Sweet and soft, her voice made me melt. I cried harder. I can't let go. I can't.
And then she was mean.
I helped her up for a smoke. Got her some wine. Sat behind her and rubbed her back, held her in my arms.
Are you going to get through this?
I am, Mom.
Doesn’t seem like you are going to be all right. Seems like you’re never going to be all right.
Yes, Mom. I will. I’ll be okay.
Doesn’t seem like it.
A long pause. Another drag off of the cigarette. She stops to look at her hand. It is unfamiliar in it's present state. She had such beautiful hands once. Now they are red and white, bruised and swollen.
This is a nice room, she said. I like being in this room.
It’s very beautiful, I agreed. I wonder if she knows who she is talking to. Where she is.
All the time I’m holding her, rubbing her back.
I love you, Mom.
She took another drag of her cigarette. Slowly raised the wine glass up to her lips. It is clear swallowing is almost impossible. She says nothing.
I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry I hurt you.
Another long drag of the cigarette.
You’re not one to say that, she said.
In a second, I am remined of how selfish I am.
After one more long, painful sip of wine, I help her get back down.
Lying down, I tell her I’m sorry. Again. Tell her I love her.
You really hurt me, she said.
I know, I said. I’m still rubbing her back.
I’m sorry you drove so long but I’m going back to sleep now.
I just wanted to say goodbye, Mom. And let you know I love you.
Her eyes closed.
I stayed a while, rubbing her back. I got up to leave.
I cried in the living room for a while. I’m really saying goodbye. Really saying goodbye. And she won’t say she loves me. Not once. I feel myself wanting to go in and ask her if she loves me. Do you love me, Mom? And it feels so pathetic and sad. Am I going to hear the words? One last time?
I went back in and wanted desperately to hear the words I love you, Sara. I wanted to hear it so much. I wanted to beg for it.
I sat on the bed and she opened her eyes briefly.
You’re doing what Granddaddy did, aren’t you?
My grandfather, her father, starved himself to death. Refused liquids. Took a long, painful week to die. She held his hand the whole way.
No, she said, I really can’t eat.
Well, you’ve never been much of an eater, I say smiling.
She doesn’t respond.
It’s okay not to eat, mom. It’s okay to let go. Just let go.
She doesn’t respond. I’m not sure if she’s asleep again. I lean over and kiss her forehead. Goodbye. I love you.
She opens her eyes wide and I think I’ll hear something and she says, Keep the door open, please. I hate being shut in here.
And closed her eyes again. I sat for a long moment. Looked at her. Held her hand.
A moment of kindness. A brief, amazing moment. I’ve lived my whole life for those moments. When she loved me in such a wonderful way. With clarity. And then it would be gone.
I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry I hurt you so much.