“You can see him now,” like a movie butler or secretary might say, and never before have those words carried such weight. I threw each syllable around my shoulders and hefted their sharp points into the hospital room. I laid the armor at his feet, and surveyed the tube thieving his speech. And then. Big black eyes like his mother’s, my grandma, with Indian blood and fire, which she spit whole into his mouth at birth. He took to them like a baby bird. Which is what I thought of now. Like a child, like a baby, like a helpless one, like someone he’d never been. Not yet. I know that now.
It’s the eyes. What I remember. Round and open and scared, and the tubes, bloody and thick with amber, and the bed pan full of poop in the room next to his. We passed it every day, seemingly unemptied, possibly containing all the waste of every person in the unit; allowed to fill up and fill up and stay there, coiled and dirty and disgusting and why didn’t they move it?
Where’s the bed pan guy?
I asked my brother.
“Actually?” he teased, “‘Bed pan guy’ prefers the term, ‘fecal engineer.'”
So there were laughs.
Pops taught us well. Chewed life whole and spit it back in our mouths at birth.
The laughing through what comes and in the maw of death and I”ll have the chicken fried steak, thank you, our time here is too short.
But the tube doesn’t laugh and the eyes tell all.
You don’t want to see someone you love with black in their eyes.
So much remains although it’s over now (is it?). New intentions and closer to the family and scars from chin to calf. A sharp recall of the tube, so very quickly out, but the words that I carried into the room and the husk they left behind.
I don’t want to watch him die; one parent is enough. And I’m obsessed. With death and not being here anymore and the quiet and the roar in the dark. With the spirit emptying and soaring and the shard it leaves behind. Of the pine casket carried by children and On Eagle’s Wings and all those flowers. The cards with shaky script written by people who fear they’re next and the phone calls. Of my friends with cancer and the young mother who will leave her two girls brinking on womanhood and the not waking up in bed and who will find you and the things left in the closet and the notes you forgot to burn.
But it’s not about me, is it?
Because we make it through to the other side, whether we want to or not, and so much remains.
The Indian blood and the fire. The laughs and the scar. Who has one without the other.
There will always be black in our eyes.