The last part of the summer, from the very end of the month of June to now, has been nothing but tribulation. One night I noticed my mother was not feeling well–this had come, almost predictably, after arguments with my brother and a fall at work–she had complained of her stomach and back giving her a lot of pain. I thought but little of it, seeing as that she had not eaten very well the night before, but by 5 AM the next morning things became serious. She was vomiting and could not keep anything down. So I called my brother (he had been partying out that night), he came home, and we carefully packed Mom into the car and drove to the hospital.
It turned out that my wonderful mother had been harboring several large gallstones–including two that were the size of baseballs–for years. This had come from years of bad nutrition, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stressful living conditions. The ensuing infection that came about from this was so widespread most of the fluid (a dark greenish, bilious, pyotic fluid) had invaded the cavities inbetween the gallbladder and her stomach, and caused gastrointestinal distress. For three nights she suffered with little water to drink, as water would just aggravate the motions to vomit again, nor any comfort whatsoever, but instead she sat up through the night, hour after hour heaving nothing but that fluid, which had the unmistakable smell of burnt, rotten almonds. The doctors said they could do little while her vocal chords were burnt by pint after pint of stomach acid. And there I was, not sure of what to do myself, since the little medical training I had had were of little use in the situation. All I could do was sit by her side, run the palm of my hand over her hair, and hold her hand. It was horrible.
For the first time in my life, I was confronted with the future spectre of what will inevitably happen to my mother. She will die, and I will be left without her. That feeling is the scariest, most unhappy feeling in the world for me right now–knowing that the only person who can really understand you, at least objectively, will no longer be there to understand you. Then what happens? Well, if one is truly lucky, one can be grateful for her life, and move on completely happy and vouchsafed in the knowledge of her positive influence. But for me, I can only think of the immense maw that would be left with her absence, the knowledge that she had indeed gone forever, never to return, not to reciprocate an embrace or a smile over food. It will be the most horrible, trying time of my life–as if it could not get any more trying as it is.
i think I cried for several nights after that. I had been looking forward to more positive aspects; my birthday was in a couple a weeks, and all I could think about was an excursion to the seaside with my friends whom I hadn’t seen for a while. The weather gave no consolation. It has been hot since the day I arrived in Harlingen, and was so when I left, now two weeks ago. Day after day the same scenario prevailed, as it often does in the plains of South Texas: the hot and intemperate sun, rising furiously out of a bank of night clouds, its face bright and unwavering in its brilliance, making the ground too hot for bare feet and eyes. And night would come, a stinking, festering humid mass of air that came down after the sunlight had faded into blue and then deep blue and then purple, and with it big junebugs, soldier beetles and gnats. I slept the majority of the summer without air conditioning, in an overcrowded room that my brother and his girlfriend used as storage. Night after night I had to get up around two because it would be too hot to sleep, and I’d only be in underwear or maybe just a sheet, and then I would shower just to cool off. And it seemed then the heat was too intense even for sleeping, as neither comfort nor consolation could cause me to rest, just knowing how much my mother was suffering in the hospital.
Originally the doctors had planned for the gallbladder to be removed rather quickly, as the nature of the severity of her infection caused concern for the rest of her body, but during a test procedure anesthesia was improperly administered, and through shrieks of pain my mother said she was being disemboweled. Her heart rate and blood pressure went up, and when it was deemed that she could not endure the test procedure, she was sent to the Critical Care Unit of the hospital for evaluation. I had been not even a couple of minutes at home after a stressful move with my cousin before I had to go back to the hospital, and rushed the fastest I have ever rushed to see how she was. She was and would be fine, we were told, my aunts and my little brother and me; there had been a mistake and they would correct it. However the inept doctor decided that, in order to be careful, a catherization was necessary. After my mother was sent home from the hospital (on my birthday, the day my little brother and his wife were married rather unceremoniously in the hall of the Justice of the Peace), she told me she was afraid of what might happen to her during the catherization. Immediately she began to talk about her death as if it had been written on marble, and the undertaker was coming to recieve her body–how I needed to reconcile with my brother, how I needed to assume control, being that I was the only son who was trying to make something of himself–and I wanted nothing to do with it. At least, not at this age. I’m too young to be the executor of a will, better yet, of a small amount of money and a cheese-holed insurance policy that probably wouldn’t even cover funeral expenses. My little brother said he would make sure to take my share and make it so that he and his wife were well off, but everything that belonged to me was suddenly not mine, my name not even worth the paper it will be printed on.
Typical afternoons in South Texas are spent under the shade of the outside sunporch, where the breeze from the Gulf comes around three and sends refreshing air to stir up the still and unbearable morning heat, which is always somehow worse than the afternoon heat, because of its intense humidity. We had to buy another air conditioning unit from my cousin who had sold hers upon entering her new apartment, and this one suited my mother’s old room just fine, making it a delectable prison for her to lounge about in. Because that is exactly what it was–a prison. For five weeks my Mother was not allowed to do anything–no lifting of anything heavy, no washing the dishes, no attending to the laundry, no driving (which she was not happy about either). My good-for-nothing brother, having quit his job, refused to do any housework, delegating it to his new wife, who refused to do so as well. So I attended to the washing, the mopping, the cooking and cleaning, the daily duties I have been so well accustomed to, and which I have to do, because no one else will. I have the hard work ethic in me as much as I do a gene that allows for good muscle growth.
No one can say now that I am a bad soon, because I have made so many sacrifices for my family’s sake, and for my own. If anyone wishes to call me a martyr then, so be it–better a triumphant martyr, who bears his sufferings quietly and patiently, rather than a person who shies from responsibility. This, therefore, is my cross. I embrace it, I love it; I will endure what I need to endure in order to be on a higher plane than those who would so easily give into baser aspirations. I will do whatever I have to do–whatever comes forth from the power that I can will–to make myself and the world a better place, regardless of whatever ideologies I may not necessarily agree with. This is actual power–that is, actualizing in its unique nature. It comes from great distress, great suffering–the image is of a massive release of energy during an earthquake. People are moved. Buildings, moved. Environments, disrupted. To move through this world being sure of oneself absolutely is a responsibility that few people have. It comes with great trials. These trials make us who we are, or they break us. I have been broken so many times that I do not know if I will even be alive at the end of the day but I keep doing it because I know something better has to come.
I have to admit, I’m not an altogether sort of person yet. There are social façades, and these run deep, cutting deep into self-esteem and self-concept, making everything from picking out good shoes to making lasting friendships difficult. I know I am not destined for a life of quiet acceptance–it’s too easy when too many people have saved you to do that. But something has to be better than this life of repugnance, of desperation, of constant and finite suffering. Desperation has moved me hurriedly on a plane to a city of the Plains, to school and back again, from nightmare to dream to reality to fading and incipient visions. It has run me through painful relationship to painful relationship, from the anger and confusion of misunderstood lives and opinions to the unending sense of inner self-conflict, the the kind that ravages the conscience deep at night, when one is supposed to feel good about what one has accomplished. I feel like I have such a long way to go; so much to get over. And it would seem so easy as to just forget about what people think–but I am a type of person who does things the hard way, and I can’t say I don’t like people to like me for being a good person. I am a good person, I keep on telling myself I am; no matter what I look like or say or think. I just want to be in a good place with everyone, because I hate having to play emotional catch-up, or even worse, cutting them off when it seems that they might not just be interested anymore.
Someone once said to me that I would just end up perpetuating my isolation by not really being myself. How is it possible to not be yourself and be yourself at the same time? It happens all the time. We put on masks that hide our identity and intentions from others, and our selective choices fit the context of the people we want to be in good standing with. Would you dream of showing your stash of gay porn to your friends at a Christmas party? Would you confess to your spouse or significant other about coveting that which is not yours to begin with? I could go on, but it is a uniquely human trait to be multifaceted, and this definitely applies in social situations, as well. To some people with the confidence and inner emotional strength, it is easy, but with me it is like trying to light damp matches. It starts up, but takes much nurturing. The fire is incipient, barely there almost, but it can grow to be ardent and defiant, even against the darkness and the damp of the world.
My soul. What is it to have a soul? It is a vital essence. It cannot be overcome; yet it feels overwhelmed, smothered by societal expectations, the ennui of day-to-day experience, the horrible little tragdies of day-to-day business, the catastrophes of rejection and dis-alliance. And yet people like me continue, burned beyond recognition, like those who self-immolate themselves in protests, breathing and bleeding, burned and broken, but still alive. I am alive, I will be. My life doesn’t end on the side of a road, or under the base of a tree or a supporting beam of a house, or in the incarnadine residue of a gunshot blast. Whatever pushes me to the Upper World, and to the continuance of the Great Work, pushes me on, to the point of exhaustion; the pain is exhilirating and completely sublime.
No one has been through what I have been through. My experiences are my own. I want to share with the world a sense of appreciation, of love; but through this much suffering must come about, weight must be lost and gained, weights lifted, things to be done, books read, papers written, diplomas handed out, then doctorates, people invited over for weekends, impressions made, meals cooked. Tears must be shed, blood spilt, the cross carried up and over and finally to Calvary, the last stampede and push towards something limitless and invisible. But now I can depend on myself for my own sustenance. I am a big, well-built man. I have spent many years depreciating myself, but I am now at a point where the crucible has been made, and I am ready for purifications and sacrifices. I am ready.
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