Monday, March 8, 2010


“I have a secret”, she said.

My stomach lurched as I stood to leave the room. She was laying on the couch cigarette in hand, the room lit by the glow of the television.

“Please don’t tell me if I don’t want to know,” I said standing in the kitchen where she couldn’t see my face. My heart was pounding. A sense of De Ja Vu washed over me. I have been here before I thought. Standing in the tiny apartment kitchen I grew up in my mother lay in the living room wasting away from cancer. She was too thin and needed help getting up from the couch. In the past when she would tell me some secret confession it was because she was manic. During those times I learned many things about her past that I shouldn’t have. It occurred to me that she might be manic now despite the fact that the cancer didn’t allow her to stay up all night or rearrange furniture.

“I am going to tell you anyway,” she said. I listened from the kitchen refusing to come out to look at her, ears alert nevertheless. “I have had a lover for many years.” She told me who it was.

“But mom, he’s married.” I heard my words as I spoke them sounding like a prudish 13 year old. She was unapologetic.

I remembered the time that I was 12 and she insisted on sleeping in my bed with me. She woke me often throughout the night to tell me something else. She told me that she was married before she married my father and that she had an abortion. She told me that when she was in a car accident she heard her aborted child cry out for her.

I knew she was sick the previous March. When she came for a visit I could see she had lost weight. She looked old. But then when we saw her in June, she seemed better and we went to the Natural History Museum with the kids and to China Town for dinner. Now it was September and she lay dying on the couch. Did she know she was dying? If she did, she did not bring it up. She did not offer any goodbyes. She did not tell me she was proud of me or that she loved me. Instead she told me about her lover.

I wasn’t sure that I believed the story to be true. I called my brother who was equally suspicious. She dropped her cigarette on the couch. I snuffed it out and tried to get her to go to bed.

The next day we had her admitted to the hospital. I was unable to keep up with her increasing demands and thought that we would be able to set up some help during the admission. She was reluctant to go but finally agreed. I thought that she would return home. Did she know that she would never return to her apartment? Did she know that she smoked her last cigarette across the street from the hospital?

Days later my brother and I watched her take her last breath. I touched her hand and smoothed her hair. Her fingers were swollen with death. I ached to feel more, know more about her, feel closer to her. My brother cried quietly sitting in the chair.

Her death left us exactly as I knew it would. I knew she would just slip away without any emotional final words or goodbyes. She left no will, no letters to us. She just floated quietly away. It was as if there was still unfinished business, words never said, feelings unresolved. Had we failed her or had she failed us?

I replay that last week over and over in my head as I lie in bed trying to sleep. I miss her so much, yet I am not sure why. Years of confusion, upheaval, anger, and fear all brought to a sudden end. Who will fill her void?

During the days and weeks that followed while cleaning out her apartment we found the evidence that she was telling the truth. We called to tell him that she had died unsure of what to do. Her final secret exposed by her own hand.


3 comments: said...


Kristin said...

This is an incredibly well-written story. I really admire those who can convey the feeling and details of such personal moments.

I can't imagine some of the things you lived through growing up, but I love reading your essays about your experiences. We all have some kind of traumatic events from our past, so it makes us feel not so alone when we share.


one girl creative said...

Words escape me to how moved I am by reading this story. Especially given the fact that I remember you going through all of this, and how sad and confused you were. Now I know why.

Amazing story and very well written.