“Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge and affirm that it is fitting and delicious to lose everything. “

29 May

I’m sitting in the waiting room to do my stress test, staring at an older woman, and a younger man. He’s going on and on to her about his stroke-how it felt, what happened, matter of fact like, as if telling a fable he’s told a hundred times before.

She’s desperate for it, for his pain and suffering. She’s desperate for an opening, a chance to say “Me too, but”. You can smell it. I smelled it when I walked into the unit, all full up of the infirm, and sometimes the not so infirm, people waiting to be told if they’re dying, if their breaths are all used up, if they are not so solid, not so balanced on terra firma.

They watch the young people when we enter. I feel eyes on me, misty eyes with more memories than time I’ve used up. I don’t belong. I’ve entered their space, their world. Weekly check up’s maybe, casual familiarity with nurses.

The youngish man leaves to do his testing, handsome in a mature way, but scared, settled by scared. The woman sets her sights more firmly on me, and I make the mistake of mentioning a sudden wave of nausea a few days past, similar to what he described. The clammy skin-she reminds me-you have clammy skin when this happens.

I smile and nod, absently, but she launches into what sounds like a practiced speech about losing her sister last year. Funny thing was, as she spoke, I realized she was speaking of someone I worked with, sorta, someone who worked for our company, who had a sudden heart attack while working from home. I casually said I’d love to go like that, quick, simply, no mess.

Oh how old ladies can glare.

I mentioned that I new here sister’s daughter in law, and her babies, and how lucky she was to be there when they were born.

“But she doesn’t get to see them grow up. She doesn’t get any of it.”

For one hot blinding second, I wanted to stand up and scream at this woman, wrapped up in bitterness and all the wrong kinds of anger and screech that my mother never got to even meet mine, that she wasn’t lucky enough to be given that time. My mother didn’t know it might happen, didn’t have something wrong with her heart from day one. She was snatched. She didn’t have a chance to be an old bitter lady in a hospital.

That of course passed, and I moved on to reminding myself that relativity is looking into what you despise and forgiving yourself for hating it. Something in this woman ached endlessly, rattled her bones and held her trapped in her little world. She was waiting for death it seemed, eyes at once shrewish and hopeless. She was transparent, in my memory she’s like the skin of a snake, discarded and hanging from a tree.

Finishing my test, with the usual “nothing wrong here-you’re fat, that’s why you can’t breathe” lecture to bid me farewell, I walked again through the lobby, through the 70 and 80 and 90 year olds who followed me out with their eyes. I had an urge to run back and ask them to tell me one magical thing about their lives, one thing I should do, one thing they could have never lived without, one regret. I wanted to ask them to bless me with the knowledge of their years, so they could remember they’re adults and not the children the medical staff treat them like. I wanted them to remember when their hearts beat strong and they were more than cast offs in the wind. I wanted the color to flow back into their eyes and their skin.

But I was late for work, and besides, the TV was on.


(Title taken from Affirmation by Donald Hall)

6 Responses to ““Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge and affirm that it is fitting and delicious to lose everything. “”

  1. Bon May 30, 2008 at 8:48 am #

    whoa. loved this. oh the blinding fury and the pity for those who have become sheep, and how strange they are as bedfellows. oh, how unfair, you’re right, that your mother never got to see your babies.

    i wonder if the problem is we never really feel old, never really feel like it’s enough time…so that the line of “at least she had…” that one is supposed to espouse after a certain time has passed never really rings true. i wonder especially if the boomers – and those of us in their generational shadow, almost emasculated out our adulthood – will ever reach that place of acceptance, melancholy making do.

  2. sweetsalty kate May 30, 2008 at 9:29 am #

    After this post and Bon’s comment I’m speechless. Ditto to all. Loved these words.

  3. bromac May 30, 2008 at 10:06 am #

    “But I was late for work, and besides, the TV was on.”

    Perfect, Thor. Just perfect! Fantastic piece.

  4. Hannah May 30, 2008 at 4:11 pm #

    What they all said. Living with FIL and his myriad illnesses (this week he had to be prescribed an antihistamine to counteract the rash he developed from some other drug he’s on for his prostate, and he’s been to a chiropracter and a dermatologist) I often think about what kind of old woman I will become. I dread waking up some morning and realizing I’m bitter and obsessed with what might have been instead of what is.

  5. thordora May 30, 2008 at 4:55 pm #

    I just…..I see these lives, and I know they’re filled. Sitting there are people who were once 21 and free and in love or 28 surrounded by their young and tired and fulfilled and lonely and 45 wondering where the time went and 65 wondering what to do now, what battles to fight…

    I just find it so sad that we never ask, and we shy away, worried they’ll be the bitter ones.

    I see myself as content in my old age. Something I couldn’t imagine as little as a year ago. I cannot wait to look back on my life with a small smile, satisfied with what I’ve done. Maybe I haven’t travelled the world, or saved a soul, but I’ve done what I could. And of course, that could change over the next 40 years. 🙂

  6. nursemyra May 31, 2008 at 7:35 pm #

    oh thora this is such a beautiful post

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