In the beginning, I knew my mom wouldn’t last forever because she longed to be reunited with her mother. If there were a fair equilibrium, a true exchange, her mother would have wanted her to stay with me, not her. She was dead. I was alive. Simple facts. The more my mother suffered, the more she looked forward to this reunion with her mom who also died of breast cancer, yes, they had that special bond, but I was ten, standing next to my mom while we folded laundry on the kitchen table, forcing myself to be strong. No crying while she spoke of seeing her mom again. I was too young to appreciate how young she was to be faced with dying. She was maybe 34, anything over 30 seemed old to me at that time, but not that old, not old like time to die old. It was at that moment folding laundry that I not only disliked heaven, but believed it couldn’t be possible. I never tried to convince my mother of this belief because the idea of heaven made her happy, and also, because I didn’t know if I even had a belief, spiritual or personal, I just knew there was laundry to fold and my mother’s mom died when she was ten, and she felt a deep longing that I didn’t yet feel.
When my daughter was five, I posted flyers here and there in a tiny town near the Mexico border, offering creative writing classes. I wasn’t sure where I’d teach these classes, but that wasn’t important: first, I needed students. Twenty miles down the road was a senior citizen town, and people from that town saw my ads and called, then old folks from the arty town where I lived saw my fliers and they called, and then there were twelve students, and we met at a restaurant in town, me, a nobody sitting at a table with these successful people who were former professors, priests, Hollywood writers, nuns, and I was basically an unemployed single mom, and they’d write and write, and we’d gather, laugh and cry, and they were old, so they’d also die, but not before becoming someone important to my daughter and me. After they came to my house for a birthday party, it dawned on them that I was shit broke, and they insisted on taking my daughter on shopping sprees to buy her clothes for kindergarten, or bring me a rug, a chair, kind gestures, all the while treating me as if I was the one helping them. One dear woman who we became quite close with asked me to cross the border and get her drugs so she could die at home. She knew her time was up and she didn’t want to leave her home and move into a nursing home. All I had to do was cross that border, which I crossed all the time, but I didn’t cross it for her drugs. And then I got the call from one of her grown children I had never met who lived in another state: I know how much you meant to my mother…
A couple of years ago one of my dogs died. I have many dogs and cats, all that I love, and eventually they die, and with each death, I grieve not only for them, but for old lovers and friends, other dead pets, dead students, potential friends and lovers, for the unknown. There is no logic in my grief, but I do collapse beneath the tree in the backyard and howl, I inch myself down to the ground in the living room and howl again, then I wake up in bed and howl once more. I understand the lonely howl of dogs and wolves, the depth of grief. When my dead dog was three, he couldn’t stop seizuring, and I drove him 100 miles to an emergency clinic. During the night the vet called me every hour on the hour, begging that I’d let them put him down, even they couldn’t say kill him because that seemed heartless, and I’d ask what he was doing, and they’d say howling nonstop, and I’d say that’s because he wants to live, and he will live, and I paid you to keep him there 24 hours, and he’s howling not because he’s suffering but because he’s afraid he’s going to die, and early in the morning a new vet came on board and called to say my dog was alive, and when he heard how the other vet had called me all night, he said he prayed for my dog, and he knew it was me that my dog was calling, and no one believed he’d make it through the night, but he did, and now I must pick him up and bring him to a better hospital.
In my youth, and even my not so much youthful days, I was sexually active. If I didn’t live in this town, I’m certain I’d have sex again. But I live here. And no one even dates me. But, people in my neighborhood drive by, stick their heads out the window, and say that just seeing me walk the dogs brightens their day, so I guess that’s something, but it’s not the same as sex. My mother lasted, lasted, there’s that pathetic word again, (and my epileptic dog lasted another eight years), eight more years, (I’m sure she would not like being compared to my dog). When I was in high school dating an older boy from the college down the street who wanted to be a minister and also a 12 string guitarist for Jethro Tull, my mom was lying on the couch in the living room, so he’d come to our house and play his guitar since she was the perfect audience because she couldn’t just get up and say, Oh, I must paint the garage now, but, she did like Elvis Presley and he played a guitar, but even if Elvis had come to the living room, I’m not sure how she’d handle all that hip action while she was on the couch in her ratty bathrobe, though Elvis may have provided another year or two of life to my mom, who also liked Barry Sadler’s “The Green Berets,” and that music never seemed too lively to me, so maybe my boyfriend whose first name was the same as his last was a depressing blend between Elvis and The Green Berets, and he’d sing “Amazing Grace,” then stop a minute, hoping she’d clap or something, and she didn’t, and I wondered if she was about to puke and wondered if it was because of his singing or the chemo, and then he’d sing her one of his originals, and she’d give me that look which I knew meant How much longer is he going to play this shit, he’s nice and all, but look at me and listen to him, and for good measure, he’d read a scripture or twenty, because, remember, he wanted to be a preacher, and my mom was probably relieved I wasn’t a hooker strung out on drugs since I longed to be a Flower Child, but after enduring this boyfriend’s singing and reading, she seemed to have a change of mind and thought perhaps some weed and normal friends would do me a world of good, because her last words of advice to me were: Please don’t marry him. He’s too depressing.
Diane Payne’s most recent publications include: Obra/Artiface, Map Literary Review, Watershed Review, Tishman Review, Whiskey Island, Kudzu House Quarterly, Superstition Review, Blue Lyra Press, Fourth River, Cheat River Review.,The Offing, Elke: A little Journal, Souvenir Literary Journal, Madcap Review and Outpost 19. Diane is the author of Burning Tulips (Red Hen Press) and co-author of Delphi Series 5 chapbook.