancy sonogram machine to check for blood clots in her legs. (This was early on when no one knew what the fuck was happening.) I stared over his shoulder as the machine peered into her and for the first time in my life I desperately wished I'd become a doctor the way my parents had wanted me to, because if I had I'd be able to read the sonogram and maybe help save her life.
(That said, I don't think a hypothetical "Dr. Me" would have been able to save my father's life, Dad being the Thomasian sort who only trusted the results of his own experiments. He got himself killed when he ignored his doctor's orders and started tinkering with his heart medication dosage, this because of some advice he'd picked up on Google. Not likely he would have taken my medical advice or aid, but there are timeline paradoxes aplenty there: he wouldn't have taken my advice, but Dr. Me's? Dr. Son He Alway Wanted? Hmm...)
When I asked the sonogram tech what the results where he told me that a doctor would have to read it, which really made me want to weep with frustration. Like my father I have a hard time trusting in anyone's competence, starting with god and my parents and going right down the list. It's complete hubris, I know, a real pain if you have to work with me, but my core belief has always been that if I want something done right I really need to do it myself, forget prayer or parents or co-workers or Saint Anne's doctors or any of it. Forget even myself as currently constructed, by which I mean screw getting that medical degree I mentioned earlier. What I really need is the as-yet-unmade ebog of the future. The post-singularity, more-better one with X-rays eyes and six robot arms, each limb a surgical tool, or a drug factory, or a medical tricorder, maybe a mechanism for the delivery of healing nanomachines. That guy even has a seventh arm with a spike at the end that (this is going to pinch a little!) goes in at the base of the spine and allows for full sensorium, networked VR, the better for him and Saint Anne to spend all day at the beach in Lamu, for him to help her with her GED homework, to make that perfect soufflé. He would hold her gently in those robot arms and she'd live forever, which would make him feel useful and proud. He'd think: it really is just the least I can for the woman who raised me, who wiped my bottom. They would not live in Kendall.
But I don't have the time or the resources to be that guy, so instead I guess I'll have bend the knee afterall, say thanks and goodbye, Saint Anne, make soothing, cooing sounds at her like a good little mammal, like the word-less, animal sound was some kind of appropriate exit music. It really makes me want to scream.
February 12, 2007
best laid plannery
So no sooner do I (kinda) (plan to) get back up on the proverbial blogging horse than I find myself rushing off to Miami all in a tizzy, all my plans for a powerfully focused and active ebog February falling to the proverbial wayside somewhere between LAX and MIA. What happened is that the 89-year-old Haitian woman who raised me and my sister, who has lived in my parents' home since I was born as an occasionally confusing combo of grandmother, nanny and companion (to my mother since Dad died, that is) had a series of mild heart attacks starting two Thursday's ago. Since then her prognosis, diagnosis and planned course of treatment has been flipping from cloudy to underdetermined and back on a daily basis, so I'll likely be in Miami until the dust clears one way or the other. As a result I haven't really been able to focus on the blog until today.
After the initial heart attack (described as mild, in so much as any 89 year-old's ticker trouble is mild), my big fear was that I wouldn't get to FL in time. I got on the first LAX>MIA flight I could, completely freaked out and convinced that I'd arrive to find Saint Anne (dig those crazy rural Haitian first names!) already quite cool to the touch and stiff on a slab in a morgue, much as I found my father after getting the "come right away" call. I have no distinct memories of those last moments with my (un-embalmed) dad, my first moments of being, as my shrink put it, "fatherless in the world," but I do vividly recall the morgue attendant, who was this gigantic, Ruben Studdard-looking gent. There in the middle of my shock and grief at finding my father a corpse, dude starts humming and singing like he's in church, this before abruptly jumping up from behind his desk, launching himself across the few feet between us and throwing me in an inescapable bear-hug. He quite literally cooed at me, going, "It's okay, big man. No shame in a grown man crying for his daddy," and after struggling in vain to get away for a few seconds, I, needless to say, gave in to his embrace and bawled like a baby against his chest. That incident has since morphed into a favorite anecdote of mine, and in the process it has rather completely overwritten memories that should have been filed under "last moments with father," leaving me instead with a file marked "first/only moments with Ruben Studdard-looking morgue-attendant." Which is obviously neither here nor there when it comes to the question of fathers and fatherless-ness.
(Although, not quite. There is likely a short story somewhere in the above, where the state of living without a father begins with the protag's surrender to the loving embrace of a brother who happen to be bigger and stronger than he is. I'll give the story away open-source-ish to the group blogmind, but the stipulation is that whoever takes it has to write the same story three times: once as a queer love story, once as a kind of afrocentric-journey story, and once as a black frat pledge story.)
Anyway, when I got to Miami I learned that Saint Anne's condition is an attenuated kind of dire wherein she is in no particular pain, doesn't seem to be in danger of dying within any given, coming 48 hour span, and yet also manages to present something of a mystery to her doctors. They've switched her blood pressure meds this way and that, and then they put a pacemaker in (a freshly minted cyborg!), this on the theory that the paced ticker would allow for more aggressive treatment of her hypertension. They let her out of the hospital a day after her surgery, too soon perhaps as she was back in the ER a few days later complaining of chest pains. Now they are keeping her for extended observation and talking obstruction, cardiac catheterization, radioactive dye, clots in her legs and so on. There is blood in her urine and they are worried about her kidneys. They have detected anemia, want to check the color of her stool. No one has said the C-word, but the docs seem to think something is putting additional strain on her heart and organs. They say everything really, then they cap it off by saying "she's 89," like this should explain something.
The doctors and nurses also keep insisting she's a fighter, which I guess is true although it strikes me that that what she's actually doing is closer to maintaining. Saint Anne is already in her 50s and 60s in the bulk of my conscious memories of her, I can recall her nimbly darting into traffic after my toddling sister when she must have been almost 70. Even now she could pass for a hard-living recent retiree. I could picture her living a thousand years, is what I'm saying, shaking her head the way she does whenever she settles down to some annoying (yet integral) task of caretaking, putting her shoulder to 900 more years of arthritis, implants, diabetes, eye surgery, complaining high yellow brats and so on. "Fighting" to me suggests clawing one's way towards the better, whereas Saint Anne's energies have largely been directed towards the maintenance of a never-ending steady state. Her favorite show is Matlock, her only vice is decaf coffee, her favorite verbal interjection, this for use once she's stopped listening to you and needs to get on with her day, is (in kreyol) "have courage, my brother/sister! Have courage!" Maintain it is.
It's actually enormously difficult for me to write about Saint Anne without worrying that my words are going to fail her, that I'm going to get her story wrong. I feel that in addition to sitting at her bedside and interrogating doctors I owe her some or another accurate form of, well, analysis. Her life with us has always seemed to me as having built into it a broad range of inequities, so getting her story all fuck wrong would be insult added to injury, not what you want to do for someone during their (maybe) last days. My main fear isn't so much error as self-service, self-protection. I worry that I'm trying to alternately/simultaneously extract absolution and an exquisite, related form of indictment from her story. My relationship to her binds up so many of my most thorn-laden life strands that I have a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for taking them in hand and untangling - that is, until there's a need for me to stand a particular kind of tall, to show the (reading) world my palms and bleed from them in public, to display various forms of bravery, clear-headedness, insight.
Another problem about writing about Saint Anne is that doing so makes my mother somewhat uncomfortable and unhappy. She once came across an essay I wrote in college that seemed (to her) to question her unitary maternal primacy, this in favor of the notion that Ebog (kinda) had two mommies. (Not because anyone was particularly dyke-ish, but because someone was born lighter and richer than someone else.) The spectacle of my mother's persistent confusion and hurt in response to thinking about Saint Anne in certain ways has always given me an inordinate amount of satisfaction, suggesting to me that I clutch my version of Saint Anne's story closer my breast precisely when I want to indict my biological mother for something, for being a certain kind of uncritical Haitian, say, or for not buying me that TCR racetrack I wanted.
I worry that I scrutinize Saint Anne's lot in life not to improve it but in order to make myself feel different from and better than my parents and their generation, which is a bit of a pickle, as this "better" and "different" thinking also involves my feeling, well, kind of white or, at least white-ish. I find myself immediately converted into a kind of cliché, a light child protesting that the dark woman who cared for him really was a member of the family, that his love really is a mitigation of the ways she's been screwed by various histories and people, some of them his blood relations. Even if I take myself at my word about the love and family and mitigation thing, the scenario is still a tornado of wild, often unfortunate association, something that is liable at any moment to lift me up and away from my usual zones (fantasies?) of solidarity and community in order to deposit me in nabes (shoes?) where the white folks live, some of whom I have likely been berating for various, taxonomically similar and often circumstantial sins since god knows when.
Of course, quite literally billions of people have been mothered by poorer, darker, whatever-er women since time immemorial, several hundred million such pairings at least producing bonds of genuine and mutual adoration that neither sum up to nor reduce to the circumstances/conditions of the caregiver's employment. My own such relationship has instructive nuances, but when I was a freaked-out, over-thinking kid, I had no idea what a nuance was, no predisposition to look for one as a neat, counter-intuitive way to navigate a situation. (Did I even have a predisposition for the counter-intuitive then?) I had to feel/think the whole thing through on the fly for myself, blind, under-educated (that is, young), all of that under the most stressful circumstance possible, i.e., under the hot spotlight of some kid asking exactly who that person living in our house was who didn't look like us and seemed to be doing all the woman's work. That kid might not have known shit, but unconvincing BS? Verbal laziness? Shame? Fear? All that, dudes could smell.
Because I was a teacher's pet-type, I proceeded from the foundational premise that there was a "right answer," something that would be true, (2+2 equals 4 under all meaningful circumstances, sorry) but that would also get me out of the social bind implicit in the question, its allegation of difference. Cube the above by the fact that I had distinct home (a middle-class African American block), school (a white Catholic school), and family (multihued bourgie Haitian) constituencies and my answer both called for and instilled in me a certain measure of (if I say so myself) clinicism and conceptual virtuosity. (Or is that another name for good bullshit?) For example, "the maid" was overly blunt, cruel and inaccurate, whereas "babysitter" implied that I was a "baby" and was also inadequate to the scope of how Saint Anne and my family had become intertwined and interpenetrated. And while the words "my nanny," are today liable to roll effortlessly off the tongue of every black media-hipster brat in Park Slope, such affectations didn't exist for me in 1970s Queens, calling for a discussion of class, Haitian history, diaspora, exile and so on that I technically wouldn't be able to moderate until I was, predictably enough, at Yale. (Or, as I would put it for a few too many years, when I "went to school in New Haven.")
"My aunt" or (as the years rolled on) "my grandmother" was wrong but it did get me closer to a few useful ideas, like how my family in Haiti ran a bakery and has a congenital, self-serving tendency to blur the line between "relative" and "employee." This genre of answer, though, risked my interlocutor doing a quick phenotype check and bringing things back to the initial, foundational instability about what it was I "was." A real stumper, that. Just as my parents had cornered me exactly once to talk about sex, they had had exactly one conversation with me about race, this to rather mysteriously explain that I should NEVER let any white American talk down to me seeing how there were thousands of said white folk living in Appalachia with six fingers and six toes on each and every hand and foot. ("Primitives, really," my father would say, peering over his copy of Popular Science.)
My sister can keep me honest on this, but my super-light, Haitian exile parents arrived here with a foreign and largely inapplicable (to Queens) racial self-concept, so I've always fantasized that I was the one who contracted the local strain of "race" from the kids (black and white) on the conceptual mid-70s street and brought it home the flu, promptly infecting everyone else in our house. Everyone, of course, except for Saint Anne, whose very presence in our home suggested everyone at the address had survived earlier, un-discussed pandemics, that actually there was more at play at 116-68 227th than just immigrant ignorance about US racial history/hang-ups, like complicity, self-denial, desire and fantasy. A mass of completely native history and ideology and personal bullshit so huge (and so growing!) that eventually my schema had no choice but to fall in on itself, collapsing into a mixed-metaphor of such density and gravity and strangeness that it proceeded to eat my entire life, sure, but in the process also opened up, you know, wormholes, some of them leading to quite wonder-filled (and profitable) zones of thought and experience that I would never have had access to otherwise.
In so much as I have a (wackjob) thesis about race and identity in America, it's the product of the compression and fireworks that went off in my head every time the street/school-yard forced me to come up with answers about who I was in relationship to Saint Anne. Like I said, that answer that had to serve many, many masters and highest among them was, of course, Saint Anne herself. A good little Catholic boy to the core, I tended to become most desperately afraid of disappointing people precisely at the moment I was sure my choice would safely escape their notice, and, for simple reasons of scale, I was therefore constantly afraid of disappointing Saint Anne. The high hedges of age, language, nationality, immigration, temperament, literacy, class, color and so on meant that the zone of free will created away from Saint Anne (the zone where I would literally show my true colors) seemed to my child's eye to encompass the entire world of "American" people, places, ideas and things outside our home. I was a normal enough kid (meaning I did the expected share of dirt), but whenever I found myself explicitly pondering moral dilemmas "WWSAS?" (what would Saint Anne say?) was an early litmus test that has never failed me, fuck teachers, mentors, theorists, peers, therapists and so forth. I have espoused countless ideas precisely because I figured my parents would disapprove of them, but with exception of, well, vice (the proverbial drinkin', druggin' and fuckin') I can't think of a single thing I believe in or do that if sat down to talk to her about it would bring that sad look of disappointment into her eyes. (Well, when I was 11 or so I once pranked called the house from down the block and said I was immigration, but she recognized my voice.) Her pride in me has been so consistent, her belief that I will do the right thing so intrinsic (in that she has little lived connection with the particulars of much of what of I do, like make blackface charts) that all I can do is be humbled and grateful for her faith in me, make sure I carry my imagined sense of her take on things with me everywhere I go.
(WWSAS about say about blackfacing on blogs? "Don't you have something better to do with your time?" "Did somebody tell you to put all that stuff on your face or did you decide to do that on your own?")
And WWSAS also explains, I think, the difference between me and John McWhorter. I attack the McWhorters of the world for using the hatred of black people as a kind of horrific balm for the pain of completely banal and common childhood traumas, but I have to admit that underlying my disgust with them there has always an undercurrent of "there but for the grace of god (or at least grace of Saint Anne!) go I!" Because there was clearly no black angel of better nature perched on McWhorter's shoulder during that formative moment when he was attacked for "talking white," no one black-talking person to whom he was beholden and whose loving counterpoint could have given him a way out of his subsequent, lifelong spiral of shame and self-erasure. (WWSAS to John McWhorter about talking white? "Is that what you're talking? Because you see, I don't speak a lick of English so you are basically just flapping gums at me. But: have courage, my brother!") As a result of this condition of being Saint Anne-less, the poor, unhappy lonely boy that I imagine McWhorter must have been grew up to be a self-hating, mediocre, bought-and-paid-for liar who very simply loves white people and what they represent in the racial schema more than he loves anything in the world. Me, I had the Saint Anne and I can't begin to explain or enumerate how grateful I am to her for that, this even as I acknowledge that given her druthers, there may have been something else she'd have preferred to do than look after me.
(This is an aside, but unlike McWhorter, I'm also grateful to the 70s and 80s street that both hosted and forced the crises described above. Among the many things about himself that McWhorter hates is the popular culture of his era, which is why instead of running home after his ass whipping desperately quoting Conan the Barbarian - That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger! That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger! Hey! Who said that again? - he was instead blubbering about how awful and black those kids were, thereby ensuring he would never risk confronting them again without the full support of all of whiteness, never risk winning or losing or being stronger or forgiving or seducing or anything that might transform both their relationship or his to the issues that structured the encounter.)
If there is anyone I feel bad for, it is, of course, Saint Anne's real, biological son. Back in Haiti, Saint Anne had spent her entire life caring for my family's various yellow brats, invalids, dysfunctional households and so on, and when she was sent in middle age to care for one more, she left behind a boy of her own. When I was a kid, I always imagined her son as my dark Haitian twin, a feral child running wild, abandoned and deprived in Port-au-Prince while I sat fat, pale and soft in NYC. It turns out that he was already grown when she left, that he now lives in Canada, has children of his own, and seemingly spends very little of his day plotting any form of revenge. When I was a kid, though, I figured Saint Anne's son must by definition hate me, creating elaborate, Cape Fear-like scenarios where she died and I brought her body back to Haiti for burial and he ended up chasing me through the countryside like Rutger Hauer chasing Harrison Ford around at the end of Blade Runner, one replicant eager to give another (if you buy into that reading) a taste of what his life had been like. In some versions I survive, in other versions he kills me, claims my passport and my life, and in some versions our lifeless bodies fall together onto Saint Anne's coffin, our family finally together and at peace. But when he calls to check in (largely with my mother) the conversation is mostly to review his mother's condition and his non-revenge-related travel options. He has visa issues that might keep him in Canada. He might be able to swing a quick visit when she's alive but worries he might not be able to afford to come to her funeral. He is worried about timing. If he gets the call soon enough he thinks he might be able to catch her just before she dies, see her buried and be back up north in a week, tops.
("That's what happened with my father," I offer, helpfully. "I didn't get the call in time." He murmurs sympathy. We may yet be siblings after all.)
But if I was telling all this to Saint Anne she would have said "have courage, my brother!" a few thousand words ago, my cue to shut the fuck up already. I can think and I can think and I can think, tell stories and make connections, but none of it has anything to do with figuring out how to keep her heart beating until her son can get to her. I am the lucky one again, I made it in time and now I have the freedom to look at the life we lived together, I can write words about that life, develop and elaborate theories, feel sorry for someone not myself. But in the end all this yack about color and class and memory is just a way of denying this moment wherein I find myself forced to face losing her. It really is like my dad all over again. There is a hole burned into my memory where he should be, dead, me leaning over him, my tears cooling on his face. But I don't remember a thing about that specific moment, none of it at all. I just literally remember everything else.
September 4, 2006
my father's house; mine once upon a time
Pictures taken at my father's house before we sold it in 2003. Happy Birthday, Dad. A flickr slideshow