I wonder if the stench of death is hanging off of me. I was in the pool tonight trying to reconnect the parts of me that feel like the aftermath of a hand grenade and this lady two lanes over looked at me. Really looked at me. In the pool, any glance that lasts longer than a fraction of a second qualifies as being really looked at. It felt like she knew, like something on me tells strangers that I’ve been spending time with Lady Death. It is impossible, of course. I look like every other swimmer in the pool.
But it comes back to me unbidden, the memory of everything: the grayish tinge to her skin, how she changed from Tuesday to Friday, the way she became more and more grotesque with every hour. Mommy becoming a mummy before my eyes, her body curling into itself like a desiccated spider, her open mouth telling me she was as bewildered by what was going on as I was.
She was still warm the last time I touched her. Dead, but warm. Just for the record.
My grandmother died the day I turned nine. She had been in hospice at my aunts house. She was less and less herself as she came closer to dying: Grandma was on morphine and had the hallucinations to prove it. I remember her fears coming out: bugs and burnt pies. She scared me, but she was mostly recognizable. When she died, there was a proper funeral with a meal before. Embalming, open casket, the whole shebang.
I walked into the sanctuary alone, ventured to the casket, and looked at her. And then I freaked out. I didn’t know who that was, but it wasn’t my grandmother. I refused to stay for the service, much to my father’s distress.
Over 25 years later, and the two experiences aren’t so different. The body that quit, that body stopped being my mother days before. Intellectually, I knew the watch wasn’t over. The inner nine year old, however, catalogs all the ways that wasn’t her anymore. The nine year old can’t stop seeing. And the nine year old is sure that everyone who looks at her her must know that death is still on her somehow.