I go to the bathroom to cry, second stall to the right.
My mother had a “significant stroke” six days ago and all of my waking time has been spent with her at the hospital. The first three days, she lay mostly unconscious, her right side seized by a continuous spasm that left her blankets askew and IV lines vulnerable. One of the doctors said it was to compensate for the paralysis on the left. I’m not sure which doctor, though, there’ve been so many. When she did finally open her eyes, it was reassuring by degrees. Since then, she often doesn’t know where she is or even what stage of her life she’s living – childhood, young motherhood, a random tea party where she pours – other moments are bittersweet pockets of lucidity. To have her again, for only a few moments or even hours will have to do. When she’s aware, I want to burrow myself under her mound of blankets, have her tell me this too shall pass, but that’s my job now -- that and believing she will recover. I have to believe for my father, too, he needs that. Her team of doctors can’t say how much she’ll improve, but most are hopeful.
My father and I arrive early and leave late, meet with doctors on their early morning rounds, check her vitals with the night nurse, call the neighbors and family members throughout the day, reassure my brothers she’s making progress, no matter how small, remind them it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s killing them. I wait until my mother’s safely asleep before nudging my Dad to the cafeteria for a hot meal. He hates to leave her side. He’s relying on me now to help him navigate this uncharted course. It’s a terrible thing for a father to depend so much on his little girl, I know this. So I don’t let him see me cry.
A friend called me last night and asked what I was doing to help myself. I know someone you can talk to, she said. She is a lovely friend, one of the first people I called. But she knows I don’t talk, not to therapists anyway. Instead, what has seen me through this period has been writing this essay.
The first line came to me in the middle of the night while I sat in a chair watching the rise and fall of my mother’s chest. The rest has come in bits and pieces since. When I finally found the time – this precious time – to write, I flew to my desk. Thoughts of these moments, putting words to page have been my touchstone. I’ve always loved writing and each of you knows by now how important it is to me. But I suppose I didn’t realize that it's my essence; I am a writer. So many of us have wrestled with the notion of calling ourselves writers before publishing something, as if that title can be bestowed only by public acknowledgement. What I’ve learned this past week is that a writer isn’t a title at all, it’s who we are, what moves and sustains us. Writing is what we turn to in crisis, in joy, when we need to make right a world so fatally flawed with wrong. It’s our catharsis and euphoria and the marrow of our core. We are writers.
I don’t expect I’ll have much time to write in the weeks ahead. I’ll probably go days without it. When I can manage, it will help me through.
When I can’t, you can find me in the bathroom, second stall to the right.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007