Friday, August 22, 2014

My Matriarch

The smell of Tiger Balm, talcum powder, and phlegmatic scabs and spots sporadically spangling stretched skin.

The faces are similarly problematic. I see a languorous lady’s eyes light up as I stride by, and I see her hand raised in a wave that is belayed by the lack of neural relays legitimately lining up, because how could she know me? I’ve never seen her before in my life. But I smile, because I know what the gesture means — what it symbolizes, and the need it masks: a desperate desire to be connected to someone outside of the self. (This is why I smile, even though I am just barely skirting tears at the crass civility of this unassuming abattoir Time tellingly manages to act as executor for.)

I find my matriarch at a table occupied by a congregation of rheumatic Augen and jittering jowls. I wonder just how superficial the conversation is between mutual prisoners of intro-musculoskeletal war — is it all small talk, or is it the exact opposite? Is every word of theirs precisely precious, every syllable sacred, every letter beloved, never belaboured? Swooping in to her side, I gently kiss her scalp, ever deprived of ever more hair (her legacy left to me and my own hairline and our genomic generation), and try to impart as much warmth as I can — after all, it’s been ages since I last attended to her so tenderly.

I make the mistake of asking her how she’s doing — a consequence of retail-Me existing for too long, thinking that she’ll answer with a curt “Not bad” when she’s far too tired, too old for banalities and certainly too tired for untruths. “Not great” is the actual admission, and in this moment my fears crystallize and cross over into reality — she’s in pain, she’s tired, and she is very much alone (although the geriatric compeers compose a crowd, she has no family there — only emptiness, an empty room, an empty body).

She asks to be taken to her room; her back is distressing her immeasurably, unknowably, and I wonder how long she would have sat in deep-seated dolour, wincing in her wheelchair until some nurse or concerned companion asked if she needed to lie down. (I am suddenly very grateful that we arrived when we did.) I take the back of her wheelchair, rotating the footrests so that her limp legs do not dredge the carpet for its detritus, and guide her to the elevator. She asks a question about school, something well-intentioned, but I can tell she’s trying to push through the pain stemming from her spine. (I curse the wretched vertebrae that are squeezing the joie de vivre out of my venerable violet-loving lady.) Her words squeeze past her lips, and I now know that she can barely even force herself through the motions anymore.

When we enter the elevator, a man enters — a resident — and he asks, “Are you one of Wilf’s grandsons?” to which I candidly reply, “I am — one of them, at least,” and await some further jocularity, but he says nothing beyond this and all I can think to myself is How dare you mention the dead amongst the still-living? but I know this was not his intent and my matriarch may not have even heard the name of her long-dead love.

But she probably did, and I know that ache is not one that leaves the body before the lights therein do.

She struggles in transferring her failing, frailing body from wheelchair to bed, and fortunately my mother is now here to secure her other side, lest she tumble and leave us to find that the king’s horses and the king’s men are nowhere near.

When we get her firmly onto the mattress, she collapses with welcome relief, and her eyes half close out of the sheer lack of pain assaulting her frayed nerves. I pull up a seat beside the bed, and simply stroke her shoulder; I make all sorts of silent pleas and quiet bargains to assume some of the pain she is suffering — in vain. Curled into the foetal position, her quiet excruciation more quietly kills me, but the minor relief is written across her uncreased forehead, simply satisfied to not have gravity grating at her ganglions.

I gently kiss her forehead, my matriarch made infantile and immobile, and like a perverted parent-child relation, I find myself caring for my matriarch as she doubtlessly once cared for my infantile self, invalid and unassuming, unsettled and afflicted by redundantly piteous pathos.

I love my matriarch dearly — not dearly enough to depart with a clear consciousness.