The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea
“Help… help.” She whispers.
Am I dreaming? I try to wake up from a very heavy sleep, the kind that makes you feel like you’re in wet concrete. I can hear the birds singing their early morning songs, but there’s no sunlight to demand my presence. I can’t lift my head, or even remember why I need to, so I let the darkness pull me back into sweet oblivion…
“Help me, Bebele!” She whispers louder.
I spring out of bed and hit the ground running. I flip on the hallway light to find my healthy, tough-as-nails mother on her hands and knees. She’s soaked in vomit and feces, and for some reason, she’s dragging a brown paper bag with pills rattling inside. I see a 40-foot trail of smeared fluids, stretching all the way back to the en suite of her master bedroom. Splashes of vomit cover the walls along the way. My mother tries to raise her head to look up at me, but she can barely even raise her voice.
“Take me to the hospital…” She begs weakly, falling to her side.
Fight, flight, or freeze?
I leap over my mom and the pool of excrement covering the floors. I could’ve won an Olympic Gold Medal in the Long Jump with that one, along with a new World Record in the 100 Meter Dash as I sprint across the house to get the cordless phone.
My cell was right there on my bed, but in a split second, my perfect adrenaline reminds me of a local news report from months prior stating that my city doesn’t have GPS capabilities for our 911 call center. What if this is carbon monoxide poisoning? I don’t even know how I heard my mother’s whispers because I was in such a heavy sleep. What if I suddenly fall ill, too? They need to know exactly where we are immediately.
Every. Second. Counts.
“9-1-1, what’s the location of your emergency?”
With succinct precision, I speak every number and word of our long, complicated address. One mistake and they’ll be sent to one of the two almost identical addresses a mile and a half away (where our mail always ends up). The operator is about to have me confirm the address a second time if our home number isn’t feeding it into their system.
“I have your address pulled up and confirmed. Tell me exactly what happened.”
Precious. Seconds. Saved.
“My mom is begging me to take her to the hospital. She went to bed completely fine but now she’s collapsed onto the floor and won’t stop throwing up—projectile vomiting like I’ve never seen before! Something is very wrong!” The urgency in my voice grows.
“Are you with her now?”
“Yes!” I shout, not being entirely truthful as I rush back to the hallway, stopping at the garage to turn on the outside lights so the first responders can navigate through our front yard faster.
I begin to go through the standard 911 checklist with the operator:
-Alert and talking: yes—sort of?!
-Describe exactly what she’s doing: …
“I—I don’t know! I don’t know what I’m looking at! Something is happening to her brain!” I cry out in shock.
My mom crawls around the corner, aiming herself down the long, dim stretch of our T-shaped hallway. She heads straight for me as I stand next to the front door, motionless.
This isn’t real. What the fuck is happening?!
I watch in fear as a scene from a horror film unfolds. A possessed woman is coming for me in the middle of the night, puking everywhere and contorting unnaturally down the dark hallway. Her body is jerking like a malfunctioning machine. The side of her head is being pulled down to the floor, over and over as she fights the demon inside of her.
“Ma’am! What do you mean something is wrong with her brain?!” The operator shouts at me through the speaker phone, snapping me out of my fugue state.
Right then, my mom finds the strength to speak as the realization hits me at the same time:
Together: “…having a stroke!”
Of course. A stroke. Both of her parents died of a stroke. Stroke runs in our family. The machine in charge of my mother is malfunctioning—because she’s having a fucking stroke.
The sun is now rising as it takes 20 whole minutes for the Fire Department to show up due to being on another call. I’m holding my Chihuahua with one arm and my mom’s Husky with the other to keep them out of the way. Despite my pleas to just stay still, my stubborn mother crawled all the way to the front door to await emergency services. I rip the door wide open and cry out for them to please hurry.
As soon as the they file into the foyer, my mom reaches out to them.
“I can’t see! I can’t walk! I AM HAVING A STROKE!“ My mom exclaims with crystal clarity.
All four of the young, male firefighters look upon my beautiful mother in disgust as she is still covered in her own excrement. The two EMTs standing behind the frontmen look at each other in brazen, mocking confusion because they can’t understand her heavy accent (despite her continuous enunciation). The single certified paramedic of the squad kneels down right in her face:
“MA’AM, YOU WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO TALK TO ME RIGHT NOW IF YOU WERE HAVING A STROKE!” He shouts as if she’s deaf, instead of suddenly blind, like she said.
“Oh, so you must be a doctor then, RIGHT?!” I snap. “My mom is an RN of 40 years. If she says she’s having a stroke, she’s having a stroke! All her medications are in this brown paper bag. Her purse is hanging on the doorknob with all her IDs. Get her to the Emergency Room! NOW!” I roar these commands at them as I struggle to hold our dogs.
I’m a lioness. I couldn’t help myself. But, I would come to regret those words for the rest of my life. In that one moment of fierce protectiveness, I started a chain reaction that my mom would pay dearly for because I broke the Deadly Rules:
1. A woman is never allowed to talk back to a man.
2. No one is allowed to tell anyone in the medical field that they are wrong. This rule goes double for young and/or low level medical professionals since they struggle to be respected in their field as it is.
3. You are never expected to be taken seriously if you’re a woman, foreigner, person of color, or an elderly/disabled person.
The little concern they have for my mother instantly drops to record lows due to my rule-breaking retort. Despite wearing gloves, they refuse to even touch her, let alone help her onto the gurney. One EMT keeps trying to make her sit on a chair that he’s shoved in front of her, to which she repeats that she cannot see or walk.
My mom’s Husky is getting harder and harder to hold. I’ve never felt such strength from this gentle giant. He keeps trying to form a wall of protection over her body as she lies on the floor—a barricade between her and these shit bags that are treating my mom like garbage.
Even a dog can tell they are being bad to her.
Sixty minutes from my 911 call, the two EMTs at the back finally “help” my mom onto the stretcher. Each grabs an arm while making sure to keep their distance from the “gross lady covered in shit.” My blood boils, but once again, all I can do is watch as my mom desperately kicks her legs to try to hop onto this gurney that’s almost taller than her. It’s like watching a newborn calf trying to stand, seconds after birth, with weak legs slipping in bodily fluids. The EMTs ignore me when I beg them to lower the stretcher and just pick her up. My mom is only 5’2 and 150 pounds. I, a woman, could easily bench press that weight at their age. I was a trained fighter, but they’re trained firefighters for fucks sake. My dog is ready to rip their balls off, and so am I.
Four. Strong. Men.
The shit bags take Mama to an Urgent Care close to home, where the doctor immediately says she needs transport to a fully functioning ED. Guess that’s my fault for saying “Emergency Room” when I was scared out of my mind. I follow the new ambulance with my hazard lights on, frustrated to be going the speed limit in my race car. Had I just listened to my mother and taken her myself, she’d be getting treatment already. My mom could’ve crawled to the damn hospital by now.
You should always listen to your mother. I’ll never make that mistake again, Mama.
Arriving at the Emergency Department, I’m happy to discover my mom has already been admitted to the 3rd floor, thanks to the no-bullshit Urgent Care doctor who called it in ahead of time to find the closest hospital with an open bed. I find her room where she’s vomiting swamp-green bile into a gray, plastic hospital bucket. She’s literally puking her guts out.
How is her body still purging?
The medical staff has thrown away all her clothes, cleaned her up, and put her into a hospital gown with tons of wires crawling out from under it. I immediately tell them my mom is having a stroke, just like she did upon arrival. They inform me that the Urgent Care was also concerned about a stroke because she’s in A-Fib, so they’re about to take her for a CT of the brain. I feel such relief, knowing this will all be over soon. My mom worked for the sister hospital of the one we’re in. Surely they are going to take great care of her now.
Hours pass and I still haven’t gotten the results of her scan. I continue to take care of my vomiting mother, cleaning her and doing everything I can to help. Finally, the first doctor I’ve yet to see comes in.
“Hi, for Mrs…”
I jump in and pronounce her name for him.
“Yes. So, her CT shows no stroke, but she definitely has Atrial Fibrillation and untreated Diabetes. We’re going to continue to monitor her and hopefully she’ll feel better soon.”
I’m shocked to learn of my mother’s Diabetes, but it makes me even more convinced that she’s having a stroke.
“Are you sure?” I ask immediately. “About the stroke.”
He looks confused because I’ve broken those damn Deadly Rules. You’d think in 2018 we’d be past such trivialities. Then, a look of realization hits his face.
“Oh. You’re the daughter, right?”
What the FUCK does that mean?
“Yes, I’m her daughter. I was right there when this all happened. Something is wrong with her brain. My mom was a nurse for 40 years at Memorial Campus. She’s one of you guys, and she herself said she’s having a stroke. I think you need to do an MRI because—”
“She’s NOT having a stroke.” He interrupts me with authority.
“But Doctor, please, just look at her. She said her head hurts worse than it’s ever hurt. She was completely blind this morning. My mom is NOT a complainer. She’s the toughest person I’ve ever known! My mom would work with broken bones just so she could be there for her beloved patients, and to put food on the table!”
I see his impatience growing, so I try to wrap up quickly.
“Please, Doctor. Something is really wrong here. She’s a very active woman, but for some sudden reason, she can’t walk. She can’t even sit up on her own—look!”
I let go of her for a second and she falls to her side, slumping right into me as I stand next to her bed. I’ve been holding her up this entire time so she doesn’t vomit all over herself. Her head hurts more when I try laying her on her side.
“I understand your concern for your mother, but we can’t justify more exploration to her insurance if her CT is clear. If she was having a stroke, her face would be drooping on one side and she would be slurring her speech. Clearly not the case here. I’ll check back soon.”
And just like that, we are disbelieved and dismissed all over again. Everyone is treating us like a querulous inconvenience.
Twenty four hours pass while they let my mom cry in pain and vomit bile, over and over. I tell them the Morphine and Zofran are obviously not working and to try something else. They finally give my mom a shot into her arm for the nausea, and she never throws up again. I realize that I have to be the one to tell them what she needs, instead of the other way around. I’m the one who knows her. I continue to ask for an MRI every time a nurse comes in, and I continue to be denied.
Suddenly, my articulate mother who speaks 5 languages begins to talk nonsense.
“Bono box. What? What it is? You you is?” My mom mumbles, trying so hard to figure out how to say what she wants to say. She’s talking to me, but looking at the wall.
My heart races. This is even more evidence that the computer in her head is broken. I update the Physician’s Assistant who has replaced any and all doctors coming to check on my mom, but once again, my warning falls on deaf ears. I can no longer just sit and watch helplessly. I have to do something, and I’m beyond fed up with their bullshit.
I begin to work the chain of command, calling every number I can find for this hospital. I reach out to ex-coworkers from my mom’s Facebook page as well, but none seem to be understanding the severity of the situation.
Finally, after 36 hours since my mom’s symptoms began, I get ahold of the Hospital Director and she agrees to squeeze me into her office hours tomorrow. It is already the end of the work day and technically, my mom is “stable,” so there’s not much else I can do. Lo and behold, the PA comes by shortly thereafter, letting me know they are about to discharge my mother.
Diagnosis: migraine headache.
What the FUCK?! Why is everyone treating my mother like some senile old woman opposed to the intelligent professional she is? Like she’s some frail thing sitting at home in old age instead of the vibrant, powerful, strong force of nature I know her to be. She was climbing a mountain the day before yesterday! She’s not a typical 68 year old! Women commonly live to their 100s in her homeland. How is this real life right now?
My mind races as the PA is about to turn away, all too eager to dismiss me. This stops NOW.
Fight, flight, or freeze?
I ball up my fists.
“THIS IS NOT A MIGRAINE!!!” I shout, not only breaking Deadly Rules 1, 2, and 3 (again), but making the whole unit stop and stare at me.
The PA gives me “the look”. The same look every paramedic, nurse, and doctor has been giving me for last 2 days. The look that says, “Aww! You poor, uneducated thing! Let me explain this for you, you simpleton.”
“Miss, please calm down. You clearly don’t understand how debilitating a migraine can be.” He says as he has the fucking nerve to scrunch his mouth at the corner in a “too bad, so sad” way.
Yes, PA Dickbag, please, condescend me more. Angry women just LOVE to be told to “calm down,” as well. You’re just a fuckin’ PEACH. Thank you for the added motivation, FUCKER.
I walk away from the PA before he can finish mansplaining a migraine to me. I’ve had Cluster Headaches since the TBI I suffered in my late teens. They’re called “Suicide Headaches” and are said to be of the worst pain anyone can experience. My mom has suffered from migraines her whole life and, as a nurse, would absolutely know the difference. I’m just sick of people treating us both like morons, but especially, like my mom doesn’t matter.
I call the Hospital Director back and she agrees to meet me in the lobby, right then and there. I rush down to the 1st floor, not even sure what I am going to say. All I know is that I need to save my mom’s life. As I’m shaking the Director’s hand, my perfect adrenaline gives me a clever idea (and the balls to pull it off). I hold out my mom’s zero-balance, $50,000 credit card, and get on my knees into the begging position.
“Ma’am—Director—I BEG YOU! Please do an MRI on my mom! We will pay for it out of pocket! Take all our money, please! Just don’t deny my poor mother medical care! Please don’t let them discharge her! She’s having a stroke! I’m watching her brain die as she sits in your hospital!”
The Director looks around, uncomfortable and eager to quell the scene I was creating in the busy hospital lobby. The big boss can’t be seen like this.
“Miss, please, no need for that!” She whispers carefully as she helps me to my feet. “Of course we’ll do an MRI on your mom. I’ll authorize it myself and they will submit it to her insurance. We can’t guarantee her insurance will cover it, but your mother’s care is our utmost priority!”
I can feel the Director’s genuine concern (a first throughout this shit show). She saw my desperation and chose to help—boom. I almost feel bad for making a scene. However, I do NOT feel bad for fighting for my mom. I have to do what I have to do.
Within half an hour, I have a team of CNAs and RNs in my mom’s hospital room. She is next in line for an MRI, but they’ve offered to bathe my mom first to help her feel better (like she’s been asking for).
After her bath, they wheel my mom back into her room to await the MRI. She looks so cute, all bundled up with a hood of fluffy towels cinched around her face and sitting in a supported shower chair on castor wheels. Mama looks like my very own E.T., ready to escape this foreign place and return home. She is smiling her sweet smile, and just as I’m about to take a picture of her, she gestures me over.
“Go home and rest, baby.” She whispers. “I’ll be okay. You need to get cat food from the store. Take my debit card. Oh and please water my roses. I want my toothbrush and comb when you come back.”
“Do you want some Wasa and cheese, too? Maybe you can eat a little something now?” I ask.
“Oh boy! Yah, I’m HUNGRRRY.” She says seriously with big eyes and rolling her R’s the way she does (making her sound like Count Dracula).
I fucking love this woman.
I adore how my mom talks. She’s unlike anyone else I know. And I’m pleasantly surprised by how well she’s speaking again. Maybe this thing (whatever it is) really will just pass like they keep telling me.
I agree to Mama’s requests and give her a hug and kiss. “I love you so much, Mama. I’m so happy you’re feeling better.” I say softly into her ear.
“I love you, too, my little Bebele.” She whispers as she grabs my cheek, making us both tear up.
Even at 32 years of age, I’m still her “Bebele.” She’s always called me by my baby nicknames because she says I have a “sweet little girl personality” (when I’m not being a total brat, no doubt). My birthday is coming up in 3 months and I’m sure to get a My Little Pony card from her. Maybe it’s to make up for what she missed out on with me as a kid, but she says I will always be her little girl.
No matter what demons she had to fight in the past, Mama has always had the purest heart. That’s why she was outrageously adored by her child patients (innocent children are drawn to kindred spirits). Kids just flock to her like little lambs to a shepherd. I definitely get my passion from her—my remarkable mother.
I breathe a sigh of relief and let them know I’m going to go home to shower while they run her MRI. I’ll never forget her smiling face, waving goodbye to me as they wheel her away, just so happy that they are finally taking care of her. The way my mom appreciates life is unmatched. My precious, precious angel of a mother: you are my heart.
Oh, my heart…
I’m washing 2 days of hell out of my hair when my cell phone rings. I dry my fingertips and lean out of the shower to tap the speaker button on my iPhone.
“Hello, Miss? This is the PA from from the hospital. We spoke earlier today—about your mom’s diagnosis?”
“Yeah, I remember.” I reply sharply.
Yeah, I’ll never forget you, fucker.
“What’s going on? How’s my mom? Have you done the MRI? It was approved by the Director of the Hospital herself.” I aggressively fire off these questions so he can’t weasel out of their promise.
“Umm, while we were doing the MRI on your mom, she fell unconscious…”
I stop breathing.
“…She’s been transferred Room #1 in the ICU. We need you to come back to sign some forms. The Neurosurgeon is on his way because your mom needs to go into emergency surgery… because umm… your mother…”
He rightfully struggles to say his last sentence…
“Your mother is having a stroke.”
Time stops and his words echo into my bathroom.
“Your mother is having a stroke.”
My blood turns to ice. I slam the water off and walk soaking wet out of the shower to pick up my phone. I put it right up to my mouth to make sure he hears me, loud and clear. I shock myself when my normally sweet, girlish voice is replaced by that of a very scary man.
“I TOLD YOU! SHE TOLD YOU! YOU BETTER PRAY MY MOM DOESN’T DIE. THERE IS NO D.N.R. AND YOU HAVE MY CONSENT FOR ALL LIFE SAVING MEASURES, INCLUDING BLOOD. YOU GO HELP MY MOM RIGHT NOW! I AM ON MY WAY.”
Like a sniper, I shoot this demand right into his ear and immediately hang up. I feel like I’m about to blackout as I quickly rinse the shampoo out of my hair.
Fight, flight, or freeze?
I throw some clothes onto my wet body and fly out the door. I speed 120mph down the interstate in my 2010 2SS Camaro, feeling like an assassin in black as I race toward the hospital. Like Neo when he can finally see The Matrix, my perfect adrenaline is predicting every motion, speed, and gap from the cars around me. My 426 horses, 420 pounds of torque, and tight steering easily weave me through traffic like a professional. I’m in the fucking zone, because I’m on a fucking mission. I have to get there in time.
Must. Save. Mama.
Memories of my mom are flooding through my mind. She helped me buy this car on my father’s birthday, back in 2009 when I was in town doing photo shoots for her child cancer patients. I was the very first person in my entire state to have a fully customized 5th Gen 2SS/RS (an already finite model, but mine is one of a kind). I screamed at the top of my lungs when I sat in the driver’s seat for the first time. The smell, the LED panel lighting, the replication of the classic dash and radio. I’d never seen something so beautiful—until I looked under the hood. I cried seeing that 6.2L V8 LS3 Corvette engine, all for me. This is the type of car that makes you feel fucking dangerous, because you fucking are.
The way my Mama cheered when I took her for that first drive was priceless. She said it was gift from Papa because he came to her in a dream and told her it would bring us together one day. That if he hadn’t died when I was 7, it would’ve been his gift to me (a modern model of the classic we so loved together).
Mama and I used to laugh when girls would hurry to fix their hair as they saw my car pulling up, just to see a sexy ass 24 year old chick behind the wheel and her gorgeous mother riding passenger. The look on their faces as they realized there’s no room for gold-diggers in this ride—oh, it was legendary.
“Oh we are bad girls!” Mama would say with her adorable accent (hah!).
She showed me what independence looks like because my Mama always held the purse strings. I’ve let men share my life me, but then they take everything we’ve built together when they’re done with me. My car is the one thing none of them could steal because it was in my name. I didn’t always see it, but Mama has been guiding me from afar this whole time.
The memory of my first day back in my childhood home hijacks my thoughts as I exit the freeway. My homecoming almost three years ago just so happened to land on my 30th birthday. I had recently lost everything (for the second time) because of yet another cruel man, and I was dealing with my own medical issues on top of it. Mama was all alone and offered to be my nurse. I hadn’t lived in my mom’s house since leaving at 14, but I was utterly desperate for comfort and Mama was gonna make it all better.
When I walked in on that milestone birthday, completely shattered and heartbroken, she had a cake and a “Welcome Home” banner set up for me (something I’d only ever seen mothers do in the movies). Our relationship was far from perfect, but Mama always knew how to make me feel special. That bond just never dies, no matter what demons infiltrate a family.
After two years of struggle, my health improved and Mama retired, affording us the chance to repair our broken relationship. This last year with the mother I’ve always wanted has been magical. She can’t die now—she just can’t!
Hold on, Mama! I’m coming!
I can feel my Papa with me, urging me to get to the hospital. As scared as the PA sounded, I just know those bastards won’t start surgery until I sign the consent forms. Before I know it, I’m busting a bitch onto hospital grounds and fishtailing it into the parking garage; a 26-minute commute done in an impressive 8 and change. As I’m searching for a parking spot, I notice the lyrics from the eerie track on the CD that’s been playing this whole time:
“I have died
And will die
It's all right
I don't mind
I don't mind
I don't m—”
I smash the off-button on the stereo.
No, Mama. You are NOT gonna die. I’m too connected to you to just let you slip away. Everyone else is dead and gone…
I wipe away the tears shooting out of my eyeballs to get my game face back on.
You’re all I have left.
Her surgery is an “unprecedented success,” according to the badass Neurosurgeon who just saved my mother’s life. By fortunate chance, the best of the best was in the area while on his way to another hospital for a scheduled, less urgent operation. This man did exactly what he was put on this earth to do.
“Your mother is extremely lucky. Had you not insisted on that MRI, she’d be dead. Right Cerebellar Hemorrhagic Strokes are very sneaky, nasty things. In my experience, cases like hers end in death because they don’t present like typical strokes. Her brain was bleeding for a long time. The fact that she’s awake three days after surgery and showing hopeful signs is nothing short of a—well, only time will tell, but I’ve never seen anything like your mother.”
“My Mama is one tough cookie, sir.” I reply with this common saying of my mother’s as I nervously hug myself. “Thank you for saving her, Doctor. Really… thank you.”
I can’t help but release a week’s worth of sobs as this extremely professional, highly trained Neurosurgeon pulls me in for a hug (because he can see my eyes begging for it). Without a second thought, I wrap my arms under his as he respectfully cradles me. He’s one of the good ones.
Two weeks fly by and Mama is improving every day. Her head and body are almost back to normal size from all the swelling. They just removed the shunt that’s been draining fluids out of the golf ball sized hole in the back of her head. The Craniectomy gave her poor brain some room to swell outward, but now “Brainda” has retreated back into her skull where she belongs.
Mama’s eyes laugh when I name her anatomy. I even have names for the medical equipment infiltrating her beaten down body: Angie the NG Tube, Cathy the Catheter, Ivy the IV, and many more party day and night inside my Mama; but I do my best to keep them in line—
I’ve mastered the art of amusing myself, along with the work of her daily care: clearing her intubation tube, gently cleaning the inside of her mouth with the suction sponge, changing the tape on her feeding tube, marking her urine output before emptying her drainage bag, turning her body every 4 hours, and so on.
Doing her bed baths are my favorite because I make it a full spa treatment for my overly deserving mother. I am immensely gentle around the staples in her scalp; however, I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the soft crater at the base of her skull when I wash my mom’s hair. She will have it for the rest of her life, but it’s the smallest price to pay to be alive.
The one time I had to be gone all day, running around trying to take care of my own life, I found my mother (unsurprisingly) neglected. She was smothered in excrement and crying in pain. The IV bag for her meds was completely empty, as well as her feeding bag (dated from the fucking night before). I didn’t care about their excuses, I just made sure it would never happen again by taking on her bedside care myself.
We celebrate Mother’s Day with a giant, oversized card I bought at a gas station on one of my daily trips between the house and the hospital. A cheap gift had to suffice after taking even more financial blows when a water pipe burst under and around her bedroom during surgery week. I’ve been going home only to shower and take care of the animals, so I didn’t realize the slow flood building in her closed off bedroom. When I noticed the hallway floors looking strangely dark, I opened her door to find a swamp in our home. All her furniture and the contents of her closet were destroyed (on top of the massive repair costs). Not even the water company would give us a break on the insane bill (11 days of nonstop running water, apparently).
I have to pretend to be my mom on the phone when taking care of some of her matters because Mama didn’t have a single thing in place for such an extreme life emergency. Mama worked on a farm since the age of 6 and had always been healthy; so you don’t think of these things when you’ve finally let your hair down after working your whole life. I’m struggling to find someone to help me get Power of Attorney (pro bono) and a doctor to sign off on her mental state. The minimal funds I have are quickly declining.
I tried to get “Chunk” (the piece of skull they removed) as her Mother’s Day gift, but they disposed of it without even telling me. Mama and I are pissed about that as we’re both very sentimental creatures; but, I can’t say I’m surprised that this hospital treated a piece of her like trash. I can’t bear to tell her that she’s lost a lifetime of her mementos and belongings from the flood, too. Not until she can walk and talk again, at least.
A month post-operation, they finally remove her intubation tube after two failed attempts. I cannot imagine what it’s like to be awake with a giant plastic snake down your throat for 33 days straight, let alone suffering through the almost-collapse of your airway (twice). The nurses tell me that everyone asks to be sedated because it’s so painful, but not my Mama; my Mama is a warrior. Though, she did had a few suicide attempts in her rare moments of weakness (as a nurse, she knows exactly what would happen if you rip your intubation tube out). I cried seeing my mom strapped down by cloth shackles, but it’s been all uphill, otherwise.
Hang in there, Mama. We are gonna get through this.
Mama still speaks in a hoarse whisper because of the damage the tube did to her larynx. I can’t wait to hear her normal voice again (to have normal anything again). Today, they’re discharging her to a Long Term Care Facility (LTCF) where she’s going to continue her recovery and start building her strength to start walking on her own again. No one can believe how fast she’s healing. She doesn’t have a single deficit and I know she’ll be back to her old self in record time. No one is tougher than Mama.
I have all our things packed and ready to go. We giggle and play games like two little kids as we wait for the ambulance transport. I made sure it’s okay to make her laugh because she couldn’t have so much as a single flower in her room, or even a TV on after her surgery. So many things can compromise her brain, but they’ve assured me that having fun is totally okay now.
I have one of my mom’s giant, air-filled elevation boots on my hand like it’s a monster coming to bite her. My mom’s lime-green eyes disappear and her face turns tomato-red when she laughs, and I just can’t get enough.
“We could walk on the moon with these bad boys, eh?!” I joke, making her giggle even harder.
My heart is so full of hope when my mom grabs my hand and looks right into my eyes.
“Purple moon? Breakfast for purple. Purple? Pur-purple?!”
My heart drops as my blood goes cold.
No. Not again. No fucking way.
Mama is now staring at the wall behind me and tells me she sees a man, but we’re the only ones in the room. Everything in my being knows she’s talking about my Papa.
Fight, flight, or freeze?
My mom continues to talk nonsense as I race through the unit to get her assigned ICU nurse.
“Nurse, please come! My mom is talking nonsense speech again! Cancel the ambulance and take her for an MRI right away! She’s having another stroke!”
The clock starts now…
The ICU nurse doesn’t even go up to my mom’s bed to check on her. She takes one glance at my mom through the doorway, then nonchalantly pulls the computer kiosk up to her. The nurse scans the screen for a moment and then gets “the look.”
No. Don’t you fucking dare.
“Yeah, so, your mom had her last CT just 10 days ago—totally clear. She’s NOT having another stroke. What you’re describing is something called ICU Delirium. Your mom has been in the Intensive Care Unit for a very long time—five weeks now, it appears. She’s going straight to room #1 at the LTCF where she will be right in front of the Nurse’s Station. I wouldn’t be worried.”
I don’t give a fuck if YOU aren’t worried!
“Nurse, please, with all due respect, a CT 10 days ago doesn’t mean jack or shit for someone like my mom (sorry for cussing). Her stroke didn’t show up on a CT. It only showed up on an MRI. Call the Neurosurgeon! He will tell you!”
“Um, yeah, are you also a nurse like your mom?” She says with condescension.
Bingo! There it is!
“No, you’re right. I have no certificate of completion. I wanted to be pathologist someday, but I was unable to finish my education due to my own medical trauma…”
I start to speak even faster than I normally do while using even more aggressive hand gestures.
“…However, I’ve lived in and around hospitals my whole life. My entire family has been in the medical field. I’ve studied every ounce of information this hospital has given me. I’ve read books and studies on strokes while living by my mom’s side in this hospital.”
I grab the current book I’m reading out of my giant purse and hold up My Stroke of Insight, a memoir written by a Harvard-trained brain scientist who writes about her own stroke at only 37 years old. The nurse is unfazed as I continue…
“I take notes from the daily meetings with her team of doctors. I record her daily vitals and changes—all right here in this notebook!”
I then pull out my notebook, completely worn down from the endless notes that cover each page top-to-bottom and front-to-back.
“But none of this even matters! If being a nurse mattered, they would’ve listened to my NURSE MOTHER the first time she was having a stroke!” My voice grows louder than I intended, so I calm myself before continuing…
“What matters is that I know my mom, and right now, I am telling you there is something wrong with my mom’s brain, because she’s having another stroke. I have no pride in this, ma’am! What words can I say to get you to please, please help her?!”
I quickly belt out this desperate speech with the most sincere conviction I possess, and all I get in return is a look of, “are you done?” So, I take a deep breath and try to appeal to her professionalism instead of her heart.
“Nurse, I would like you to call the Director of the Hospital, please. She knows my mom’s case.” I say stoically.
“The Director is out of town this week. The ambulance is only 10 minutes out and the LTCF is right across the street. You can see it from her window. ICU Delirium is very common and I will mark it here in my notes.”
Another ICU nurse who’s never been assigned to my mom hears our conversation and walks over to chime in, unsolicited.
“I know you care so much about your mom. I’ve watched you here everyday. You should be proud of yourself, but we’re the medical professionals who went through years of schooling to know exactly what your mom needs. She’s in good hands.”
He ends his unnecessary and insulting two cents with a fake, this-is-my-job smile. I want to punch his teeth in, but all this is doing is wasting time.
Precious. Fucking. Time.
“This cannot happen again.” I say with a fire burning inside me.
Fight, flight, or freeze?
I ball up my fists.
“FUCK this. I REFUSE to let this happen again!” I yell as I point a premonitory finger at both nurses.
I don’t stick around to hear them threaten to have me thrown out. I shout to my mom that I’ll back back before running out the ICU. I make my way through the hospital maze and then dart all the way down the hill, heading straight for the LTCF across the street.
In my studies, I’ve learned there is a “Golden Hour” after first onset of stroke symptoms. I’ve got one single hour to restore the oxygen-rich blood flow to her brain in order to possibly have a good outcome. She could be losing years of brain development every minute, and I don’t even know what type of stroke this is yet!
Time. Is. Brain.
I burst into the LTCF and magically find the single doctor on duty to express my warning about my mother’s condition. Even more magically, he listens.
When my mom arrives by ambulance, she’s not talking at all anymore. Within 15 minutes, she falls completely unconscious. I’m pacing back and forth as the doctor rubs his knuckles hard into my mom’s sternum while yelling her name into her face. She doesn’t even wince. He checks her eyes and then grabs his phone.
My heart crumbles as I listen to the doctor order emergency transport to the nearest hospital: the one they justforced her out of. I demand that she be transported to a different hospital, but I wholeheartedly believe this doctor when he tells me there just isn’t enough time.
Here we fucking go again.
I explode all over the hospital, racing from one medical professional to the next, begging them to forget the CT and go straight for the MRI. But once again, they waste time on fucking protocol. Sure enough, she needs the MRI like I said she would. And sure enough, she’s having another stroke like I said she was. I feel like I’m in fucking Crazy Town, talking to people in plain English, but they only understand Banana Fucking Sandwich.
How? How did this happen? She was in the fucking ICU, damnit! She was right there! RIGHT FUCKING THERE!
I watch helplessly as my mom is poked and prodded in urgent, life-saving fashion, then taken away from me… again.
Guess she’s not so “lucky,” after all…
It’s been a blurry three weeks since my mom had massive strokes #2 and #3 (at the same time), and she’s still in a coma. She had an ischemic stroke on the very important left side of her brain, and another on the posterior right. By this time after stroke #1, she was already writing complete sentences and close to having the intubation tube removed; and yet, here she lies, still a vegetable. I celebrate her 69th birthday with her anyway.
This should’ve never happened, Mama. I’m so, so sorry.
Since my mom keeps having some of the rarest strokes in the world, it lures a brilliant Neurologist to her case. The doctor flew in from New York two days ago and this is the first time I’m seeing her. I watch from the doorway as she quietly examines my lifeless mother.
This Neurologist is a stark contrast to the loud, abrasive doctors that normally handle Mama’s care. She finishes up by quietly adjusting the moon boots on my mom’s feet, and repositions her arms and legs with pillows (just like I would’ve done). Finally, the doctor gently tucks the blankets under my mother’s body and makes her way out of the room.
I’m instantly taken aback by the way this doctor looks. She is a tall, gorgeous Nigerian goddess. Watching her stunning beauty approach me in this dim section of hallway makes me feel like I’m in a dream. It’s 2am and I’m exhausted, but I’m definitely wide awake because I’ve always been a night owl.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Z and I’ve been called to take a look at your mother’s case.”
She doesn’t hesitate to shake my hand, firmly, but with the warmest intent. Dr. Z has this rare, authoritative yet supremely comforting presence. She smells divine and I’m instantly calmed by her touch.
“I can see that your mother has been through a lot these last 2 months—you both have. I’ve worked extensively on your mother’s situation, and now that I’m seeing her in person, I’m afraid I don’t have good news for you…”
Don’t you dare say it. Don’t you fucking dare! Please, goddess!
“…When we try to stop the clots with blood thinners, her brain bleeds. When we take the blood thinners away to stop the bleeding, she clots.”
I understand exactly what she’s telling me, but I just can’t speak or move. I stare at her in silence, waiting for a secret surprise of good news (to which she takes as confusion). Then, she says it. The words I’ll never forget as long as I live:
“Unfortunately, your mother is caught between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea. There is nothing more we can do. It’s up to her and God now.”
God? But I’m an atheist.
Wrapped in her beautiful accent, Dr. Z’s tough words don’t feel real. At 12 years old, I determined God couldn’t exist after everything I’d been through. I literally ran from my church after being assaulted in the girl’s restroom, and I have never looked back since. I believe in music, in raw expression. I believe in science, in logic.
I believe in you, brilliant doctor. Mama believes in God, but God can’t hear her now. No one can.
I extend my arm to shake Dr. Z’s hand, thanking her for coming all this way. She compassionately wraps my hand in both of hers, gives me a soft smile that says more than any words could, and then disappears behind the closing elevator doors. I suddenly realize I’ve been picking up notes of vanilla and lavender the second she’s gone. That means Dr. Z is forever seared into my amygdala because I have an extreme link to memory through smells.
Like many of the doctors who’ve cared for my mom, I never see the goddess again. But unlike many of my mom’s doctors, she is in this business for the right reason—the patients—just like my mother was. You can just tell who’s who.
I lay down on the cot next to Mama’s hospital bed and try to sleep, torturing myself with thoughts of how I can fix this. I refuse to believe this is the end. It just can’t be. Not for my Mama! My Mama is a tough cookie! My Mama has been a survivor her whole life! My Mama…
My Mama… is gonna die?
I’ve been in complete denial of the bad news Dr. Z gave me, but after days of nurses and case workers coming to discuss my mother’s end of life care, the possibility starts to sink in. Within nine weeks, my mom has suffered 3 massive strokes, 2 brain surgeries, 2 bouts of pneumonia, 2 intubations, 2 botched extubations, a botched PEG placement, MRSA, and even a case of E-Coli from the careless people handling her. She’s skin and bone after losing 30 pounds from not having solid food in 2 months. At this point, Hospice sounds like the fucking Four Seasons compared to this murderous hospital. I need to get her affairs in order.
Shopping for a Nursing Home was rough, and I’m just glad to be back with Mama for the night. While doing my mom’s routine care, I notice she has a blown pupil when I lift her eyelids. I sound the alarms, and this time they finally listen to me. But of course, there’s nothing that can be done anymore. She suffers no further damage from this mini stroke, but more damage would be death at this point.
It’s all too little, too late.
More weeks go by and there’s still no change. I finally found the perfect Hospice for Mama. It’s beautiful there, and they have a special patio where they can wheel her hospital bed through. That way, Mama can be in the outdoors that she so loved. That’s what sealed the deal for me. It’s pricey, but I’m prepared to spend every asset we have to give my mom a pittance of what she deserves. They tried transferring my mom today, but as soon as they moved her, her vitals began to destabilize, so they determined she wasn’t quite ready yet.
Thoughts of what could’ve and should’ve been torment me.
“My birthday is coming up, Mama. I can’t believe I’m going to be 33 already. Who knew it’d be just the two of us left? You’re gonna get me a My Little Pony card, right? Or what about one with pink skulls like you did last year? I know you’ll pick something perfect. You always do.”
I talk to her constantly so she can hold onto my voice. Well, that’s what I say if anyone asks. But the truth is, I need it more than she does, because the science tells me that Mama can’t hear me at all. I listen to her voicemails left on my phone from over the years to trick my brain into believing she’s still here:
June 10, 2017:
“Liluska, shall I go get the tickets? Everything okay at home, Bebele? Call meeee.”
September 16, 2016:
“Liluska, I’m gonna go to the hospital to visit my patients. I made Miss Sophia a necklace. I have new rocks to show you. You okay, Pea-Pie? Okay … *11 seconds of rustling noises then the sound of her truck door closing* … Call meeee.”
My mom would put the phone down (mid conversation and with no warning) to do something she needed two hands for. I miss every single one of her funny quirks.
Another day ends as I lay next to my mom, listening to music on my headphones. Music has always been my therapy. I plug in my phone and hit play on a continuous rock playlist on YouTube. Right before falling asleep, the very sweet and very pregnant night nurse delivers a large, plastic envelope with Dr. Z’s name and picture on it. She found it at the nurse’s station because apparently someone forgot to give it to me weeks ago. I like this nurse a lot. She’s young and kind, but most importantly, she’s honest. I can tell she cares more about her patients than whatever her bosses say.
I break the seal to find standard medical paperwork from the care Dr. Z provided. I flop the paper-stack over to find a tiny envelope stuck to the back. I eagerly open it, admittedly wanting more of the comfort she once brought me. The pale yellow stationery reveals a beautifully penned, handwritten note:
“You have fought hard for your mother. I was warned that you were a little difficult, but all I saw was a warrior. Don’t give up on her care.”
That’s when it hits me: it was a chain reaction from first contact. The First Responders feed their information to the Emergency Department, then the ED feeds their info to the rest of the hospital. Every single person who has been in charge of my mom’s care was warned that I was “difficult,” all because of the snappy retort I gave to that butt-hurt paramedic. Just because the firefighters didn’t believe my mom was having a stroke, no one else did either. It was a complete failure from the start.
This is why they didn’t save her? Because of… me?
I stand up next to her bed, utterly defeated, staring at the tubes and machines that are swallowing my mother whole. Her face and body are so covered in trauma that she doesn’t even look like my Mama anymore. I don’t want to believe what I am seeing, what I am feeling, but I just know it’s too late.
Mama is never coming back… and it’s all my fault.
I close my eyes tightly, my body shaking with energy, wishing with all my might for her to wake up. I wish it the way a small child wishes upon a star, believing with complete faith that she’ll be heard and granted the one thing she wants most in this world.
Come back to me. Come back…
“Come back to me, Mama!” I cry out as I gently drape my body over hers, desperately trying to force life into her dying flesh.
I’m dying, too, you see.
Mama took care of me in my own time of need. She made it all better for me the way mom’s are supposed to. We had just built the relationship I’ve always wanted since I was a little girl. We were having the time of our lives together! Now, I’m losing her, all over again…
Why, God?! Why my mother?! She dedicated her whole life to saving cancer babies! The sickest of the sick! The Bible says you love the little children of the world the most, especially the ones in need! She took care of them for you! How could you do this to such an angel? How fucking dare you?! And I fought so hard for her! I fought for every fucking second! Why after all this fighting?! Why?!
Just then, as if He Himself replied to my mental rant, that same eerie song from the CD in my car comes on my randomly generated playlist. I listen to these lyrics I’ve known by heart since I was a kid. This song is from the first album I bought after fleeing that abusive church. Those assholes made me throw away all my “secular” music, so I made it a point to take my music back.
This doesn’t feel random.
I stand completely still as my headphones are delivering a perfectly clear message:
“What's coming through is alive
What's holding up is a mirror
But what's singing songs is a snake, it is
Looking to turn my piss to wine
They're both totally void of hate
And killing me just the same…
Venomous voice, tempts me
And drains me, bleeds me
Leaves me cracked and empty
Drags me down like some sweet gravity
The snake behind me hisses
What my damage could have been
My blood before me begs me
Open up my heart again
And I feel this coming over like a storm again, now…
I am too connected to you
To slip away, to fade away
Days away I still feel you
Touching me, changing me
And considerately killing me…
Without the skin, here
Beneath the storm
Under these tears, now
The walls came down
Once the snake is drowned and
As I look in his eyes
My fear begins to fade
Recalling all of those times
I could have cried then
I should have cried then
As the walls come down and
As I look in your eyes
My fear begins to fade
Recalling all of the times
I have died
And will die
It's all right
I don't mind
I don't mind
I don't mind!
I am too connected to you
To slip away and fade away
Days away I still feel you
Touching me, changing me
And considerately killing me…”
A message delivered in a way that I would understand it. Music is the one thing that’s guided me since I was a struggling youth, because it was always the one thing I felt I could count on. Something so strong and so real is happening that my perfect adrenaline kicks in.
Fight, flight, or freeze?
I take my headphones off and look around the room. The unit is dark and dead quiet. All I hear are the array of beeps and the rhythmic breaths forced into my mom’s body by a machine. A dim light from the hall is gently kissing her bed. I can feel it in the air, like a pulsing of energy hitting me square in the chest—and it’s growing. I don’t know how I know, I just know. It’s all been a concatenation for this one moment:
-The reason I was back at home when this happened to my mom (after being gone for half my life).
-The reason I woke up to Mama’s faint whispers for help despite being in a dead sleep.
-The reason I knew she was having these strokes (each time) despite every medical professional telling me she wasn’t.
-The reason I instinctively knew she needed an MRI despite having no training or experience with strokes (let alone rare ones that don’t show up on CTs).
-The reason I can just feel what my mom needs when no one else can!
-The reason I was right here every time she needed a voice to speak for her!
All these things happened for a reason.
I wasn’t always perfect, but when seconds counted, I was locked into Mama’s soul and somehow had all the right knowledge and tools to save her. When everything was against her, I was connected to her through space and time, through the Universe…
This is what I’ve been put on this earth to do. I am meant to take care of people, to fight for them, and it all starts with Mama. My warrior mother is still fighting, and I am her blood, damnit.
This can’t all be for nothing.
I pull the cot up to Mama’s bed and get high onto my knees over her body. I grab my mom’s limp hand and cradle it into my chest. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just gonna do it.
“God—or the Universe—whoever is listening. I know I don’t deserve any favors, but please, please let my mom live. If you let her live, I promise I will take care of her. Until my dying breath, I will protect her! I will FIGHT for her like you’ve been guiding me to do this whole time! I will be a good daughter to her. Just please, please let her live! I will dedicate my whole life to taking care of her and others. Just please…”
I helplessly choke on my sobs.
“LET! HER! LIVE!”
I send this incantation up to the ceiling of my mom’s ICU room, realizing I probably should’ve had my head bowed. I don’t even say “Amen” because I haven’t prayed since I was a kid, if that was even a prayer. I’m just here, frozen in time, with no thoughts. I poured everything I am into that desperate plea. I have nothing left, just already cried tears that are falling onto my mom’s lifeless hand against my aching heart. I don’t even hear the machines anymore.
Then, it happens.
I leap up in complete terror. I’m staring at my hand in disbelief because my mom is lightly gripping it with her thumb and pointer finger. I jump again in fear when I look at my mom’s face. Her eyes are wide open, staring blankly, but staring right at me.
“Oh, God! Oh, God!” I gasp over and over.
Admittedly, I want to drop my mom’s hand and run away due to the pure fear of a higher power at work in this room. I scream-cry in silence. No sound is coming out of my mouth, as if the energy I’m exerting is so great that it has breached the sound barrier and I’m left waiting for the boom.
I snap back to reality and shout for the sweet night nurse. She comes waddling in and I point to Mama’s hand and face.
“What does this mean?! Please call the doctor!”
The nurse doesn’t hesitate. My mom’s eyes are still locked right onto me. I carefully let go of her hand and walk to the other side of the room. I call for my Mama and her eyes move in one single jerk to find my voice. This is it. This is really happening.
She’s coming back. My Mama is coming back to me!
The sun just dipped behind the mountains and a stunning sunburst is painting the strawberry sky. The road ahead is getting dark, but there is only one way home. This is it.
Fight, flight, or freeze?
I punch the gas and Mama’s body is jolted back into my leather, inferno-orange bucket seat. My beefed-up horsies snarl and squeal in excitement as we burn rubber.
“This is all for you, Mama! Welcome to the 500 Club! Eeeee!” I squeal, also.
Soon to be the 600 Club, at that!
With her head glued to the SS headrest, Mama lets go of the 5-point harness and fights to raise her one working arm like she’s on a rollercoaster.
“Oooooo!!!” She cheers in her weak voice as her rosy cheeks light up from her perfect adrenaline.
After the 100mph “safe” climax, I decrease our speed and put my sunglasses on Mama’s face so I can roll the windows down. I don’t want to scare her by going too fast, and anyone sitting in the passenger seat of this bad boy gets plenty of excitement. When I hit the turnaround, Mama is squirming and speaking her baby-talk-gibberish, telling me she wants to punch it again—and faster!
My mom is the fucking coolest.
She is already losing strength against the force of our hardcore American Muscle, so I grab Mama’s left hand to hold it up high for her as our hair floats all around us in the wind. My mom is an angel who lost her wings, but I’m determined to make her fly anyway.
Fly, Mama. Fly.
Watching my mom reminds me of everything she’s been through. These last two years have been a nonstop battle. When Mama finally opened her eyes, she spent months just staring off into space and making faint noises when trying to speak. The speech center of her brain is permanently damaged, but eventually she learned how to say “yes” and “no.” However, the first intelligible word she ever mustered was “home.” I jumped for joy and told her I was way ahead of her, getting the house ready for her homecoming, because all that matters is that we stay together.
Once her custom electric wheelchair arrives, we will be able to take the dogs for walks like we used to—well, almost. I can hold the leashes while she operates the chair herself with the joystick (after I give her “driving lessons,” of course). I sure as shit could’ve bought a luxury vehicle with what that wheelchair costs. They make everything for people already suffering astronomically expensive. It’s atrocious, but Mama deserves some independence, so I made it happen.
Medicare only covered the manual wheelchair I have waiting at the house. I guess they expect her to operate it with mind power like Professor X. Until then, we’ll keep “flying” in the Camaro. We’ve lost so much, including every cent of both our life savings, so I fight tooth and nail to keep this badass car of ours. This car is too special to us, so I thank God that we didn’t end up losing it, or the house. I’m finally caught up on the mortgage payments, too.
Mama is smiling and staring at the nature she so missed. Out of the clear blue, I get this feeling. Something is telling me that my mom is missing her wedding ring—the diamond and gold masterpiece my Papa made for her himself. I loved watching his big, scarred hands as he would create such beautiful things. God, I miss him.
I pull to the side so she can enjoy the scenery for a little while. I ask, “Mama, are you thinking about your wedding ring?”
My mom’s face instantly lights up as she says, “Yah!”
“Hah! Dang girl, it’s scary how well I know you, right?!”
“Yah-hah-hah!” She says starting to cry as she reaches to softly touch my cheek.
I assure my mother that the ring is waiting safely at home for her as we watch the pastel colors of the sunset. I know my Mama better than I know myself at this point.
About 2 months ago, I caught a deep venous bleed before my mom could even tell something was wrong, all because of an ever-so-slight change in her facial movements. Despite her claims of feeling fine, I had Mama transferred to the ED of a great new hospital (the only hospital I allow them to take her to now). She wasn’t even jaundiced yet so everyone was wondering why she was even there. Thankfully, they listened to me and she was already undergoing the tests I requested when she started gushing blood from her mouth, nose, and gallbladder stent incision. They immediately rushed her to Interventional Radiology to find and stop the bleed. Because she has no sensation in most of her body, Mama would’ve bled to death (just like my Papa) had I not gotten her to the hospital when I did. The Attending in the ED asked me how I knew, and the only explanation I could manage to tell her is…
I. Just. Know.
Day becomes night as we exit out of the straightaway and pull onto the dark desert highway to head home. I roll our windows back up and take my sunglasses off Mama’s face to return them to the glove compartment. Suddenly, I smell the cherry pipe tobacco my Papa used to smoke. I look at the backseat through my rear view mirror and rev the engine in acknowledgment.
Thank you, Papa. I’ve got her now.
I show Mama all the renovations on the outside of the house first. Every inch of her property has been redone to accommodate her needs. Like that second day in the hospital, she’s all bundled up with a fluffy hood cinched around her beautiful, smiling face as I push her around in a wheelchair. The childlike joy in her eyes mixed with her “ooh” sounds as she points at everything makes me blubber like a baby.
My very own E.T. An extraterrestrial angel, too precious for this world, you are finally…
Yes, Mama… “home.”
My mom is still glowing from the fun we had driving. They say a pandemic is coming to our area and we have to stick to outdoor activities away from other people. After years of hell inside various hospitals, I am more than happy to do just that. We enjoy the stars she’s been missing for a little while and then make our way up the handicap ramp I just installed.
I lift Mama into bed, brush her teeth like a dental assistant, change her diaper, administer her bedtime medications, and give her a kiss. Our lives are a strict routine now. Every task takes a really long time, so I have to go step by step. Brushing her teeth alone takes 45 minutes because her tongue has a mind of its own. Her brain uses its strong primitive instincts to push out the dental tools because it’s not food.
Time for our final step before she goes to sleep:
“Goodnight.” I say slowly.
“Oowight.” She repeats.
“Sleep well.” I enunciate.
“Ee-hell”. She repeats, making me laugh.
Mama starts to squirm because she knows her absolute favorite phrase comes next.
“I…Love…You.” I say even slower, really emphasizing my letters because she always tries so hard for this one. Mama studies my mouth, lip syncing my words as I say them, then takes her time to repeat…
“I… wahf… you.” She says with a big smile. I love how she even repeats the inflection in my voice.
My mom just started speaking “English-Gibberish” because the strokes made her brain revert back to her native language (a language no one else speaks in our area). I’m the only person with the knowledge to teach her English as fast as she learned it. In doing so, she can now comprehend her other languages as well (despite not being able to speak them). Her native words are slightly clearer, but she’s working so hard on her English. I am absolutely fascinated by her brain, but especially her unbreakable spirit.
I fight back tears, like a proud parent, because of how hard she’s trying. I never wanted children, and did everything right to ensure that I never would; and yet, I got one anyway. I lovingly call her by her own little kid nicknames now.
“Wow, Bebe-Mama! Great job! You’ve been practicing! Remember to push your buzzer button if you need me, okay? I’m watching you on camera and I can hear your breathing, loud and clear. Your oxygen machine is working perfectly. Let me know if you get anymore phantom pains and I’ll come give you the no-owie shot and massage your legs. I’m right here, just in the living room, okay?”
“Oh-kay.” She says.
My mom smiles in comforted reassurance. I give her another kiss on the forehead and leave her with her Husky so I can get to work. He sat day and night in front of her bedroom door, waiting for his Mama to come back home. Now he’s watching over her like a hawk; partly because he knows she’s not the same, and partly to make sure she doesn’t disappear again. He’s the best boy, and my only helper.
Working nights after taking care of my mom all day is rough, but no one said miracles come easy (or cheap). Despite being overqualified and legally appointed, the state doesn’t pay me to be her care provider, all because her social security is mere dollars over the income cap for assistance. That means she doesn’t get Medicaid or anything from the many programs in place to help people in need. The same reason they denied my mom that MRI that could’ve stopped all this from happening: stupid money. We’re too poor to take care of all her extremely expensive needs, yet not poor enough to receive help.
I’m learning so much about the way the world works that I never knew before all this happened. As time goes on, the more difficult life seems to become. The battle to get home was unimaginably hard, but I must remain steadfast because the war has just begun. I guess this is what being a “real adult” feels like.
After work, I shut down the house and start my own bedtime routine. I’m so ready for my 3 hours of rest that I’m falling asleep while standing at the bathroom sink. I shake my head to wake up and rinse the toothpaste out of my mouth. Instead of turning right toward my bedroom, something tells me to turn left to do one last check of Mama’s vitals. It’s 4am and I’m shocked to find her wide awake and looking confused.
“What’s wrong, Mama? Was I too loud in the bathroom?” I say lightheartedly, trying to hide the panic in my voice.
The warm amber glow of her Himalayan Salt Stone lamp is illuminating her worried face. She’s scared of the dark still, so it stays on 24/7 to bring her constant comfort and healing. Using the bed controller, my mother uses her pointer finger to raise herself into an upright position. The time it takes for her to figure out the buttons and slowly sit up makes my nerves grow with each clank of the bed. Finally, my mom looks at me, and with impressive clarity, she says something I am completely unprepared for.
“Wuh-AH-me?” She asks as she cradles her limp right arm up to her chest.
Just by the look on her face, I know exactly what she’s asking me. Nonetheless, I need to be extra sure so I don’t reveal something she’s not ready for. I turn off her medical-grade air purifier and turn on her big light so I can hear and see her clearly. We go through a communication game we created in response to her Expressive Aphasia. It’s like Charades mixed with 20 Questions. I ask her “yes/no” questions and she uses her baby-talk and single-hand motions to communicate.
To translate, Mama is asking, “What happened to me, how did my body become paralyzed, and why can’t I speak like I want to?” Just like I figured.
My mom has no memory from the strokes, nor from the many rollercoaster months that she spent fighting for her life thereafter (all while everyone insisted she was going to die). She started forming consistent memories sometime in the rehab hospital, but until recently, her brain hadn’t really remembered who she even was yet. I thought her entire past had been lost, but she started remembering her life from before the strokes when I was re-teaching her English. The brain can be painstakingly slow to heal (if it heals at all) and every tiny gain is a huge victory.
Now, something else in her brain just woke up. Something that’s making her realize that she has no idea how or why she ended up like this. I’ve vowed honesty to my mother, no matter what, because I appreciate (now) how brutally honest she always was with me. It’s not meanness, it’s just a certain type of honesty that’s common amongst foreign mothers and their American daughters. However, it never once occurred to me that I would have to do this someday, and it is by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.
Over the course of 4 hours, I answer all her questions by telling her every detail of what happened from April 25, 2018, to today, March 22, 2020. How she went from the world exploring nurse she remembers, to the brain damaged triplegic she is now, and why she is a prisoner of her own body and mind.
Explaining how they neglected her and didn’t listen to us while they let her brain rapidly die is akin to telling a toddler that there is no Santa Claus on a Christmas morning with zero presents. You’re destroying her safe bubble of oblivion and revealing the harsh realities of the world; the way it felt when my poor mother had to tell her 7 year old, daddy’s-girl-daughter that “Papa died.” That pain I felt as a little girl is what I now see in her face as I tell my mother her story.
As the birds sing their morning songs, we wipe away hours of tears, rejecting the demand of the rising sun. I show Mama how hard she’s fought since day one by walking from where she first collapsed in her bathroom, all the way to the spot in the hallway where I found her. I then yell from the front door where she was finally picked up by the firefighters (which she agrees were total assholes). I remind her that she crawled with only the strength of her arms whilst fighting against her own brain.
That is a warrior.
“No one could’ve survived what you did. You’re the toughest cookie I know, and I love you just the way you are. Your brain is my favorite enigma, and we will always solve these puzzles together.” I say sincerely as I boop her forehead to make her giggle.
At the end of story time, I turn off the big light and draw her curtains to remake the welcoming crepuscular atmosphere of bedtime. She needs her rest—we both do. My mom is softly hyperventilating, the way a sweet child does after crying really hard. I begin to hum a native lullaby she used to sing to me as a baby in hopes of putting her to sleep. As I’m tucking her in, Mama stares up at me with her stunning green eyes, accentuated by pink sclera and a strip of sunlight peeking through the drapes. She grabs my cheek the way she does, which tells me she’s about to attempt her absolute favorite phrase and say “I love you” to me—
“Why you save me?”
Her perfectly clear and abrupt question not only takes me by surprise, it takes my breath away.
I immediately turn my back to her so I can run away, as if all the air was just sucked out of the room and I have mere seconds to make it to the hallway to regain oxygen. I double over and fall apart in silence, the way I would see my mother do when I was a child.
Get it together! You can do this!
I walk back into her room, helpless to stop the tears pouring out of my eyes. I praise my mom for speaking her words so well and apologize for my sudden disappearance. I push her limp legs out of the way so I can sit close to her on the bed. I lock my fingers into my Mama’s working hand, caressing that very special pointer finger and thumb of hers. Finally, I look up at her and take a deep breath to try and say what I’m about to say; so I can tell her the truth.
“Oh, Mama. When you were trapped in your coma, I could feel you down in the darkness. I am eternally connected to you because I come from you—I am you. Mothers and their daughters share a bond that transcends time and logic; and in that moment, all I knew is that I had to bring you back. Somehow, someway, I had to save you from The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea.”
So I made a deal…
Precious, precious You.
I love you, Mama.
NOTES TO THE READER
In 2018, the most common acronym for strokes was still FAST, which only explains the signs for the most common types of strokes. Because of rare cases like my mother’s, the updated acronym is now BE FAST.
Balance (any difficulty)
Eyes (changes in sight and appearance)
Speech (any difficulty)
Time to call 911
Time. Is. Brain.
As you’ve just read, my mom presented with only the “BE”symptoms for an entire day because she was having a stroke in the posterior part of the brain which affected her Balance and Eyesight. This greatly contributed to her being neglected.
If you experience any of these above symptoms, you have ONE HOUR, The Golden Hour, to get treated in hopes of a positive outcome. It’s not like in the movies where they throw endless hospital resources at you to save your life. To the healthcare system, your life is NOT worth more than money. So, if they try to shortchange your care and you absolutely know something is wrong…
You FIGHT for yourself and your loved ones. Don’t let anyone stop you.
Song: “H.” by Tool
For those in the know: Mama and I are both an H., just like MJK and his son. Identical H., in fact. I didn’t even know this at the time of the miracle, which is more proof that it wasn’t random and I wasn’t trying to force a sign from nothing. God still speaks to me through my music, and I am connected to the Universe and kindred spirits because of it.
God blessed me with the Gift of Discernment (which even brought MisterEnigma and I together) and He had been trying to reach me my whole life through it. I just had to take my walls down and let Him in to see it. I had to forgive Mama as well. She struggled as a single mother after losing the love of her life, all while trying to raise some fucked up, traumatized kids when she herself was traumatized from abuse and loss. In my case, I had to fight my own demons and live some fucking life to realize just how much my mom did for me. Evil is very good at making us humans focus only on the bad things.
The second I found my mom on the floor that horrible morning, I instantly let go of every last grudge I’d been holding onto. Most of my family was already dead, and I was fed up with romance so my personal relationships were long gone. Most specifically, however, when you see someone that strong who’s always been there, just fading away right in front of your eyes… fuck… nothing before that moment even matters.
Due to the severe brain damage my mom suffered, she will most likely never regain control of 75% of her body functions, nor speak the way she used to (the way I miss so dearly). The pandemic ended up taking even more from us as well. However, five and half years down, she’s still here—joyous and smiling—showing me the face of God…
Every. Single. Day.
My mother changed my life in every way possible. If she can smile through all of this, then so can I. Thank God she still has her personality. She has taught me what really matters in life, and what it means to truly live for someone other than yourself. I am a better person today, a person with a purpose, all because of her…
My precious, precious miracle.
But please, make no mistake when it comes to my sentiments. I will never believe that my mom ending up this way is a fucking blessing. What happened to my mom is an example of the worst of humanity. My mom gave her entire life to the healthcare system in order to take care of those who needed her the most; but when she was the one in need of help, the system treated her like garbage (and still does).
However, I learned to fight that with the best of humanity by following in my mother’s footsteps. I’ve dedicated myentire life to taking care of someone who truly deserves the world (my mother)—and even those who many say don’t deserve anything (prisoners)—because I’ll never forget what it felt like to be weak, powerless, and thrown away.
I believe we as humans can fucking do better.
Thank you, Mama. I am blessed to be your daughter. I will always be here, holding up my end of the deal, and I will never leave you in the darkness.
Come hell or high water.
The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea
Our true and deeply personal story
A “Those Damn Enigmas” Production, including MamaEnigma <3
The END for @SPam
Funeral of Your Dreams: https://www.theprose.com/post/772418/my-last-dance
Funeral Package: Baby, You’re A Waterwork
Dear, dear Pam. What beautiful death plans you have! The “Baby, You’re A Waterwork” service will take your vision to new heights (and depths)! Let me walk you through the process.
First and foremost, I must insist on Aquamation. I can clearly see the connection you have to water, so what could be better than “water cremation?” In order to be placed in and of the earth, your ashes need to be “clean” to ensure no harm will come to nature. Aquamation also leaves about 30% more of you behind to ensure there will be enough of you to go around the world!
Your natural, unembalmed body will be placed onto a perforated, stainless steel containment tray inside of an airtight, pressurized chamber where it will go through Alkaline Hydrolysis. A mixture of potassium hydroxide and water heated to over 300 degrees Fahrenheit will be gently circulated through your body for roughly 18 hours to breakdown all organic material. What’s left are your gorgeous, pure white bones which will be crushed into powder (ash).
No trace of organic human material will remain as Aquamation washes away any and all disease, DNA, and RNA. The nutrient rich liquid from your flesh will then be sent to my Enigmatic Blooms charity where you can anonymously fertilize the flowers of the funerals of tomorrow. I use these flowers for low income families struck by tragedy so they can still have flower arrangements at their loved one’s funeral. Furthermore, Alkaline Hydrolysis creates zero smoke and uses a mere fraction of the energy (compared to cremation). You will be giving back to this earth you so wish you meld with in The END!
Now, once we have all that beautiful ash from your clean bones, your loved ones will gather at dusk by the lake for your funeral service. The bonfire, music, and refreshments will be plentiful so your friends and family can celebrate all night long. Then, everyone will walk down to the lake to set off the pre-filled fireworks, full of your extra fine, triple milled ash. And won’t everyone be surprised when they see and explosion of color when the ash bombs go off! That’s right! We will color your ash in a nontoxic dye for this one special moment! With a song of your choice, colorful Pam dust and shimmering Pam sparkles will slowly rain down onto the lake. People will hug and hold hands as they behold the gorgeous sight!
Lastly, we will assist your appointed Ferrymen to deliver the rest of your Aquamains to every location you’ve listed. We’ll encapsulate your remains in a plaque at the library before sending them off to be scattered in the brook behind your home and the Grand Canyon. Lastly, and most iconically, the Celtic Sea…
Dance on the water. Dance until the sea wraps you in her arms and pulls you into her depths. Sink down, down, down until she lures you into her secret resting place. No longer lost, Atlantis welcomes you...
Because you, darling Pam, are a living work of water, returning home.
Thank you for choosing The END!
Created from my Welcome to The END Challenge: https://www.theprose.com/challenge/14302
The END For @Huckleberry_Hoo
Funeral of Your Dreams: https://www.theprose.com/post/772026/the-twain-funeral-for-me-please-lil-bit
Funeral Package: The Classic
My dear, Huck. The “Twain” funeral is quite grand, but you, sir, are too unique for a premade package. Let’s use The Twain as a starting point and create something extra special, just for you, shall we?
The Twain comes with a real movie based on your life. My Master Filmmaker, Stanley, will use real home movies and photos of your life mixed with his own genius vision to create an unforgettable full length feature for your attendees. Mind you, this is no slideshow set to a sad Sarah McLachlan song. Oh no… this is a film that will be nominated for an Oscar because of its legendary story and unique style. And who could deny throwing even more wins at our beloved Huck? No one—that’s who. Huck isn’t just some big fish in a small pond. No, sir! The winningest writer I’ve ever seen on Prose is a big fish in the big ocean. Mr. Hoo is man of such caliber that he inspires masterworks from artists all over the world. The film of your life, premiering at your funeral, will be no different.
Your film will combine all of your greatest literary works with the sounds of the Carpenters, Waylon Jennings, and more into a story that will leave everyone in tears from both heartbreak and laughter. The end of the film will focus on that one that got away, all those years ago: the prettiest girl in school, Meg Bell.
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli will play as the audience sees boy Huck pining over his first love. They are all taken back to a time when they had their own puppy love. As the crowd is focused on the final scene of the movie (a tracking-shot of the time you walked all the way to school just to break the windows), no one will even notice the 12 year old boy who has casually strolled into the large theater behind them.
The boy actor on screen delivers a heart wrenching performance of a young man so desperate to be noticed by the one girl he wants most, set to the song “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers. Just as Huck is about to throw that 8th rock into the school window, he falls to his knees, crying and screaming at the world as the song hits its climax…
I beg you please!
I need your love (need your love!)
I need your love (I need your love!)
So bring it on back (so bring it on back!)
Bring it on back (bring it on back)…”
On screen, we see the back of little Huck as he slowly stands, the song fades to echoing silence as he turns around to face the camera (breaking the fourth wall). Tears are streaming down his face, and with all his anger and might, he throws that last rock right it at the audience! It breaks through the screen and soars over the heads of every friend, family member, and fan… right into the hand of this mystery 12 year old little boy in the theater! The actor on screen resembles Huck, but this young man… oh my… he is Huck!
The whole audience gasps in horror and astonishment as the real 12 year old Huck smiles, cueing “Come And Get Your Love”. Young Huck tosses the rock over his shoulder and it disappears into thin air. He begins to make his way down the aisle as the funky sounds of Redbone make him start dancing, young and free as he is! This is no mirrored illusion of Michael Jackson taking the stage after his death—no, sir! This is Huckleberry Hoo himself in Living Light, the award winning holographic technology created by my team of Light of Life scientists. It uses billions of pixels per squire inch, thousands of mini ultrasound speakers that produce the sound waves to suspend tiny particles that move faster than the human eye can see. Finally, a real 3D hologram made of “solid light,” all for the legendary Huckleberry Hoo!
Perfectly proportioned from any angle, your Living Light Body not only looks like the real you, it can speak and respond, just as you would! And as you make your way up to people of choice, they will shriek when they feel you touching them! Then, as if you’re spreading a virus that’s good for the soul, you pull people to their feet to start dancing with you. No one can help themselves as they, too, start snapping their fingers and swaying their hips!
The music of all your favorite artists will fill the massive theater. Sam Cooke, Elvis, Lynyrd Skynyrd—all in attendance for your party! Hundreds of people will dance their hearts out to the soundtrack of your life. With overwhelming joy, the whole theater will be in tears as they watch you slowly age, having the time of your life. Then, as one final song plays, we will watch you climb into a fine oak coffin, giving your best Miss America wave, and disappear as you close your own casket. A cherished moment to remember you for the goober we all loved. Our collective energy of this magical moment will send you off to the likes of “Soul Heaven” to join the rest of the legends. This will really be the Funeral of your Dreams, Huck!
I know, I know… a little more extravagant than the basic “Twain” package, but could you blame me? And you better believe that I’m going to attend, personally. Like a kid waiting for their favorite band’s album to drop, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Because you, Huckleberry Hoo, are Classic: a solid gold record to be treasured throughout time…
And never, ever forgotten.
Thank you for choosing The END!
Created from my Welcome to The END Challenge: https://www.theprose.com/challenge/14302
The END For @r_raven
Funeral of Your Dreams: https://www.theprose.com/post/771964/zinnias
Funeral Package: Enigma Special
Ahh, yes. I’ve got just the funeral for you! The “Enigma Special” package is a service based on my own, and like all our services, still customizable! Personally, I am set for Full Body Donation, which means I won’t have a “body funeral.” I will already be in transport to the State University in which my remains are promised (after any viable tissue is harvested, of course). Let me know if you’re interested in giving yourself to science and the brilliant minds of today who will save the lives of tomorrow. I can walk you through the application and ensure your best chances of being accepted.
If you wish to “keep” your body, I can simply arrange for one of my gorgeous dancers to pop out of an all black “dummy coffin” at the perfect time. But to really boost your scare vision, we can even have synthetic body parts fall from the ceiling to drop onto the laps of those you didn’t like (a seating arrangement will be sent out with the dress code). With no corpse in the coffin, I’d really love to make the people who were mean to you in this life believe they’ve just been rained on by your chopped up body. We’ll make sure to warn the people you love, of course.
Once the meanies have left screaming, we will wheel out your real coffin and perfectly decorated corpse. My Makeup Technician, Lily, will use your naturally dead glow and only add to your eye area. She will shade your eyes to filth with black paint and shadows to create that desired darkness. I’m seeing bleeding black eyes as a final touch. To accomplish this, we will make sure to leave your eyes open during both the preparation process and the funeral itself. This will dry them out for Tache Noire to take effect.
Now, I have a coffin and headstone picked out personally, just for you. Your coffin will be one from our gorgeous African Blackwood Collection. Expensive, I know, but you deserve only the best! African Blackwood is of the densest woods in the world and will shine with the all natural boning you desire (as we use only real bone here at The END!). We could even ask my Welder, One-Eyed-Willy, to make colorful metal Zinnias to garnish the sides. Forever engulfed in your so desired flowers.
The tombstone I have in mind is a slab of black marble with gorgeous gray veining. My Head Carver, Damien, can incorporate the natural veins into the text of your choice to make it look extra spooky for curious children and cemetery goers to ogle over.
Lastly, as this is the most important part of this masterpiece, your funeral will be filled, floor to ceiling, with Zinnias of all colors. When people walk in, the overwhelming beauty will literally take them aback. It will feel as though they’ve walked into a secret garden, too beautiful for the rest of the world to see. Because you, Raven, are a precious secret in which only the deserving may bear witness.
Thank you for choosing The END!
Created from my Welcome to The END Challenge: https://www.theprose.com/challenge/14302
The END For @IcarusLaughed
Funeral of Your Dreams: https://www.theprose.com/post/771882
Funeral Package: It’s My Death and I’ll Burn If I Want To
Icarus, darling… I have the perfect service, just for YOU! The “It’s My Death and I’ll Burn If I Want To” package has everything you want and more! Your Last Will and Testament will lay out every detail.
Incineration is a very noble choice. The Vikings and many cultures throughout history have used this technique to honor their dead. I see you’ve come to a pretty solid decision on this, but let me know if you want to discuss returning to the earth in more detail. It should be noted that we will abide by all legal requirements *cough*. However, here at The END, we can have “special arrangements” made if you’d like a “natural” burial *wink*. Fungi need to eat, too! Ahem—moving on.
We’ll make it crystal clear that you shall NOT be put in some dress for your service or cremation. We will concoct the snazziest suit, just for you (based on your Attire Questionnaire or personalized one-on-one collaboration with Diego, my costume designer).
With all of our packages, my Death Dealers Security Team will ensure no shenanigans can ensue (such as forcing children to smile or any unwanted religious activity). However, should your parents show up with their noses in the Bible, I can personally greet them myself. I am here to carry out your wishes and take care of your family. As a Death Grandmaster Level 1000 (or Grandmaster Death for short), I am versed in many religious and cultural practices. With your permission, I’d like to give your folks a gentle reminder to reiterate your cremation decision:
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19
Now, what Christian (or human being) can argue with that? We will all return to the stardust from whence we came.
With dedicated connections in 27 countries around the world, we can have your siblings or appointed Ferrymen taken to one of the highest peaks of this earth for a final and private ceremony. Please make sure to fill out your Final Words Questionnaire to ensure they speak of the lovely IcarusLaughed, exactly as you wish, before releasing your ashes to rejoin the stars.
Fly, Icarus. Float away like the bird you are. Fly right into that sun. The world is yours…
Because it’s your death, and you can burn baby burn if you want to.
Thank you for choosing the END!
Created from my Welcome to The END Challenge: https://www.theprose.com/challenge/14302
The END For @Pietroschek
Funeral of Your Dreams: https://www.theprose.com/post/771747/dying-times
Funeral Package: Fine, Wine
Ahhh… yes. I’ve got a funeral package for exactly that! The “Fine, Wine” service is for those who don’t want a big fuss and wish to go out on their own terms. Like wine aged to perfection, you wait until the most opportune time to sacrifice yourself.
Now, be aware that this will be no Jonestown. Here at The END, we don’t allow people to suffer. My Medical END Team will ensure a painless death. After you’ve said goodbye to your family, including your pets (because they are family here), all will raise a glass of a wine of your choosing as you give your Ta-Ta Toast. You will drink down the life-ending medication placed directly into your mouth by my personal and anonymous doctor, Dr. Death. She helps my customers to “Die With Pride”. If you are not a terminal patient, we will require you to take a psych evaluation to make sure you are making this decision of sound mind. We do not discriminate and support those who wish to take control of their death, all while trying to help you stay alive if you wish to do so. Here at The END, we only want to celebrate life and help all make their transition into death a happy occasion.
But, if it’s no matter to you, why not give of yourself to the brilliant scientists who will save the lives of tomorrow! This will require an “accidental” death, however, because suicides are not eligible for Full Body Donation. And if being on display isn’t for you, I have the “natural” option, which is very private. Once Dr. Death has pronounced you dead, we will place you directly into the earth, naked as the day you were born, in my secret, not-so-legal cemetery. This way, your decomposing body will contribute to the natural cycle of life.
No headstone is necessary, but if you wish to have one, our MEMENTO MORI stone would work nicely for you. There will be no name, only a number at the back of the stone which allows us to mark the location in which you’re buried. Only your most trusted persons will have access to this site, your unique number, and all will be required to sign an NDA to protect everyone involved.
Your family can come visit you anytime, gaze upon your secret tombstone, and remember that we ALL must die. But you, Pietroschek, chose to die like the finest of wine: with patience, purpose, and full of feel-good substance.
Thank you for choosing The END!
Created from my Welcome to The END Challenge: https://www.theprose.com/challenge/14302
ATTENTION: the fictional “Die With Pride” part of my story above is based off a real practice called “Death With Dignity”. It is only legal in certain states and is NOT for those who are suicidal. This is a medical option for those who are terminal and suffering horrible deaths. Please, if anyone reading this is thinking of suicide, PLEASE reach out for help by dialing or texting 988. You have a story to be heard, and you matter.
FUCK: A Linguistic Lovesong
The shape and sound of words are often lost in their meaning, especially when it comes to my all time favorite word: FUCK. I know, FUCK can be hit or miss for people. It’s a word that won’t get a second thought beyond acceptability, but FUCK is so much more! It is a very efficient word that holds endless meaning and is rarely ever confused. No matter what language you speak (including ASL), there’s no mistaking FUCK. Therefore, I feel FUCK is the perfect example to illustrate my preference for both the sound and shape of words.
Let’s start with a comparison: Paraskavedekatriaphobia is my fun word, but it only offers auditory enjoyment. Visually, it is an absolute train wreck, but it’s a blast to say and exciting to hear. I love to say it quickly, like a party trick in social settings, because it rolls right off the tongue (believe it or not). But when it comes to FUCK, oh no… FUCK is said slowly. Even if it is said in a burst of fear, or when it’s popped off in quick succession whilst unloading a clip of anger, FUCK is said with seductive patience (no matter the context). With FUCK, you’ll never be left tongue tied.
Hence, in my opinion, it’s the sound of words that first make them so grand to us. I feel this is especially so for us women (who tend to fall in love with our ears), compared to our male counterparts (who tend to fall in love with their eyes). Men are wooed by the physical attractiveness of a sexual partner, and a woman is ultimately wooed by the things her love interest says to her. By design, FUCK has something for everyone.
The sound of a word can stir up a slew of emotions (just see what happens when you shout the word “moist” in a crowd). But FUCK is literally therapeutic to say, even just in your mind when you can’t express yourself freely. That hhhhhard F followed by the conviction of the -UCK makes it feel like a punch to the face you actually want. Or, and I know this is a bit on the nose, it’s like that moment your man walks in the door from a long haul away from home, rams it in hhhhhard and fast, holds it there, grabs a fistful of your hair, and then kisses you… all while looking straight into your begging eyes. He uses that rush of adrenaline to make the most passionate love to you whilst every nerve in your body is set ablaze. Communicating only with his most primitive anatomy, he somehow transports you to the cosmos, right there on your kitchen counter. Like any drug, nothing compares to that first taste, so you better make it count (and FUCK never disappoints). Your brain and body light the FUCK up, every damn time like it’s the first time, because FUCK is a physical expression in itself to say.
However, like many words, the appearance of FUCK is easily overshadowed by its sound. The sharp F and K on the ends tightly embrace the rounded U and C, like a strong father and tough-as-nails mother, protecting their fragile children and holding the family together. FUCK is like the family portrait hung above the fireplace. Look at that beautiful FUCK! So nice and cozy, too! Ironically, if a child writes or says the word FUCK, it makes everyone laugh, and once again, a rush of feel-good ensues. Aww, so precious! FUCK can be enjoyed by the whole family!
For me, personally, FUCK has been my favorite word since I was a kid (thanks to that brilliant FUCK, Quentin Tarantino, and my general obsession with films). FUCK is just part of my everyday vocabulary. Not because I am overtly crass (comedic necessity aside), nor am I nasty to people. I know when to put on my mandated dress and high heels to please, and I truly care about others (so I’m never trying to offend you). It is simply because FUCK efficiently invokes the passion I desire. Despite its negative uses and bad rap, FUCK holds so much beauty. There’s no need to clutch your pearls at this sweet little word—well, unless it’s a pearl necklace created in glorious FUCK itself. In which case, enjoy that warm hug and clutch away.
Lastly, to support my love for all things FUCK, and to convince you that there’s nothing to fear, I’d like to mention a cute little runner-up. The word “butthole” is endlessly funny to me. It’s like a punchline to a joke, no matter how you say it or when it’s used. Butthole is a full yet tight looking word. It has shapely, round letters, garnished with 2 proper gentleman in bowties shoved right in between. But most importantly, it can usually slip right through all the censorship we are forced to endure. Censorship is something I’m adamantly against because it takes away my choice to experience the real world. But, a friendly butthole can really soften the blow, and give us all a break from the back and forth of typical norms. Relax, butthole is here now.
However, if someone does tell you to censor “butthole,” I offer the words of the lyrical and vocal genius, Maynard James Keenan:
“If you figure out how to not have a butthole, then I’ll change it.”
Similarly, if you feel my favorite word should be censored, then show me human existence without FUCK, and I’ll buttholeheartedly fall on this sword. I digress…
I proffer the auditory and visual aspects of all words can help us embrace their beauty, far beyond meaning alone. Like anything, it merely comes down to individual preference. Between shape and sound, there will always be times when one feels better than the other… ButtFUCK, I sure do love a healthy dose of both.
They Should Have Sent A Poet
Nebular night dawns,
womb full of wonder.
Prodigal star burns,
more powerful than the Sun,
drunk on Milky Way.
iron-heart stellar giant,
weapon of chaos.
a celestial sacrifice,
Halo slips into the black…
belly of the beast.
Original artwork by the one and only Alex Grey. Please enjoy his creations at alexgrey.com
For my friends
ATTENTION: You are receiving a story from a slave—ahem—from an inmate inside the Bad People Department of Corrections. We are adding to our multi B-B-Billion dollar purse just by letting you communicate with our property. Please remain in the “grab your ankles, bitch” position as we continue to fuck society in the ass.
Thank you for your continued ignorance—hah, whoops…
Thank you for your cooperation :)
Holy shit. Prison is nothing like County. Intake was just as violating, but this place is actually clean… ish. It smells like stale air and generic Windex rather than the lingering aroma of sewage pipes and boob sweat.
Walking through the unit, I see that there’s more than just 5 showers per 100 women, and every line has less than 10 zombies shuffling along in it. I must’ve won the lottery of prisons because County was nothing but endless wall-sliding and single-file, consuming your whole day just to eat, bathe, and call home.
The biggest mind fuck is my cell. I have a door that I can not only close, but I have keys to lock it. Even more shocking, my bunkie is apparently in the infirmary (so I’ll have privacy for once). All a far cry from the cramped pole barn at the jail where personal space is nonexistent. It’s like I just moved to a different planet. I’m hesitant to feel comfortable, but the slightly muffled noise from outside my closed cell is a bunch of sweet nothing compared to the echo chamber of hysteria I’ve lived in for the last 13 months.
I finish organizing my bunk and change into my standard-issued prison blues to try to make use of the day I have left. I lock up my cell and head towards the rec area to get in line for the mail kiosks. I’m feeling good because blue is so my color (and my husband’s favorite). He says it brings out my eyes. Oh, my heart! I can’t wait for our first visit next month! I just know he’s going to tell me how good I look in this dark indigo instead of that gross bright orange I’ve been wearing. We never had kids so he calls me his pride and joy, and I’m finally feeling like it again in this pretty color. I’ve learned to really appreciate the small things in life.
I hop in line for the kiosks so I can write a letter to my baby. I need to let him know I’ve made the transport safely. I don’t have a tablet yet, so I’ll have to type something quick on the big screen. The girl ahead of me is much younger, but she looks familiar with the place.
“Hey girl, what’s the time limit on the screens?” I ask in that high-pitched tone us females use when we want to appear harmless.
“Fifteen.” She replies over her shoulder.
Wow! We only got ten at County! Five whole extra minutes when you don’t have a tablet is a godsend. It’s a pain in the ass to type on the big screens that barely register your touch to begin with.
When my turn arrives, I see a new message from my husband… from today? Whoa! Mail actually comes on time here? It took up to 5 days to receive digital letters at the jail (even for short messages), and weeks for snail mail. I’m starting to feel like I’m in the twilight zone. Like this is all too good to be true. Let’s see what my dearest has sent me:
FROM: Ian Flores
TO: Jasmine Flores 11130013
I hope the bus ride went smoothly this morning. Must’ve been a sauna in there without AC. The high is supposed to be 99 today. Please let me know when you’ve arrived. About to jump in the car with Pop. He’s ready to go to the airport now. Your sister wants to come for the drive. Pop’s flight was delayed to 12:13. He sends his love. Stay safe.
Aww! My baby just cares for me. I don’t know what I’d do without him. My husband is the only thing that keeps me sane as a prisoner. I’m actually excited about the future for the first time in over a year because I get to have family visits here. Well, with the family I have left, that is. My sister barely talks to me anymore, and the trial was hard on Pop’s heart. My father-in-law is the only parent I’ve ever known, and I’m the daughter he’s always wanted, but he doesn’t fly down as much now with his failing health. This whole situation has been tough on everyone.
The screen is slow to load, but the timer says I have just over 13 minutes left. I have a million things to tell my husband about this new world in Bad Girl Prison:
BPDOC INMATE ACCOUNT
11130013 Jasmine Flores
TO: Approved Contact:
Thank you so much for your well wishes. I made it in one piece. The travel time you looked up for me proved useless. I’m sure it will only take you about 1 hour to drive to the BGP, but for us, it took FOUR HOURS in that oven on wheels. They insisted on taking the back roads and confusing routes to make sure us “dangers to society” couldn’t ehscayp into populated areas. It took all day just to get to my new lockup.
I miss home so much, but I’m trying to stay focused on the positives. This new facility is MUCH nicer than expected. Prison is soooo different, babe. Well, this one is, at least. They try to make it look homey in the common areas, and there’s even decorations! They’re really pretty, actually. And guess what else? I heard the jobs here pay $1 per hour! ONE WHOLE DOLLAR, BABE!!! If I’m lucky enough to snag one, I could pay for my own medical visits! Yay! And get this: WE GET TO HAVE A 3 SECOND HUG AT THE BEGINNING AND END OF VISITS HERE!!! Oh, baby! I’m getting you know what just thinking about it! Will you wear that Tom Ford I bought for your bday for me? Mmm, I can’t wait!
I miss Pop already. Let me know how his next doctor appointment goes? I hope he’s feeling better. Tell him I’m so hungry that I could eat my chanclas. LOL! It’ll make him laugh. All we had was a sack lunch of slimy bologna and stale bread for the ride over. They should be calling last chow soon. I’ll let you know when I get my tablet and commissary. The money hasn’t gone through yet, but everything seems to run faster here so I’m sure I’ll get it tomorrow. Thank you for always keeping money on my books. You’re the light leading me home.
Hope you had a lovely day!
I love you!
PS: I tried calling right when I got to the unit but it says there’s no money on the phone. Perhaps you need to reset automatic payments for this new location? I’ll try to find out how that works. Thanks, babe.
I learned that I can’t write stuff like “escape” because the system will instantly deny my mail before the COs even read it (because I’ve typed a no-no word), and they don’t give refunds either. And I definitely can’t tell my husband I’m getting wet in anticipation of touching him for the first time in a year. A chick from County taught me to use bad spelling to have some freedom of speech in our letters.
I once got reprimanded for telling my own husband that I miss making love to him through the partition at the jail (shut it down folks, we’ve got a psychopath on our hands!). All the while, I had to watch certain male officers fuck us with their eyes every damn day. And since they don’t give a shit about those of us disabilities, they had no clue I could read their lips as they fucked us with their words, too.
The worst COs would sexually harass us right to our faces (both male and female). But, they can do that because they’re allowed to break the rules (and they get paid and praised for it). However, when the rest of us make mistakes, we don’t deserve to be human anymore. Scratch that—when you’ve been caught making mistakes. Until then, you get to walk around with a golden stick up your ass, shaking your finger at everyone else.
The screen confirms that my email has been sent 09/13/2023 at 16:13 PM. My account has been charged 1 stamp and—look at that! A whole 6 minutes to spare! Not too shabby! I’ll let the chick behind me step on early…
Wait! I’ve got a new message from Ian! Screw it, I’ll make a good impression another time. I’m taking this:
FROM: Ian Flores
TO: Jasmine Flores 11130013
We just got home. I want a divorce.
What the FUCK?! No. No, no, no! I read it over and over:
A divorce?! WHY?! How is this possible?! We’ve never so much as uttered the word “breakup,” let alone “DIVORCE!” Ian and Jazz are that couple who grow old together! And what does he mean by “we” just got home?! That’s our home! My fucking home! The house I bought for us! Is he talking about him and my sister?! Is he fucking my fucking sister?!? Has he just been using me this whole time to secure a way out? Is that why my sister stopped talking to me?! Or wait—did he fly home with his father?! What does he mean?! If he’s with my sister, I’m gonna fucking kill him. Everything was fine! Oh fuck, I’m gonna throw up…
I rush to the giant rubber trash can secured to the wall next to the kiosk and quickly puke my guts out. I hear a couple women in the line laughing at me as I leap to grab my last 5 minutes, but the chick who was behind me has already taken my place.
“Hey, sorry, I had 5 minutes left. Can I go back? Please? It’s urgent.” I plead to her in a guttural, low-pitched tone.
“You snooze you loose. Well, more like ‘you puke you lose.’ Yuck. Go to the back of the line. Your breath stinks.” She doesn’t even look up from the screen as she shoos me away.
I race to the back of the line. There’s 6 people ahead of me. With 3 machines, that’s up to 30 minutes of waiting just to send a “WTF” to my husband. My husband! The love of my life! I feel like I’m about to shit my pants. My whole world is spinning. What the fuck is happening?! I shift from one foot to the other, holding my stomach as I wait.
Just as I’m about to take my turn on the next available screen, they blow an emergency count. The siren is deafening and my head is already pounding.
“No! Please! I just need one minute!” I beg the officer headed our way to wrangle us back to our cells.
“Sorry. No can do. You’ve got 3 minutes to be in your bunk. Go on, get!” He, too, shoos me away like a dog.
I speed walk in the direction of my cell, ducking under the stairs to save a few seconds, as if that will help count go faster. I’m already calculating the time it will take to tally every single woman in the prison. My stomach turns even more.
They sound the alarm again, signaling the end of a successful count. I immediately race back to the mail kiosks. A woman gets on the loud speaker to call our unit for chow, but there’s no way I can eat now. Maybe I can grab a phone when everyone is at dinner. I hope the money went through. Shit, now I’m unsure if Ian put money on my accounts at all.
I have no way of accessing what’s left of my funds without Ian. How will I buy my necessities? I don’t even have tampons yet and my period is supposed to start this week. The pads the DOC gave me in my indigent kit couldn’t absorb a ball of spit, let alone my endometriosis horrorshow. The last few e-stamps on my account are my only hope. I need to find out what the fuck is going on. I hope Ian hasn’t blocked me by now. No. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t leave me all alone in here. Would he?
The same douchebag officer stops me just before reaching the kiosks.
“Phones and screens just went down. You’ll have to try back after dinner.” He scoffs while holding his duty belt, creating a firm barricade between me and my only link to the outside world.
“Sir, please! It’s urg—"
The CO stops me by putting his hand in front of my face.
“Go to the chow hall or back to your cell! NOW!” He commands, pointing his finger over my shoulder, waiting for me to turn around and leave.
I huff away, knowing full well he can give me a ticket for “poor attitude,” but I couldn’t care less right now.
I storm into my cell, lock the door behind me, and climb up to my bunk. I plop down onto the 3 inch mat and shove my face into the flat pillow so I can scream. My anger is boiling.
We’ve been married for eighteen fucking years. Together for twenty. It’s always been just the two of us. Ian and Jazz against the world because we are the perfect couple—minus my convictions. But my side hustle paid off our mortgage! We would’ve been homeless without it! All because my darling husband ruined our legitimate business. When we went under, I found a way to keep our heads above water. Me! I’m the one who paid off all our debt. How could he leave me like this? And without explanation? Now I’m here, paying our debt to society for the both of us! Like always! Am I really this easy to throw away? After all I’ve done?!
My thoughts spin out of control, and before I know it, the stress of today knocks me out cold.
I wake up startled by the horn, not realizing where I even am. Oh—it’s final count. I wave at the flashlight shining into my dark cell through the window to prove I am where I’m supposed to be. I see the silhouette of someone walking in front of the light. A woman unlocks my door and enters the cell. She reaches for the lamp below me and flicks it on. It’s my bunkie, back from the infirmary. She’s very young and frail looking. She waits for the second horn and closes the door, locking us in for the night.
“Hey.” She says quietly, looking up at me as I stare down at her.
“Hey.” I reply softly.
We both instantly recognize deep sadness in each other.
“I’m Sandra. You just get here?” She asks, trying to be polite despite her obvious melancholy.
“Yeah, earlier today. I’m Jasmine, but everyone calls me Jazz. How long you been here?” I ask, trying to match conversation.
“I got transferred here 3 weeks ago, but this is my second time down… and last…” Her voice dwindles.
“You come from County, too?” I ask.
“No, the Max. Way out in the woods. I just made Level 2 after seven months there. I worked hard to complete my treatment plan in time for… whatever. Now I’m here.” She looks away, hiding her pain.
I heard a couple of female guards gossiping about my bunkie when they assigned my cell. She apparently took a murder plea for stabbing her husband to death after he beat her for years. If that’s true, I say he had it comin’ and he ran his damn self into her knife. Ugh, I shouldn’t think like that. How horribly sad for her and her family. But, it must’ve been a good deal to not fight a murder case like that—any murder case. I want to find out more, but I’ve learned not to ask about people’s cases. She’ll tell me eventually if she wants me to know. I just hope she has a chance to get out someday, as young as she is.
Sandra finishes organizing her things and slowly sits down on her bunk, wincing loudly in pain.
“Hey, you okay?” I hop down from the top bunk to see if she needs help. “You were in the infirmary, right?”
“Down the road at Saint Mary’s, actually. Or ‘Hell Mary’s’ more like it.” She holds her hips in pain and lowers the elastic waistband of her bottoms to find comfort. That’s the first time I notice her big belly.
“Oh! Did you just have a baby?!” I ask in excitement, but immediately realize my mistake and apologize with my expression.
She stares up at me in despair as tears rush into her eyes, trying to muster a response.
“Yeah.” Her voice cracks.
The pain on Sandra’s face is haunting. That’s not just the “baby blues,” that’s someone who’s been through torture. Oh my God… I can see the marks on her wrists from being shackled while giving birth.
“I’m gonna get some sleep. Nice meeting you.” She whispers.
Sandra turns to her side and kicks her slides off the bed. She’s clearly in too much agony to even change into her casuals. I see her inmate number splayed across the back of her blues. Oh, no. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Her number is my wedding date: 10132005. Well, I guess October 13th used to be my anniversary. I’ve always had shit luck, Pop even says that I must’ve been born under a bad sign, but this feels like a cruel joke from God. And what happened to Sandra is just fucking cruel.
“Goodnight.” My voice trails, failing to offer her any comfort because I’m a sad sack of shit.
I climb back up to my bunk. Sandra waits for me to get settled to turn off her lamp. Her kindness makes my heart ache even more.
This is insane! I woke up this morning the same Jazz I’ve been for the last 18 years. I’d never felt special until I became Mrs. Jasmine Flores. Ian always called me his spring flower when we were newlyweds. I hate my maiden name. Am I plain old Jasmine Withers again? Oh, God… old. What will a middle-aged woman with no family and a record do on the outside? I’ll be forty-fucking-six and ten years gone when I’m released. Who’s gonna give a shit about me now? Nobody knows you when you’re down and out. Shit, I don’t even know me. The only identity I’m absolutely sure of right now is 11130013.
The shapes of the room fade to black, but my mind refuses settle. I toss over in frustration, making both bunks squeak and clank. As soon as the clatter stops, I hear Sandra start to cry.
Holy fuck. This poor girl. She just gave birth and can’t even hold her child—hell, can’t even see her child—when all mom and baby need are each other right now. Captivity breeds madness, but being forced apart from all that you know and love… that’s the real punishment.
I can already imagine ignorant ass people talking their shit about someone like Sandra. They would say she’s not a “real” mother, or that she doesn’t deserve her child. But I can feel her maternal desperation in my bones with every uncontrollable wail coming from her soul. It’s the most agonizing sound I’ve ever heard.
I begin to cry along with Sandra, trying to hide my own sorrows in her sobs. I feel pathetic for drowning in self pity when she is going through something much worse, but my pain hurts, too. It really hurts! And it’s all my fault. What have I done to my marriage? To my life? I did this! Me!
In our own way, no matter how much time we get, we are all serving (and giving) life sentences. We will always be paying for our mistakes, and no amount of pain in here can fix the pain out there. It just creates more pain for innocent people who don’t deserve to be motherless, daughterless… wifeless. I don’t know how to fix any of this, but hurting more people can’t be the answer… can it?
The sounds of Sandra’s loud, painful bellowing causes women from other cells to start shouting all over the unit.
Woman 1: “I’m trying to sleep!”
Woman 2: “Stop being a little bitch, Sandra! I had to do it, too! Shut the fuck up!”
Woman 3: “YOU shut the fuck up, Dee! Put your headphones on, you heartless bitch!”
Woman 4: “JUST SHUT UP!!!”
Woman 5: “Y’all bitches are crazy! Haha! Craaazaaay weeoo weeoo!”
The douchebag guard from earlier comes to our door and bangs on the window, scaring Sandra and I so bad that we both jump.
“Hey, Flores! How do you like it here? Hah! Welcome to the machine!” He taunts me loudly, making sure I know I’m on his shit list. I can hear the other guards laughing, joining in his schadenfreude.
Ah, yes. There it is. This is more like the punishment I deserve. Nonstop chaos. The optimism I had when I arrived was but a momentary lapse of reason. Prison isn’t this cozy, decorated home they’re trying to fool us with. It’s fucking prison: a torture chamber designed to destroy human beings… and it is succeeding.
The personal laments of 100 women continue to fill the thick, nobody gives a shit atmosphere. I cover my head to shut out the madness, but it’s just no use. There will be little sleep as this symphony of destruction plays in the BGP tonight.
This has been the worst day of my life…
And it’s just day one.
A “Those Damn Enigmas” Production
This is a work of fiction. However, it was written with real men and women at heart, because their stories matter. They, matter.