The accident happened on Thursday afternoon. Woman vs. vehicle, and she didn’t fare well. I was at my mom’s bedside for the last four days, waiting for her to take her last breath. Every day I thought would be her last. But then the machines would continue to track her vitals, showing me how wrong I was. Her heart was beating strong and consistent. “Healthy as a horse!” came to mind. How ironic, though, being healthy, she got clocked by a truck. She did all that exercise for nothing. Her lungs, on automatic, pushed oxygen through her body as if she were still alive. But her mind was gone. Mutti was brain-dead. It was time for her to check out, but her heart betrayed her and kept pumping. Her DNR was useless. Life screwed her yet again.
It felt like she was staying alive for no other reason than for me to work through some issues. I guess that was a good thing. The staff always shook their heads in amazement. “She shouldn’t still be breathing.” they’d say. I put the TV on to pass the time. The kind nurses gave me blankets and a pillow to get comfortable, to check-in for the long haul.
She finally died. It was Monday, shortly after midnight. Her evil heart finally stopped beating. Odd though, the air felt calm. That was a new sensation. Having been there so many days already, the efficient hospital staff worked to get the last papers signed. It was sweet how they didn’t seem to want to impose on me further. They instinctively knew with it being the wee hours of the morning; exhaustion was setting in. The previous events had taken their emotional, mental, and physical toll.
I said my goodbyes to Mutti, took the last picture of her in the bed, even cried, then turned and walked away. Passing through the hospital door out into the parking lot was a bit surreal, but it was okay. It was like a chapter had come to an end, and I was eager to read the next page. And I was calm.
At 3 AM, the keys jingled rather loud in the door lock of my mother’s home. I hoped the neighbor wouldn’t wake up with the racket. I was feeling more and more drained. All I wanted to do was sleep, but opening that door gave me the opposite of what I so desperately needed.
I’d not seen my mother in ten years, nor had I ever been to her apartment. It was strange walking through the front door. The room felt tight with clutter and dust, and paper everywhere. I sighed and hesitated in proceeding into this unknown territory. The knickknacks lining the ledge above the fireplace had a thick layer of grey fuzz. Only knowing my mother as a neat freak, I didn’t expect that. I was shaking my head in disbelief that my mom had lived here. It was so unlike the woman I remember growing up with; she was neurotic about vacuuming every day. She even straightened the fringes on the Persian carpet in the living room if it crushed a little to the side. Even the guests in our home felt uncomfortable as soon as they walked into her clinical space. This home was nothing like I remembered in my childhood. My mom lived here in this mess and filth?
The longer I lingered in the doorway, the more the childhood memories flashed back. All the mind games my mom played rushed back into my head, almost tensing my body in response. Self-preservation – an instinct, I guess. Yet, I still couldn’t quite understand experiencing a feeling at ease along with the adrenaline coursing through my body, especially in this filth.
I was feeling disgusted, seeing every room had piles of paperwork. After a quick skim, I could tell each had a kind of organized storage system. Mutti kept papers, receipts, and records of every kind. Each type of paperwork had its pile. There were even handwritten arguments with the neighbor. Almost like a visual paper trail of every step of her lifetime, documented and preserved in a heap, by date. It was apparent Mutti’s anal tendencies still ruled her in her later years. They had deepened to a degree of sick, the beginnings of illness I’d not noticed in my youth. She was weird back then, but this was extreme.
I found documents going back to 1941, and not only the ones you should always keep like a birth certificate or a marriage certificate. When I look back, I couldn’t understand how Mutti hid this during my childhood. It seemed she went off her rails in the last few years. Fascinating and creepy, all at the same time. And yet, I was still calm.
Did she wish I’d visited more? My guess is no. She wouldn’t have wanted me to know how off things had become in her life. Me visiting would have exposed her behavior. I’m sure she understood I would recommend she get some help.
But I doubt I would have ever come to North Carolina anyway, even if she’d asked. I made an emotional break from her grip years before I’d stopped visiting. I had had enough pain managing the aftermath of my upbringing. Her bad habit of adding fuel to any fire made me tired of getting burnt. The sooner I cut ties, the better for me. When I left, I didn’t look back.
Being here, amidst all this clutter, I finally realized she had always been the chaos. And she was no longer here to do damage. In my youth, as in this apartment, I was in the eye of the storm. Surrounding me was the disarray, but in here, in this hole, she was gone, and everything was going to be okay.
I was going to be okay.