GREAT FALLS, Montana – O_____ H_____ died peacefully in Community Hospital of Great Falls on Monday, June 21, 2010, from a little bit of everything.--The Great Falls Tribune, June 24, 2010
It wasn’t just that bitch Cancer or the chemo or the loss of the right breast or the swollen postulating lymph nodes or the bedsores or the headaches or the embarrassment of the loose watery bowels. It wasn’t only the surprise-birthday-party shock of getting the news from the doctor at age 68, the news that after all these years—long after her breasts could be rightfully called dusty dugs hanging useless and, frankly, unwanted—the misaligned cells had split and re-married in ways never intended by God. It wasn’t the looks on all the other faces—Alice, Esther, Jill, Lor, Jack, MaryLou, and that nice kid at Western Grocers who always bagged her food with a company-policy smile—an expression like a hard pat of butter hitting a hot pan. It wasn’t even the indignity of spending the last days in the hospice care of a stranger from Helena, a woman named Ellen with gum-scented breath, who chirped every morning and, on really bad days, asked again and again if they shouldn’t call someone, her scattered family or the pastor maybe; or the fact that now she was spending mornings and afternoons staring at a ceiling, her eyes tracing the outline of a water stain shaped like a magpie in flight; or that she could feel her body dissolving—all those years behind melting and all the years to come crumbling.
It was also the time she fell out of the tree when she was five years old and no one was there to break her fall with one ounce of damned sympathy or even a Band-Aid. It was the hard shoulders of her parents. It was the cigarettes she started at age 16 and just as quickly quit at 18. It was the bags and bags and bags of Doritos and the occasional pink Hostess Snowball. It was the starting and stopping of a college education too many times until she finally gave up. It was the two husbands, one of whom gave her true love while the other gave her a child. It was the divorce of the right husband and the heart-attack death of the wrong husband. It was the hard work of a single parent, putting everything into her child, only to find, when he was teenager, that it had been like pouring water through a sieve. It was Giles’ sullen glances and the long hair that flopped across his face. It was the absorption of too many TV cathode rays from years of bad legal dramas and even worse sitcoms with tin-can laugh tracks. It was the churches not attended. It was Rae Lynn who’d seduced her son Giles, pregnanting him into a too-early marriage. It was how they moved away to a foreign land called Mississippi so soon after the wedding. It was the Christmas and birthday cards for ten years and then not even that anymore. It was her face in front of the microwave waiting for her dinner. It was the cats she killed with her love. It was taking phone calls and typing dictation and daily coffee-ing for the world’s most unappreciative boss and, after nineteen years of being there on-time every day, getting nothing but an office lunch at Applebee’s when it came her time to leave. It was garden pesticides, the accumulation of paper cuts, the sprained ankle from that brief whim for jogging in 1982, the diets, the binges, the resumption of cigarettes in 1989 and the re-quitting two months later. It was the gas fumes each time she filled the Toyota’s tank, the holes in the ozone, Richard Nixon, talk radio, global warming, and her toxic hatred of George Bush’s War of Opportunity. It was Giles not coming to the hospice but twice, both times Rae Lynn holding firm to her pout as she sat outside in the car, and Giles the whole while torn between filial duty of helping her sip cranberry juice through a straw and the stronger pull of Rae Lynn’s volatility which would fill their car with its own cancer the whole drive home.
It was all this and more than she could remember, had time to remember, wanted to remember as, at last at last, she slow-motion fell away from Ellen’s gum breath which was calling out in alarm and the eyes which were already coming up wet. She just fell away from everything which had once mattered too much, the edges of her sight stained with inward-flowing ink, falling back, falling back as into a deep well, the walls crumbling upon her, the thing that had been her body now starting a slow spiral, Ellen’s face dimming as in the fade-out at the end of a movie, until finally she landed soft in the merciful blank.