One year and sixteen days ago, I finally got through. The phone to a sickhouse room had been ringing off the hook almost hourly since I had gotten the news. The individual I was trying to reach was not answering. My father encouraged me to keep trying.
Her voice carried the accent of intoxication; that point where one either passes into a dreamless state of unconsciousness or vomits the diced carrots they never even knew they ate. She sounded tired and worn. All but beaten, broken beneath the blade. There was morphine and a cocktail of other poisons coursing through her body. The disease that had been devouring her over the course of almost two years was in the midst of finishing its meal, though we all desperately hoped for different at the time.
"This is not my last rodeo," she told me.
"Ride 'em, cowgirl," I said.
Fifteen days later, my brother told me her kidneys were shutting down. The number was up. At most, she had another three weeks.
That day, I went for a walkabout with my daughter, Sabina, and a friend of ours. We went and got Himalayan food and listened to records from my childhood, which were recorded at Caribou Ranch, which was in the immediate area. Sabina and our friend would chide me for reminding them of how they were older than me because of my age compared to theirs when those albums came out, but my daughter made us all feel ancient by reminding us she wasn't even an idea back then.
I needed that. I needed to get my head together and come to grips with the facts at hand. It was cathartic.
I was trying to figure out how to get my daughter to see her grandmother to say goodbye. At the time, the sickhouse was quarantining against anyone under eighteen because of a particular strain of influenza. I found myself dealing with near-psychotic rage. Rage at the doctors and the disease. The perceived unfairness of it all, despite the fact death happens, and that's just the circle of life, and fair has nothing to do with it.
That night, imperceptibly fading into the next mourning, I raged about the house. Ranting, though it did not receive raves. The focus of my ire was my mother herself.
"She lied to me! She said this wasn't her last rodeo! My daddy always said women lie, but that's not supposed to include my fucking mother!"
In the all the time we've known one another, Sabina has only seen me that psychotically angry one other time, but that's another story. As with that other time, she stood firm in front of me, grabbing me by the shoulders, and shaking me. She fixed her gaze with mine, not backing down when I growled predatory at her.
"Hey! She didn't know!" She said. I found there was really no choice to accept that.
Thirty minutes later, my brother phoned. That was it. All fall down.
I went to the sickhouse. Biologically, what I saw in that room was my mother's body. But that spark that made my mother my mother was gone. I was looking at cooling meat. A shell. It was cathartic in the respect that it showed me beyond a shadow of a doubt she was gone.
My brother and I went with my father to the house he shared with my mother. In the cold dark of the small hours, we drank beer and listened to Miles Davis. Though it was such an awful time, in those moments, that listening of Sketches of Spain was some of the most righteous jazz I've ever heard.
That was one year ago, but it might as well have just happened. My memory is such that everything is still so vivid. It's days like this in times like these I despise my ability to recollect. The mental flagellation is not something I ask for, but springs up out of the nowhere of subconsciousness, like some primeval ambush predator along some nameless African river.
I look back over the past year and feel the metaphoric hole in my life where she should have been. It's cold, like the airless void between the stars. Despite what I saw in that sickhouse room, part of me still finds it all so surreal.
She can't be gone. She said it wasn't her last rodeo. She wouldn't lie to me about something like that. She was the one who used to say lying hurts.
But she didn't know. None of us really did. In retrospect, we can all pick up the clues we missed in the heat of those last moments. We had our suspicions at the time, but we also held unto our desperate fool's hope. So it goes.
Yeh, so it goes. Here it is; one year to the day later. The sun has risen and it will set. Life has gone on, but she's not been involved in any other capacity than memory. When it comes down to the brass tacks and bedpost, the memory is all any of us have of her. In that, is her immortality, even if we are only immortal for a limited time.