Right middle finger to thumb, tapping. A nervous tick tick tick. Mindless, unconscious, and uncontrollable, something I do in times of distress. Tick tick tick. “You have to decide. What do you think?” Tick tick tick fuck this. Fuck that question. I am not making this decision. The hospital administrators told my siblings not to include me in the conversation. They were just some human resources staff, only in the room to cover their asses. I was too young to be a part of this, but I wasn’t too young to watch my mother die. “Are you even listening?” I can’t think about the body down the hall, tubes and wires invading every crevice, strangling my eyes every time I walk in.
…brain dead someone says, probably trying to be calm and logical, attempting to justify the absurd.
…she’s not there anymore, I think someone has their hand on my leg when they says this, but I’m not sure. I want to stab a pen into my thigh to make sure I’m not paralyzed.
He doesn’t say anything. I imagine he is picturing her on the bathroom floor, his fists pounding into her chest to will her heart to beat again.
…I’m so sorry someone else weeps silently, starring, not sure how to comfort me.
They knew I understood the implications of this. They were all adults with families of their own, I was the only one at home, the only one who completely relied on her. I didn’t know how to exist in a world that she was not a part of. I couldn’t even picture what that would look like. Dad was a blurry figure in the background of our family photo, still visible, but just an after thought. My life would be uprooted to move in with a stranger who had left us when I was three. He cried when he saw her in the hospital bed, but still went home to his wife.
My saliva turns to cement in my mouth, clamping my jaw shut, restricting my throat.
I don’t remember how I answered, but soon I’m signing a paper to kill my mother.
Wait, no, she is already dead. It’s hard to keep this straight.
We plan to turn off life support on Wednesday at 1:00pm.
I wonder if we will send out invites.
Is that something you do when you plan the time that someone will die?
I can’t sit in this hospital anymore. The stale lights are making my eyes burn and the ammonia from the cleaning supplies assaults my nostrils every time I inhale. She’s still breathing, but it’s mechanical and evenly timed. I count the breaths, wondering how many it would take to reverse the damage. One-two-three, wake up, four-five-six, wake up.
When a patient is in a coma and immobile for long periods of time, pressure bands are placed on the arms and legs to keep blood flowing. Without this device, limbs will atrophy and become unusable. All I can do is sit and stare at her face, puffy and distorted, a surreal version of the person I knew. My mind wastes like her body as I gaze at the hollow vessel in the bed. It is easier to deal with this if she is just an empty container.
I grasp the swollen hands in the bed and try to squeeze my life into her body. She deserves it more. I’ll be back tomorrow, but I have to leave now.
I was a runner once. I ran everyday, maybe for exercise, or maybe it was cathartic. Why would anyone put their body through that to feel better? I left the hospital so I could participate in a race—what a fucking joke. It was a European-style cross-country run where I would travel through streams, jump over hay bales, and bound up steep hills. I haven’t been able to feel anything lately, so maybe this strain is a good thing. At the starting line I consider piercing my spikes into my calf, six even holes to drain my body.
The gun goes off and I strike my feet into the ground, rhythmically tapping my fingers as I move towards the first stream. Tick tick tick.
If I twist my ankle and fall into the water, I can let the mud fill my mouth. My eyes will go opaque and blind, and my tongue will turn to ash, falling out of my head into the murky liquid. Every word I want to say dripping from bloodied lips into a vacuum with no audience. I want the dirt to engulf the empty pit in my stomach. I want to share the space that your body will soon inhabit.
I grab the rope and pull my body over onto the bank, slugging forward. I don’t have time to disappear now, so I keep running. The weight of my water-soaked shoes and shorts make my legs tense and rigid, but I’m too far from the start to stop now.
The rest of the race is a blur. I think I fell down a few times because there is blood on my hands; I have your blood on my hands too. After I cross the finish line, I take a lap to cool down, rubbing the blood into my eyes so I don’t forget the feeling. This is a sign. I deserved this. Not appreciating what I had, being a bitch sometimes, not seeing that you were sick, being an ungrateful, good for nothing… I should stretch too. Don’t want to pull a muscle.
The race was a brief interruption, a moment to forget, but I still had to go back to the hospital tomorrow. Dad drove me home. It was the first race he had been to all year. He said he wanted to support me during this difficult time. On the way home, I was silent, trying to forget my body and where I was and what was happening. He said if anything good could come out of this, our relationship would finally get stronger—as if she was the one preventing that. Tick tick tick Silent tears stream down my face, but I refuse to look at him. I will not give him the satisfaction of feeling like the hero.
The house was filled to the brim with people waiting to find out how the race went, but I pushed past them and went upstairs. Everyone wanted to talk and act like this was normal, but all I wanted to do was disappear. I can’t pretend to be okay, or put on a brave face because “that’s what she would have wanted.” I walk past my room and into hers, crawling into the bed with my shoes still on. She’s not coming back, so the mess in the bed is irrelevant. Someone comes to check on me, but I pretend to be asleep to avoid the questions. Are you okay? Do you need anything? Are you sure? She wouldn’t want you to be like this. Under the covers I try to cry, but nothing comes out, my eyes a raw and arid tundra. I inhale deeply and let the fabric fill my lungs to absorb every last piece of you. I fall asleep like this, desperately clinging to the thing that cannot last.
It was such a quiet death, annoyingly cliché. People who weren’t there said, “At least she died peacefully, surrounded by her loved ones.” What a load of horse shit. Her death was violent, the nurse who pulled the tube from her throat was violent, the choked gargle that came from somewhere within her body was violent. The mechanical breathing stopped and became jagged—this is a sick prank, she’s going to wake up tick tick tick she’s going to wake up she’s going to wake up tick tick she’s—until her chest concaved and her jaw went slack. No one made a sound after that, so all that hung in the air was the monotonous drone of the monitor. The moaning flat line morns for us, but offers no comfort.