To the left is the logo and info of a charity that my blogger buddy Vi has started with a friend of hers. A click on the link in the promo text will tell you much more about it.
It's funny that it's called "War Child" because I feel a lot like exactly that. A child of war.
I edited this original piece and submitted it to her for publishing. I want to post the edited version here for you now because ... well because I want to.
A Pair Of Eyes (Originally August 21, 2005 from This Redeemable Life, http://thisredeem2.blogspot.com/)
Tonight, coming down 145th from the A train, I started taking the steps of Jackie Robinson Park to make the diagonal cut over to my block. Going through this darkened Harlem park is like having my right fist pumped for the way I've developed a comfort zone with my inner-city brethren. I fear no mugging within the park’s shadowy depths!
On the topmost set of steps, a woman about my age had helped a more elderly woman climb to the level I was on, as I gathered from the elder's grip on the younger's hand. The elder had a lopsided gait as she took the steps slowly, and as I witnessed this, her posture triggered a sprinkle of faint remembrance bells at the back of my mind.
When I met the gaze in the elder woman’s eyes, the memory no longer remained faint.
In the eyes of a person who relies on another for help, you can read a thousand emotions. There is a great swell of pride clutched in a death-grip. Then there is the glow of fear in those eyes--a startled realization that they are not what they once were, or thought they were--and a terror that they will never again return to their former glories. There is a steely determination in those eyes. They may need help, but they'll be damned if by taking it, they'll admit defeat. Then there is a gentle surrender in those eyes. There is a gratitude. There is a trust.
The gaze in the elderly woman's eyes were the same gaze in my mother's eyes during her last few months of life. She too walked, in her last days, with that lopsided gait. Half her body was weakened by a compromised nervous system being intruded upon by a brain tumor. That same tumor robbed her of any coherent speech. Her face and expressions were full of determination, but her voice, once virulent with insults and crisp with scorn, was silenced. She would grip my hand as she toddled back and forth to the car during the trips to chemotherapy to which I chauffeured her. She would watch kiddie shows and laugh aloud as a child. I once bought her a stuffed Fievel from An American Tail, and she was so surprised by my gesture and the image of the great stuffed mouse wearing a hat that she at first cawed an incoherent cry of joy, then bawled, alternating with laughter for five minutes solid. One time, after she died, I lay on her bed and gripped Fievel and I bawled too.
I hate that my relationship with my mother ended so raggedly. Before I ever realized it, I had already lost my chance to settle things with her. While I expected her to recover and then maybe gain a new affection and appreciation for all the times I'd been there for her through her illness, her brain had already been inalterably damaged and her personality had been forevermore eroded away to a childlike state. All I had left of her were cackles of glee or sobs of frustration. Epilepsy had wracked what was left of her autonomy, and while I gnashed my teeth at my inability to cook meals that she’d be willing to eat, she was slowly slipping away into a world beyond my reach.
Could the neighbors not see how much of this woman they had lost? Could they not have warned me what to expect? Could the doctors not have taken me to the side and given me that famous speech? I mean, what did I look like to them, at 27yrs. old? Did I seem to be a child to them? But I do err. There was one who warned me. A girl from my church who had just passed her nursing test happened to be working on the same floor that my mother had been checked onto at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, NY. When I was visiting mom, in the earlier days of her illness, this church sister of mine told me how bad the illness was and what I should expect. Now, I'd already known this girl from church as a mother of several strange children and the wife of a strange man. Never one time did she impress me as a medical professional with rank and privileges enough to give me this kind of news. I easily dismissed what she said as inexperience. Not to mention a lack of faith! Thirteen years later, I now realize what a fool I had been.
My last night with my mother was in a Sears & Roebuck at the Nanuet Mall, her favorite store. All my school clothes had come from there several years in a row. We were waiting on line for something, I have no idea what. I looked away for some reason and suddenly someone gave a sharp gasp. My mother had tumbled backwards from a standing position and fell as deadweight onto the smooth tiled concrete. Her head rebounded off the tile floor with a sound I can't ever forget. Her wig tumbled off, revealing her smooth bald head. When I heard it hit the ground, I also remember suddenly crying out like a child lost in that department store. That sound meant that I could no longer avoid the fact that something was terribly, fatally wrong with my mother. Store managers came running and customers surrounded us with a curtain of curiosity, everyone checking to see if she was still alive. I was checking to see if she was alive too, but I didn’t know exactly what I was checking for. Oddly, she still was. She had had another epileptic seizure and was coming out of it with the acute awareness that she had banged her head and that it had hurt.
“Ow,” she said.
When the ambulance came, they took her to Nyack Hospital. From that hospital, they discharged her to a nursing home. My visitations were nightly. I was seeing a girl from my church in those days, who herself was a single mom with two children, and she had practically adopted me and mom. Her caretaking ways made me think she could one day be my wife. One night the nursing home called me to tell me that mom had swallowed some milk the wrong way and was having respiratory problems, so they sent her back to Nyack Hospital. I went to go see her and found only her emaciated body, laboring to breathe. This was my mother's system finally collapsing under the cancer. I called my pastor to come to the hospital and be with me. He brought his wife and daughter. His wife and daughter seemed to talk a mile a minute as we waited for news. I believe one of the three used the term "death-rattle" when they heard her breathing. I can't recall which one it was. Not subtle people, were my pastor and his family. Not sensitive either. The doctor or doctors told me I should go home and wait for them to call me, and that they were doing all they could for her.
Now why would they do that? Why wouldn't they let me stay?
It took her a few hours to die, gasping in some strange medical bay at Nyack hospital, all alone. They called me finally--who knows what time of night it was? I happened to work overnights as a mail clerk in Mt. Vernon, NY back then. I happened not to have gone to work that night, of course--can't remember if I was already off or if I had called out sick. I eventually called the girl I was seeing to tell her my mom had died. I felt she should know after all she had done for us. On the other end of the line I heard the phone bang to the floor. Someone answered it after a little while later and hung it up for her. I don't remember if they spoke to me or not.
This is just another dimension of life that I carry around with me from day to day. It's not easy to avoid having bipolar tendencies when just a pair of eyes can trigger this kind of tidal wave of regret and loss and longing.
Call me simple-minded or a fool, but this is why I need religion. I need to know that there is something bigger than this tragic little comedy we call life. I need to know that I can survive the next time a pair of eyes trigger this roller coaster of emotions.