A year ago I was pretty, people noticed me in the train. I had this way of not looking. That’s the trick, isn’t it? You present yourself, your perfumed body, soft at the right places, a straight back and tall, strong bones. Living the busy life, giving everything but. And that but is what the weak-hearted want. They’ll crawl for it; they’ll kiss your heels. I know this so well. It’s a model of love, handed over from generation to generation. Mothers who say: go play in the street honey because Mother is busy. Mother has her lover waiting. Mother wants to take a nap in the sun. You really want to play with the other kids, but you wait on the porch for Mother to open the door.
I found out because of the pain in my left side. A cyclist had driven into me while I was crossing the street. I felt dizzy, my rib was fractured. At the hospital they took a scan and sent me to a specialist. He said I had a hereditary disease called polycystic kidneys; multiple cysts the size of golf balls. I had one on my liver as well, but smaller. Not to worry, he said. About the liver. The rib either, it had just been my wake up call. Most people don’t even notice until old age. Unless the cysts start bleeding. Which had happened to me.
The cysts grew to the size of tennis balls, while my kidneys tried to cope. They were in constant need of water, of touch; in need of acceptance and light, but I kept crawling under the sheets and playing with my hair. Denial is my most intimate movement.
What Mother wants to give is never good enough. It’s charity. What you want is what Mother doesn’t want to give. Always. It’s what would hurt her to give. Hurt her bones, scars of unconditional love, and still she’ll protect you from her own pain. Her motherhood is a wall for you to lean on, a place to hide. What you want Mother to say: the world can go play on the street, the lover, the sun. We’ll just stay inside, the two of us, what do you say, honey?
I was looking for new ways to strengthen the heart. For it felt fragile, all the time. I tried acupuncture (the therapist said it was fear; the kidneys reacted to the fear in the body. He promised to heal me. It got worse.) I tried yoga. I tried running away. I tried to live without people. I tried a green juice diet. I tried talking to erudite women with short grey hair and lots of free time. Then there was a word that kept returning: pray. Pray yourself out of this crippled state. I brought my hands together. But I had no language. I knew this couldn’t be a movement of the mind. This was Kierkegaard’s leap of faith. Not attractive for someone who always kept the door ajar; making sure she could sneak out when danger was close. An alertness I took everywhere, like an old lady holding on to her purse.
Then a friend directed me to a farmer from Kentucky. Jimbo. He was wearing a cap, hiding his bald head, and had translucent eyes. Almost ghostlike. Always sitting in the same spot when we Skyped. I hadn’t expected my priest to look like an American saying shit and well fuck no. He called this the journey of a broken heart.
Mother is a metaphor. She doesn’t exist. She’s in your head. She’s a cruel cultural invention. I came from your womb so you have to nourish, cherish, save me. That belief is killing some of you right now. It’s killing you slowly, so slowly. She can still anger you, can’t she? Long gone or faraway in another city or state. But boy can she poison your tongue. If any of this sounds familiar, you suffer from the belief that if someone, maybe your lover, gave you the impossible, you’ll be saved. Let me ask you: are you giving the impossible to your lover? If you say yes too easily, I’ll catch you. Easy is not what you want. You want it to hurt, right? Hurt to give. No charity.
Jimbo told me he used to visit a Christian counselor. One time, the counselor put his foot behind the door and said: “Not today, Jimbo.”
“What? Why!” he protested. He was standing in a waiting room “full of fat girls with abuse stories” (his way of talking back then). Jimbo used to be an angry man. He pushed and banged the door.
“You want to know why?” the counselor asked. “I was looking at my watch wondering, when is Jimbo coming again. And then I knew what you were doing. You were entertaining me. Your narcissism is so far developed that you trick everyone. You are beyond human aid. I hope you can find a power that is greater than you and your story. It is between you and god now.”
The following Sunday, Jimbo was in church.
A week before my first dialysis, I looked ten years older. My friends hadn’t seen sickness so close up. They said things like
-I feel bad for you, and there is so little I can do.
-I lost two kilo’s with Weight Watchers.
– Think positive thoughts.
-It will get better. And then you’ll forget about this.
-I just don’t trust science you know. Mosanto is killing us but it’s not true until scientifically proven, you know?
-A good broth can raise the dead.
I just stopped showing up.
They were so far away from me, with their worries about “the cat vomited in the hallway again.”
They were healthy and,
well, fuck no
I was not.
In withdrawing from the people you love, in depriving your love, you are Mother. Go play in the street honey, I’m busy right now. Let me ask you again: are you giving the impossible to your lover? Or are you holding it up in the air, a juicy steak, withdrawing every time when any loved one comes too close? Rejection is what we know; it’s in our DNA. It hurts like hell, but then why do we want it like sugar?
You look like your mother I hear all the time, but my kidneys are like my father’s. They are my only evidence I am his daughter. The father who didn’t want to know of me gave me his kidneys. I’ve been to his wholesale shop in Old Delhi; mother took me there when I was 17.
I touched the glass that reflected his face. He was staring at us, crying like a child.
Few years later, I wanted to return.
“Stay away,” mother advised me. “They might poison you. They do that over there.”
In the weeks before my first dialysis, I had started to feel poisoned. Toxins were building up in my body. Lacing my shoe had become an event, making me dizzy and tired. Everything made me tired. The doctor called it “brain fog.”
Mother might be your girlfriend who slept late and wants coffee, fresh croissants; even though you spent the morning cleaning the house. Even though you are the one making the money, she’s there, in your shorts, in your woolen socks. You don’t want her sour breath kisses and cheesy playfulness. You want her to get on her knees and scrub that floor so hard her body will hurt. You want to see her clean the house sterile. You want the impossible from whomever you love, because that is love. That’s love for anyone who ever felt rejected too young too badly. It stole your body innocence.
Jimbo’s favorite prayer is Matthew 12:49:
Someone said to Him, Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to you. But Jesus answered: Who is my Mother and who are My brothers? And stretching his hand toward his disciples, He said: Behold my Mother and My brothers!
Mother can be your father your uncle your teacher your lover your husband your wife your friend your neighbor your dentist your therapist your girlfriend your boyfriend your in-laws the bartender the waitress the driver your adult daughter who will show up in your room basking your son your teenager son calling you a bitch and even more close to home Mother could be you.
Jimbo and I, we Skype at least trice a week,
both sipping from a cup, in front of the computer screen,
talking about how to untie “the knot”- the contraction in my stomach.
“Your knot is a coagulation of choked prayer. It’s your heart, it’s your yearning.”
I joke it’s because of my leaky heart valve, which was discovered by a young handsome doctor, who listened to my heart murmur with a stethoscope. He said: “we’ll have to see, when you would have your transplant, if any complications….”
– My head was spinning. This was my tenth or so test, and I couldn’t digest any more news, any more tests.
The same day they placed the catheter in my chest, I had my first dialyses.
My breath turned stale
my chest purple
blood seeping through the bandage
couldn’t move my right side without stabbing pains in my chest.
I looked swallowed.
I still do.
Jimbo understands how this feels; “My entire life.”
The creases in his face are not from age but fear, violence. I can tell; a stern and worn look. An utterly filmisch portrait.
He hardly ever moves when we are on video call,
a small laugh, nod of the head. My priest,
he calls me honey,
he tells me I can find a mother anywhere.
It has become my mantra.
Maybe you would like to know what is the cure from Mother? Maybe you will come to a point in your life you need something very badly. Say, a kidney. You expect Mother to give you that kidney. Mother doesn’t want to give the kidney. And so you reject all the possible charity. The soup, the blanket; all those attempts of care that sound petty for someone who wants the impossible.
Months after being in dialysis, after I had some color back in my face and dialysis had become routine, I stood in mother’s kitchen. She hadn’t seen me during the ‘adjustment’ period. That was just kinder to me. To her. Was Jimbo’s advice. Something had to crack first.
I inhaled spring. She had been busy in the garden a lot, she told me, “I got a new buxus.”
I fought my tears. They weren’t because of us. They were something of my old life dying.
I knew because when she held me from behind, her long arms softly pressing my chest, I didn’t shudder. This was new. I could let her love me the way she wanted to. She was wearing a crimson red sarong, smelled of salt and body lotion. She said: “it will be alright.”
I didn’t hate her for these words like I used to. I patted her arm. “Yes,” I sighed.
A year ago, I was like everyone else, living the busy life. A year ago, I wasn’t a dialysis patient; didn’t have a catheter running through my chest. A year ago, I believed I was going to be healthy and young for the entire stretch, and then suddenly tumble into old age, at an old age. And now, poor me. Curling up in illness. Waiting for someone for something to take this pain away. Save me save me save me. But a new kidney isn’t the cure. The illness is. It brings me someplace where I have no choice but to reinvent. By sharing my story, I unhide, demystify. Not just for me, but for my mother who, as a daughter herself, became part of an inheritance she never asked for.