Entries and Exits
[part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [part 4] [part 5]
As the train travels down the coast, I start to cry. At the same time, I'm struck by how beautiful everything is. Ridiculously, I think, "this is the miracle of Technicolor." I arrive in downtown San Diego and await the trolley to Mexico. It's dark now, the buildings are lit up and kids crowd the streets on their way to Tijuana for Saturday night drinks. Around me people are picking fights with each other while the non-fighters among us exchange friendly words. In full cliche, I contemplate how happy I am to be alive knowing that Kathy, unlike our departed mothers, would be the last to consider this a criminal thought.
Eighteen months after my mother's operation, I'm sitting next to her body in a windowless, cinderblock cubicle in the hospital. The room is empty except for the metal gurney on which my mother is lying, a wooden bench, and a mammoth clock industriously ticking away so as to make us believe that time is not a random occurrence. I'm holding my head in disbelief. I can't believe my mother is dead. I also can't believe that the emergency room staff had, without explanation, put the two of us here to simply await Stella's death. Mistakenly, I'd thought there would be some sort of medical help or, at the very least, emotional support. But instead, I watched alone as my mother, lying quietly on her back, turned her gaze towards the ceiling and slowly began to will herself to die. I touched her arms and hands, I tried to get her to respond but she stayed utterly remote. Periodically, I would run out of the room, beg for a nurse to come in, beg the staff to page my mother's doctor. But eventually I gave up on trying to make contact with any of them. Resigned, I stood next to Stella and held her as she died, watching her as she continued to remain completely immersed in whatever it was that was entering her field of vision.
I'm standing on the Mexican side of the border in a sea of cab drivers all asking if they can take me over to the nightclub district on Revolucion Street. I don't answer. A man walks up and asks me just where it is I want to go. I tell him the name of the hospital. It turns out he used to work there and, as he drives me over, he tries to comfort me by saying that my friend is in a good place. We arrive at the entrance of what looks like a beautiful house set back from the road. Instead of speeding off, the driver languidly gets out of the cab and starts visiting with the night watchman, a tall, thin, amiable man gingerly holding an automatic machine gun.
I go into the building. Unlike the university medical facility I'd just been in, this one feels like a place in which to recuperate rather than somewhere to flee. Two nurses sit at a small station watching television. They're startled by my late night arrival. I ask to see Kathy. They look concerned. Wordlessly, we all turn our attention to the picture on the TV. There in black and white, looking like a Renaissance painting done in gender reversal, is Matias holding Kathy in his arms. Her head is titled back over his shoulder. She is looking into eyes as he talks to her quietly calming her labored breathing. The nurses turn to me and tell me how much they like them both. We watch some more. Then, at the right moment, one of them gets up to fetch Matias.
As I watch the motion of the clock, I am numbed by contradictory feelings of grief and emancipation. I'm also swept with a kind of loneliness which I've never experienced before. There is no past, no future, only a vast empty present which even tears can't fill. I think about how much my mother had transformed once she learned that this illness was unequivocally going to kill her in the next few months. (Many years later I learn that, ironically, her cancer was caused by the massive doses of radiation she'd received thirty years prior from the fluoroscopes doctors then routinely used to scrutinize the diseased lungs of tuberculosis patients.) At last freed from the uncertainty she lived with for so many years, her fear of death fell from its exalted position and we were finally able to become friends for a short time. Now, even though I feel like I've been released from prison, I'm overcome with how much I miss her. I refocus my attention and see that the clock is telling me twenty minutes have passed. I look down and contemplate all the ways this brilliant woman had taught me as a child to survive the tyranny of her pain. Irrationally, I decide to wake her up. I start shaking her corpse, I start crying, I beg her to talk to me once more. Suddenly, she sits up. She looks directly into my eyes and with a lucidity I'd thought she'd lost forever a few days before she died, she tells me, with her last words, what I need to know.