The Wind Cries Mary
We all stood in silence around her bed. She didn’t look real to me; her skin was a gray-ish yellow and leathery to the touch. Thick hollow tubes were taped to her mouth, and ran down her throat. The machines behind her bed were a collage of electrical lights — greens, reds, blues, and they all hummed from the electricity flowing through them. Her chest moved up and down with contractions shadowing some of the beeps that were inaudible to her. None of us looked at the other, at least right away. Our focus was on her and the moment we now found ourselves in.
I always knew my mother was going to die someday, but when I was seventeen and still in high school, and a mere six months after my youngest brother took his own life — was certainly shocking to say the least. But not unexpected. You see, my mother, Mary, always would tell my siblings and I that if anything were to happen to any one of us she wouldn’t know what to do. This ultimately proved to be most true. After Matthew died, my mom struggled to not shut out the rest of the world and hold onto the strength, compassion and curiosity she had in life. She had a special way with people that I have yet to see replicated in any being since her death. She could be confounding at times; part biker-chick and part social-worker, she could break your arm if need be yet be the only person to care for you afterwards. People were drawn in to the magnetism about her, and would want nothing more than to listen to her stories and to laugh. And that was it, the key to most everything. If you can make people laugh then you possess quite a powerful quality.
Mary’s humor was best appropriate after the children went to sleep and she had had her first beer. But that’s the best kind of humor — adult-oriented is more reality based and often deals with issues and pressures we all face in some form or fashion on a day to day basis. Often times these issues are something we all need a release from and this is where many found my mother to be most helpful. But she could be quirky and full of cheesy jokes too. Once she was literally in the middle of whipping me with the belt and she stopped mid-swipe. I opened my eyes and slowly turned to face her, petrified and fully expecting to see smoke rising from her pores and her eyes full of an angry red. However as our eyes met, she lowered the belt and began to chuckle. Obviously perplexed, I quickly grew more afraid. Had this woman gone mad officially? Was she enjoying this? I grew angry at that thought, and hence I grew more courageous. I asked her what the hell was so funny. One of the first times I ever cursed toward my mom. My anger and how ridiculous she was behaving vindicated anything I could have said in that specific moment. She laughed some more before replying that my ass crack was hanging out of my pants. Seriously? Lame potty humor at a time like this? Though my backside was numb at this point, seeing her chuckle like one of the girls at my school, I just couldn’t help laughing either. It wasn’t one of those made for TV moments, but it was ours and I have missed it and the many like it ever since.
I stood at the foot of her bed as she laid unconscious that afternoon, and as the beeping increased. Afterwards the sky seemed more blue than it ever had before to me, and the clouds crept across it slower than they ever had before. My older brother and I drove home in silence, each of us focused on our loss and the best moments we’ve had as a family and independently with her. And we focused on the moments we would never get to share with her. The grandchildren she would never meet, nor get to see develop. The weddings and birthday parties, even the fights we would never be able to have. It’s funny that even some of the negative things in life we quickly come to cherish in mourning. My older brother was tasked with the burden of signing her off of life-support so he had a little extra guilt riding him that day and every day since. It seems so easy to sign your name on a piece of paper — children do it everyday. But this piece of paper held such an importance in it; it represented a crossroads for each of us and the extinguishing of a rather bright and extraordinary life. And it took one hell of a person to sign it. Two lives had been stripped from our family that year and the wounds were to never heal.
She helped my older brother when he was jumped by a gang in school one year. She hid in the bushes after school and as three of them pounced on him she came roaring out like a crazed animal screaming and flailing. She grabbed each one by the arm or backpack or leg and pulled them away throwing them to the ground. The funny thing is, my brother didn’t tell her he was going to be beat up; that isn’t him. He was ready to fight the whole group, but she had somehow found out and made sure to see how he was going to react first before she got involved. Once she saw he was swinging away at them as best he could, only then did she appear. My mother was more about the real-life-experience-school of thought more than the rules-and-obligations school. Whether or not one condones her actions, it is still very difficult not to think how crazy and funny this must have been. Of course this happened in a time where people slept with their doors unlocked and walked to school barefoot in the snow, etc. etc. etc.
She used some of the very minimal insurance money she got from Matthews death to help buy me prom tickets and a suit. After most of the money was spent on his funeral, she handed me what was left so that I could go to my senior prom. And I hated dancing. We talked frequently on the phone after my little brother passed away, but at that point our conversations were full of alcohol and prescription pill ramblings than they were of any real substance. Her yard became overrun with weeds and she began to get notices from the fire department, so I went over and helped clear away as much as I could. I was a reckless teen, as most seem to be, but I worked my way out of her house and into my older brothers. Within the same year I moved out, she and Matthew died. But she was still as sharp as ever, and sometimes that shone through the melancholy of the final few months. I was working in the yard with my brother the week before she passed, and I mentioned to him that I felt like I should call her, and he said to do it as often that can become something one later regrets. I have many regrets from that time.
In the hospital room, the machines were turned off by the nurses and everyone began to look to each other and hug and cry. Except me. Tears filled my eyes but I refused to blink. As hard as it was I didn’t blink once the final ten minutes it took, as what was left of my mothers life escaped her body. I stood there and stared at her, and remembered each and every detail. Her fiancee was at her left in a chair holding her hand. My aunt beside him. He didn’t sob much either. My cousin was to my left and looking to me, and full of sorrow. My brother was on the other side of her bed, opposite my aunt and soon to be step-dad. My brother and aunt shared a connection and once the machines were powered down, he kept to himself mostly, but would occasionally look to her. The room was down lit and shadows ran across the walls as we all shifted on our feet. I knew she could beat it all, and that the machines were wrong. She would surprise us all and not leave us and the doctors would be forced to put her back on life support.
Packing her house up we came across a box full of notes and thank-you cards from clients she helped by either going against her jobs protocol or personally visiting and helping. People wrote to her thanking her for finding ways to allow them to keep receiving aid or for getting them flowers after a loved one passed away or for something as simple as helping their parents through the lengthy and exhausting process.
We would often rent movies and she would naturally choose the adult drama, complete with the same court room scene they each seem to have as well as some sort of medical emergency and surprise villain. The movie I chose however was a goofy kung-fu one that made fun of the martial art genre altogether. Well, my mother was a smoker but would always go outside to smoke. Yellow and black lungs were one thing, but she’d be damned if she were going to have yellow walls in her clean house — especially if company was coming over. During this time, she paused her movie at the height of its tension and went outside to smoke. I closed the blinds prior to this so she wouldn’t see inside, and I then switched her movie for mine and paused it at what I felt was the greatest moment: an infant escapes its captors by rolling down a mountainside in feudal Japan. Only, the baby is clearly switched with a stiff, plastic thing young girls get at their local toy store. In the movie, the baby pops into the air over and over tumbling yet never shifting its physical position. On top of this, the scene was intentionally made to last near five minutes. Imagine five minutes of watching a plastic baby roll down a mountain passing the same objects over and over. All the while, expecting to un-pause a movie and finish a vital jury decision. I opened the blinds and as she came inside, I crept outside. Distance could be my best friend in times of an impending spanking. I peered into the house to gauge her reaction. She sat down, un-paused the movie and continued to watch it. Her forehead wrinkled and she picked up the VHS box and stared at it quizzically. She turned it over and read the back of it, as the baby on the television began its seventh decent. My laughter rang out and I tried to hold it in so that she wouldn’t know it was me, but it was too much to handle. I couldn’t choke it back any more and laughed so hard and loud a neighbor even asked if I was alright. I had to get on one knee to hide under the window. Once I gained some control however, I looked back inside and there she was sitting on the couch watching… my movie? What the hell is this?? My mother refused to be one-upped and knew I played a prank on her, but she just went with it. So I was forced to come back inside, and ask her why didn’t she switch the movies back. She said she hadn’t noticed, but it was a good movie and asked if I wanted to finish it with her.
The hospitals staff asked us to leave as they cleaned her up and tried to make her more presentable to us. Once we were allowed back into her room, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. It is an amazing thing to see, death is. Though I was crippled with the loss of my mother, I felt that everything was going to be okay. Her body turned a wax-brown complexion and she seemed even more frail than she already was. The tubes were taken out of her, and she was tucked into bed. I waited until most everyone left the room before approaching her. I whispered to her and held her arm. Then I thanked her and kissed her on the forehead. I didn’t want to leave that room, it was the hardest thing Ive ever had to do.
In the truck on the way home from the hospital, the radio played on low volume. Jimi Hendrix played his guitar and my brother and I drove down the long highway unsure of what to do or where to go next.
Though I still don’t speak of her much to this day nor show emotion about that year of my life, it is and will always be constantly in my thoughts. I miss my mother greatly not just for who she was to me, but also for the person she was.