This one's gonna be all over the place.
There was this moment, late in the night in her hospital room, soon after Mom had gotten sick, a day or so after the surgery that essentially gutted her. I was only partially awake, jolting into awareness whenever some new sound or movement happened; and for the beginning of an end, it all seemed pretty new to me. It was just me and Mom and the sound of the various tubes and machines which emerged from her selected orifices and the four holes that had been cut into her sides to help drain the copious fluids from her lungs and chest. She was in bad shape. We all were, but she was the one with the pain-killers.
I heard her say something, so I went over to her bedside. The bed was some sort of air-mattress and sand thing that kept her comfortable given that she could not move. She took my hand and mumbled again and I leaned in closer and asked, "what?". She looked me in the eye and said, "I wonder what I'm gonna be next?" and I asked again, "what?" and she stared out and said, "maybe a Sumo wrestler . . . " I said I didn't think it likely and she smiled like a patient mother on qualudes, closed her eyes and said, "you don't understand."
Last week we were driving back from Canada listening to Abbey Road and the final medley came on. I've always been fascinated by Abbey Road because it's the last album the Beatles recorded, but it followed the legendarily miserable recording sessions for Let It Be. And no one ever goes into great detail about how exactly they decided to put all the misery on the shelf and be Beatles again one last time before stepping into the unknown. And it's so self-conscious and beautiful. The whole album resonates with the energy of transition, of leaving the thing you know and stepping into the next.
And there's no better section of any Beatles album for displaying the love and trust they had in each other as individuals and the faith they had in themselves as a group then at the very end as Paul McCartney launches into a lullabye, mourning the fact that once there was a way to get back home, but that day is done. And then they sing, "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight a long time" as if they know exactly what being a not-Beatle is going to be like.
And then they jam, giving Ringo his first drum solo (forcing it on him), chanting "Love You" like that's what it's all been about. And then the trio of guitar solos kicks in--Paul first, then George, then John, then Paul, then George, then John, then Paul, then George then John laying into his guitar like he could teach Neil Young a thing or two and then it's over with the Final Words, "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
Well, then they throw in a quick little ditty about the queen, because it's best not to take these things too seriously.
When I was writing my dissertation, I got into the habit of compartmentalizing time into something other than the 24 hour day and the sixty minute hour. For example, at one point I got ready for bed and knew that when I awoke the next morning to put the final push into my writing, that day would last six weeks or so. And when I slept at the end of that six-week day, I had finished writing and I slept well.
When we ended the first month or so of Mom's illness, I flew back to Austin and thought to myself, "That was the end of the first day . . . " The next three or four days of that period lasted a little over a year.
The day after I handed my dissertation in I went to an art-gallery and showed the woman who ran the place my work. She said, "you just handed in a dissertation?" and I said, yes and she said, "OK, I'll put your drawings in my gallery, but you need to do some thinking about what happened between yesterday and today."
My favorite line in all of literature is spoken by Tomasina from Tom Stoppard's Arcadia:
"A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs.
It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong."
It's the end of summer and there's a whole bunch of I-Don't-Know heading our way. Smile. Suck it up. Into the next. My Mom's a Sumo Wrestler . . . .