A Promise Born
When I was asked to write a piece explaining 'why I am fabulous', I set out to find every excuse imaginable in order to postpone submitting it. I’ve gone through the last year carrying this burden around like a persistent virus with no way of eradicating it, except to expel it once and for all. And so tonight, I mean to do just that.
What makes me fabulous? False modesty doesn’t become anyone but I suppose the real problem for me has been finding something that I deem ‘fabulous’ about myself. I know that I have a penchant for the arts and a proclivity for activism, but because I’ve raised myself literally aspiring to the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Albert Schweitzer, my own accomplishments always seem to fall short of the stringent benchmark where I believe ‘fabulous’ truly lives.
So I stared at this damned blank page. Night after night. Week after week. Month after month. (For those of you who have clued into my game by now, you’ll understand this is merely my way of using up the allotted 900 word limit without actually ever writing anything. A clever girl I have always been.)
But what makes me fabulous?
All I can think of is this:
I don’t like strip malls.
I find them deeply disturbing and oppressive whenever I set foot in one. Angst, hyperventilation, diminishment, all hurl themselves at me with great ferocity from behind pristine panes of glass displaying the brilliant wares of jewelry stores and bridal boutiques. Everything, all of it, designed to deride and indict me for being the designated sole trash remover at my residence. Engagement rings, wedding sets, bridal gowns, veils and satin shoes, all implacably bloodthirsty in their mocking of me.
At least once a week, a well-intentioned person will ask me that series of dreaded questions that melts my brain into pudding. “Mariana, why aren’t you married? Why don’t you have any children? Don’t you want to share your life with someone?”
What can I do, besides smile and suddenly remember that I’m late for an appointment across town. You see…I have shared my life with someone.
She had been raised on an orange grove during a time when the Mediterranean was new, and had been put to work in the fields picking tobacco by the age of four. She had spent decades plodding barefoot in the rich earth of her family line, side by side with yoked oxen and had always confidently trusted in the robustness of her physicality, which served her well during the 26 hours of labor and endless bouts of childhood illness which I put her through. So when my mother’s body first began to betray that trust eighteen years ago, it was deeply and ineffably unsettling for her.
The odyssey began with a radical mastectomy that came during a time when my teenage wanderlust was in full bloom and restriction of any sort was rebelled against with colossal fervor. It also came at a time for her when divorce was impending. I remember quite vividly an almost imperceptible specter, the flash of fear, a stranger in my mother’s eyes, which instantly bruised my heart. The words bounded out of me with resoluteness, “Mama, I won’t desert you; you won’t have to be afraid ever again.” A promise born.
The years descended upon her and deterioration began to visit more frequently. Four strokes were followed by heart failure, renal failure, brain surgery, blindness and round-the-clock life support. She’s watched as I’ve battled hospital staff and governmental bureaucracy and stood in ICU rooms with arms outstretched, keeping sleep-deprivation induced demons at bay. I’ve bathed and bandaged and become embarrassingly familiar with every inch of her body and through it all she has maintained a fierceness and determination to overcome and thrive. And she has.
But once again I find myself on my knees, furiously scrubbing her bodily functions out of Berber carpet with my tears, mourning the eighteen years of roles and films which were surrendered, lovers who couldn’t stay, personal ambitions which were abandoned and opportunities which were reluctantly declined.
But now the soft winding down has started and I see her weariness begin to take shape. Her fragile hand cased in paper thin skin with blue veins buoying to the surface more clearly everyday, reaches out to me and wraps its gentle fingers around my waterlogged hand, and I remember Why.
Those fingers that always remembered to cut my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the bias. Those fingers that sewed buttons onto thousands of dinner jackets just so I could learn to play Chopin. Those fingers that encouraged me to write by patiently guiding a pencil in my hand the first time I put one to paper. Those fingers that will forever carry in them the through line of my life’s memories.
It’s not been a glamorous gig. There have been countless times that I have raged against this self-imposed commitment. Countless times which I am certain will haunt me when our inextricable course must finally diverge.
But I have kept my promise.
And I think that makes me fabulous.
©2007 Mariana Tosca