*keels over* whooo....wow. first draft for Hear Me Project....constructive criticism is muchly needed....
"Make a wish baby, make a wish on the shooting star."
Lying there in the grass, my mother's strong arms wrapped around me, I gazed up at the flicker of light dashing across the universe and wondered what I could wish for. My seven-year-old soul felt cleansed in the light of the moon, and as I settled there, inhaling the perfume of my mother just returning from work, I giggled and smiled, saying shyly, "I don't have to wish for anything, Momma."
The subway doors clanks open, sending a hushed groan like a dying animal into the semi-crowded terminal, and jolting me from the vague memory, one of many that seemed to be plaguing my waking conscious. I shake it off, same as the others, and stride into the subway car, hoisting my bag further up on my shoulder. As a reminder of its weight and importance, the strap bites into the flesh protected only by a thin t-shirt, and a thinner sweatshirt over it. Ignoring the pain, I find a seat and settle into the worn padding of the plastic chair. I lean back, letting my head rest against the cool window as the car rumbled to life, like a sleeping beast awakened.
As the car trundles onward, the bump and clatter keeps me awake and keeps me alert, as it always does on this trip through the underground. I and the other passengers gradually settle into the rhythm and rocking of the machinery containing us, growing silent and complacent. Some pull out their headphones, others become lost in books, magazines, or newspapers. A few just stare into space. Having had forgotten my CD player at home, I let my eyes wander, passing from face to face, wondering what story was behind each expression. A young woman, cradling an infant in her arms, joy evident in her tired eyes. She glances up and met my gaze, her smile revealing teeth near rotted. I nod in return. An older man in a crumpled business suit sits diagonal from me, absorbed in a newspaper. His face looks as crumpled as his suit, with wrinkles beginning and ending, crashing into each other, almost obliterating his features. I call to mind an old hound dog and smile, looking away.
I meet the gaze of a young man sitting across from me, a single earphone dangling onto his shoulder, the other is jammed in his ear. He was my age, maybe a little older, with shaggy blonde hair and the scraggly beginnings of a beard. A ghost of a smile whispers across his lips and I can feel him watching me even as I look away. Given the nature of my predicament, I consider myself asexual, citing the dangers of what giving into carnal pleasures could lead to. But in that brief moment, I feel lustful. I feel desired. And in that moment, we are beautiful.
But, reality sets back in and I begin to wonder, what sort things of were floating around in his bloodstream? Could viruses be at work on his immune system, galloping in to ruin those Raphael-esque features? Such an intimate virus it is, cleverly hiding itself in sneezes and sniffles, masquerading as the flu, or a particularly nasty cold. I remember my mother's eyes, once so bright, now dimmed with fatigue and illness.
A bitter smile crossed my own lips as the boy looks away, seeming to be put-off by the sadness I know is in my eyes. Thus the nature of my condition. I look down at my own clasped hands and close my eyes, trying to let the ebb and flow of the car lull me into a place where I can forget, even for just a moment. As I retreat to a calmer place, we slow to a stop, my stop. The easiest part of my journey has come to a close, and now begins the eight-block long trek through freezing cold wind. I rise, once again resisting the urge to wince as the strap pinches already tender skin. But I carry the bag with no heavy heart, for the cargo inside is much too precious.
The boy catches my eye as I exit, they're brown, flecked with gold. He smiles, and I smile, and two strangers are forgiven. Still smiling, I turn to dive into the crowds of the station, soon forgetting the boy and his momentary beauty. People weave too and fro, bumping and knocking each other around. Conversations carry on all at once, blending into a cacophony of epic proportions. Footsteps pound, announcements blare, trains whiz by. The throng sways and subsides as the ocean would, parting long enough to allow me to squeeze through to reach the surface world. Threading through the oncoming traffic, I emerge onto the street, eight blocks from my destination. The cold air hits me, a metaphorical bat upside the head, nearly knocking the breath from me with a gust of wind. I smile and laugh, thrilled to be free of the huddled masses. Thankfully, the street is nearly empty, and my outburst is relatively unseen.
Adjusting the bag once more, I set out, wrapping my jacket closer around me, hoping the fading material won't make me catch pneumonia. Time passes quickly, as I keep my head down, watching my feet, listening as they pound in time with my breath and my heart. I beat out a foxtrot with my body, tapping along, my worn shoes shuffling on the sidewalk.
Right here. Left there. Cross the street three times. This mantra repeats in my head, softly, but assuredly, seeming to rub out all other thoughts. Right here. Left there. Cross the street three times. My dance continues, now a waltz, and I try not to think of my mother's body. Smooth and supple as she tangoed and tapped on the stage, how she seemed to glide instead of move with whatever music she was given. The way she smiled after a show, pulling me into a hug. I try not to think of my mother's body now, slowly wasting away in a bed she's come to know out of necessity. How she can barely sit up, let alone walk. How that virus has taken over her body, weakening her at an agonizingly slow pace. My brows draw together in a frown, and I shake my head, this is no time for unpleasantness. Right here. Left there. Cross the street three times.
Skipping quickly across the street for the final time, my mind returns to that virus. I refuse to call it by its medical name. In order to call something by its name, you first have to respect it, and I, by no means, will respect such an assassin. That's all it really it, is a murderer. Killing an immune system the way someone might kill an enemy. Its name is whispered in some circles, passed along from ear to ear like a child's game, too afraid to say it aloud for fear of retribution. I will not pay such reverence.
I ascend the steps of the building I visit more than my own home. Jerusalem Medical Center, home to more patients of the virus than anywhere else in the city. It is here my mother will spend the last of her days, succumbing to the final stages of pneumocystis pneumonia, a common illness for someone in her condition. The inner sanctum is heated, lighted by flickering fluorescent fixtures, and was probably carpeted back when the Dutch still owned the city. But it's quiet, it's peaceful, and it's calm. Readjusting my bag for the umpteenth time, I give a warm smile to the nurse at the desk and continue on my way. Most of the staff have family members here, as working here is a volunteer effort.
My shoes sink into the asparagus colored shag carpeting, muffling my footsteps, and somehow muting my now pounding heartbeat. Numbers creep across my lips as I count the rooms, wanting the eighth to the right. Some cry out as I walk by, abandoned by those they loved, others just watch in silent resentment. I keep my head down, feeling the chill of their glares. I am one of the last. The few who visit willingly, without fear, without contempt for those they grace with their presence. Those who don't sweep in and out for a quickie, complaining about their packed schedule or being late. The silent ones are the worst, just watching, with sunken faces and drawn mouths, their eyes crying out for love. For attention. For someone to be there when they leave this world. But they stay there, lost, alone, until they finally waste away. I will not let that be my mother, ever. With renewed vigor, I walk down the hall, the scratched and worn door within my sight. It's been three days since my last visit and I'm a little anxious.
I slip in, trying to stay as quiet as possible. A small bedside lamp's on, sending a ghostly glow throughout the room; though it's only seven, it's dark already, and I can just barely see the moon through the tiny window. She always loved the moon. I'm just a night person, she'd whisper to me, holding me close as we watched the stars come out. I bite down hard on my lip, hoping the pain distracts me from the memory. The bag eases off my shoulder and into the ragged chair by the door; I let my eyes wander over the room, making sure every thing's in order before I finally allow myself to look at the prone figure in the bed. I've been coming here for three years, and yet, every time I walk in the door, seeing her there is a shock. She looks so small, so pale against the white sheets and blanket. Mahogany hair, fanned out on the pillow like an ornate carving, once full and thick, now dull and thin. I step forward, sitting in the chair beside the bed, my eyes still on her. A lump in my throat battles for dominance, but I quickly put it in its place, reaching forward for her hand. Avoiding the IV, I wrap my fingers around her pale hand, able to feel the bones and tendons as I pull it towards me. Her skins feels like paper, cool and dry, and white as snow. Absently, I trace the royal blue veins, still biting down painfully hard on my lower lip.
These hands, that raised me for the first fifteen years of my life; that cooled fevered skin, cooked dinner, made shadow puppets, and tickled tummies and feet, now lie still beside her, useless, lifeless. I kiss the knuckles before laying it back on the bed, fighting the sting in my eyes, the returning lump in my throat. She stirs and I lean forward, smile at the ready. Eyes open, once vibrant emerald orbs, now a dull green from pain and illness. They focus slowly, watching me for minutes before sparking with recognition. I give my brightest smile, "Hey, Mom. How are you today?"
Slowly, she reaches upward to pull the oxygen mask from her face, the alien protrusion over her nose and mouth, giving her the air she so richly deserves. Cracked lips turning upward, she gives a weak smile. "Hey baby," she whispers hoarsely, "how're you?" This tidbit of dialogue sends her into a coughing fit that lasts for a torturous minute or so. Once she recovers, she tries to laugh it off, smiling again and shaking her head at me, as if to say, Well, I asked for that, didn't I? An awkward silence falls over the room as I attempt to soldier through this heart-wrenching reminder of what could never be. In my panic, I am reduced to the state of an active five-year-old and begin to blather on about school and whatnot, what I've been doing, how I've been behaving for Nana, before rushing to the bag to pull out the precious cargo. Holding it aloft, I say in my most jovial voice, "I brought the book again today, Mom."
She smiles again, and this time it reaches her eyes. Unable to speak, she nods, and waves me back over to the bed. I crawl up onto the hand-me-down hospital bed, settling at the foot in order to be properly heard, and begin. It's an old D.H. Lawrence book, the name I can never recall, but my mother loves him, so every time I visit I read. I read aloud until I go hoard, but still I keep reading, glancing up every so often to check on my mother. After nearly two hours of reading, she settles back into sleep, having listened to me read nearly the entire book. As quietly as I came, I leave, brushing a kiss upon her forehead before I depart. I whisper my "I love you", hoisting the bag on my shoulder once more, and turn to leave, brusquely wiping a hand across my eyes to destroy the treacherous tears that threaten to fall.
We never did figure out who it was, the guy who gave her the virus. She was bohemian back then, a dancer, and free love was all the rage. No protection was the way to go. I remember her bitter laugh when she found out she was positive, and it sends a knife straight through my heart. It's true, I am not an AIDS patient, nor will I ever be. But because of some stupid mistake, I am and AIDS victim, and I always will be.