I walked passed a dead tree.
We will die and our relationships will, quite possibly in time, die as well. Everything must die eventually so why not trees, they are not exempt. I noticed there were two apples, badly bruised and hardly hanging on to branches overhead. I imagined long, shriveled hands extending out of darkened robes and presenting the apples to me. Who were the apples? What does your tree say about you? I looked behind me, it was Whitestone but not quite, It felt like something familiar but portentous.
It was a house I used to live in, broken down into quadrants, as if someone divided it with a can of spray paint. This house was something from a past life, or a moment in this life that has been exhausting enough to completely block out. It appeared that I was returning to this home although it was odd since I was aware I no longer inhabited that house, and hadn’t for years. How is it you can be aware of the fact you’re dreaming? a kind of deja vu. I was standing before the door. The white paint, weiss, was cracked and rusted on the storm door. I was consumed with the same dread that swelled within me every time I returned back to one of those houses. Would this be the time I find Hattie? If I found Hattie dead in my dream would it be a prophecy? Predetermination is not real, i reminded myself. Fate is pretend. Finding my Mother dead was the last thing I would ever want to happen.
I reluctantly entered the house, looking behind me for people. Who now lived here and was anyone home? It underwent a swift change. I looked down, I was no longer in jeans and a t-shirt, but in my new suit. No shoes. My bleached white feet, weiss, was so bright my feet gleamed. Inside this room, which apparently was a dining room. I saw myself, I was with Hattie and Catherine around a dinner table. Hattie spoke to a younger harsher version of myself, asking if they could talk, if they could be friends. Young Wilhelm stood, vehemently screaming, ‘No! We are not fucking friends, I have nothing to say to you.’
I regret to confess to you that I usually behaved with an over abundance of insolence. I was a real cunt.
They were gone in an instant, and I could hear “No one cares about you” over and over, reverberating through this strange place.
I walked down the hall following horse shoe tracks in the carpet, calling out to her, “MOM!” Where the fuck did a horse come from?
The tracks were the only trace of my father, a nod to his departure, leaving nothing behind but instilling me with our mutual desire to mosey on. I’d paint Whitestone red if I could, Queens, the whole of New York if I was more ambitious. Did Cowboys head west for profit or to leave their past? The shame and guilt tears at a man’s core. But not all men. I never realized how fundamental an Irish goodbye was in regards to Westerns.
I got to the end of the hallway and knocked on the door, “Mom! Are you okay?” I guess we were always liars, lying to ourselves. A waste of time asking questions when we all knew the answers.
The door opened. Hattie was on the floor. Nothing unusual there. I checked her pulse, relieved to find slow drunken rhythms of a broken heart. The thought of my own pulse makes me anxious. The fact that veins and arteries are dispersed throughout my own body are more than enough to make me want to faint. My central nervous system processes bad information. Why do I tell you these things about myself? The floor cracked open and Hattie fell into the hole, a darkened void. I was frozen, when the floor beneath me broke, I fell into an old bedroom room that I once occupied, not a bedroom that was mine, but more like a stranger overstaying his welcome.
I took a stuffed animal and sniffed it. I got up and walked through the house, Hattie’s second husband was on the couch. “Your mother is in the hospital again. Nice suit.” He scoffed.
“What is wrong with my suit?”
“Keep pretending, you can dress up shit but it’s still shit. When your mother’s gone you and your sister will no longer stay here. Got it?”
“I got it,” I opened the door and was smashed by a wave of scotch. It knocked off my feet, and washed me onto the shore, through the opened electronic glass doors of a hospital. Booth Memorial. No one seemed to find anything abnormal about an ocean of scotch breaking waves into the lobby, it threw me into the front desk. It slammed me hard, I coughed, spitting out a twelve old year old single malt and snot.
“Who are you here to see.” Said a women who looked like Mrs. Healy, in an old purple sweater.
“Hattie. My mother, please.” I said, loosening my tie.
“What is your name, sir?”
“Wilhelm. Wilhelm Flood.”
“Ok, what is your mother’s name?”
“Hattie. I’m sorry, I mean Harriet. My mother’s name is Harriet.”
“Harriet what young man? We need a surname in order to locate the patient.”
“I… I… I don’t know her last name.”
“How do you not know your own mother’s last name? A good son you are.”
I turned and ran, hiding in the first room that was unlocked. I was alone inside it. It was like any ordinary hospital room I suppose, an overpowering antiseptic feel. The last and only time I ever went to visit Hattie in the hospital was nine years ago on Christmas. It was cruel of me to never see her when she was committed. In a room just like this she spent most of the last decade, alone. Surrounded by sedated colored walls and machinery that dripped and beeped. It could be from a movie. It looked like props, stuff of science fiction. The obligatory wall mounted television with nothing intelligent airing. It was a room like this that I couldn’t enter. I couldn’t see her in the white paper gown, weiss, with the tubes sprouting from bruised veins. I just couldn’t. My difficulties with emotional expression is exhaustive and extenuating. How are you with your emotions?
“Mom”, I called out. I checked the bathroom, knocking lightly before opening, flicking on the switch. I walked around the bed, tabloid magazines on the chair beside it and strawberry milk and ice chips on the food tray. It had to be her room. I pulled open the shades, and it was snowing. I saw a car in the distance, spinning to a halt, a woman running away and a little boy standing, calling out to her. It was me in my red hooded sweatshirt, my younger self looking up to my older self with tear filled eyes, holding her driving shoes. Those tacky pink high heels. I felt my feet being dripped on, my suit was still soaked and pungent with drink, my bare feet were crimson, my teeth were falling out, I was bleeding from my mouth, profusely, I caught the teeth, when I looked into my hands they were pills, my hands overflowed with pills, I was panicking, I knew it was a dream but I was feeling overwhelmed and short of breath.
I heard whispering behind me, I turned, startled to be in a funeral parlor. I heard all of their thoughts clearly, You are cliche. You are a bastard. He never cared about her when she was alive. I heard everything all my head. I always had. so did Hattie. A man I didn’t know motioned for me to advance. He was something from an olden era. I walked passed the rows of people, people I knew, some strangers, people I loved and admired and people I’ve tried to shut out. I walked in my suit, shoeless, with a blood smeared face but I had grown new teeth, or they just appeared back into my mouth, I felt self conscious and scared.
He showed me the woman in the casket but I didn’t recognize her. She didn’t look like something that recently expired, she was something monumental. She was a person from long ago, in an ancient civilization exhumed from some puzzling sarcophagus brought here to teach us the meaning of life. Life is about lessons, so we should try to learn from her, from her mistakes. How could that be Hattie? Unrecognizable. Mummified. All of those woman with bemoaning eyes I pass in the street, they all remind me of Hattie, it is simply not accurate. They don’t look Hattie and Hattie looks nothing like them, at least not anymore. Maybe I no longer recognized my mother. This was what I knew I couldn’t handle. The king of rock ’n’ roll was speaking at the podium on behalf of Hattie.
“Who are you?” I asked, still standing over Hattie’s corpse.
“It is cliche but you can’t help it, you are pathetically textbook. You are too late. You fell right into your role without much struggle. Hand me that hammer, son.”
I gave him a hammer that lied beside me feet, “Why is there an Elvis impersonator here? Doesn’t that seem inappropriate?”
“What is appropriate? Can you answer that? She loved the King. So I’m here. It’s almost your turn to eulogize your mother”, he said. “Say all those things you should have said when you had the chance.” He guided me to the me to the lectern. The strange man clapped, “Thank you very much, King. There you go, Wilhelm. Your audience awaits you. Don’t fuck it up like you do everything else. No pressure.”
I looked at the casket, it was white and studded, matching Elvis’ jumpsuit. The front row had eight chairs, all seated with Catherine of various stages in her life, from a child to present day. Catherine, young and crying in her pajamas all the way up to Catherine dressed in black looking much like the way I left her today, pretty and stressed. The faces of all my relatives and friends staring coldly at me, shunning me, avoiding eye contact with me. Why is it I couldn’t look them straight in the eyes?
What if it’s all my fault, everything?
I attempted to make a sound, but when I opened my mouth, I hesitated, I didn’t know what to say. There was so much I could say but sometimes it’s physically impossible to speak. I shut down so easily. There was a steady pulse of hammering noises. The man looked back at me, nails dangling from his mouth and falling from his hand, fumbling with red strings. He had nailed a charred heart and speckled lungs onto the wall. “I’m working here. I have to complete this piece. I call it circulatory system. What Hattie required to get through life, through each sorrowful day took a toll, a fatal one on her body. Her rotting insides are a testament to deprivation. There are three distinct parts: the pulmonary, the coronary and the systemic circulation. Just breathe. Take it all in. Go on, Wilhelm. I am listening. We are all listening.”
I stood at the lectern and rubbed a smudge on the wood. “I’m Wilhelm Flood. Hi. Hattie is my mother. Was. Is. I don’t know. I am her misbegotten child, her fruitless son. She was a beautiful woman. Hattie was someone I should have spoken to but couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Her heart was so big and broken and I couldn’t help her fix it. No one could. No one could ever. When Hattie was her normal self she was someone I had the greatest affection for, I mean naturally. She was my mother but that is not even it, she had personality, you know, she was funny. But she needed to be saved and protected and there wasn’t anyone who could do those things. All the kings horses, you know. There was no restoration for her or us after a certain point, that was just it. She would do the sweetest things for us, for my sister and I but we lose sight of the good. We forget the good times. Why is it the bad memories always present themselves in the mind. Why do we go to those dark places? I want little good memories. Who knew a grilled cheese sandwich could be so thoughtful. It sounds so dumb. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to do this. Things just got so bad and I allowed myself one vice to cope and it was hatred. I let hatred nip at my heart until it swallowed the whole thing. It was a self-defeating tactic but I couldn’t watch her destroy herself anymore and I couldn’t stomach the chaos of the shedding households without it. I wouldn’t talk to her. I couldn’t forgive her for the look on Catherine’s face. I couldn’t forgive her for all the broken promises. Forgiveness is the last step and I guess so is death. If I knew how to say the right things, if I did, if I just spoke, if I knew how to communicate maybe it would have all changed for the better instead of for the worst. I am sorry. Suedehead. I am so sorry that it’s like this. That is was like this. But it was the only way it was going to be. It’s funny I understand Hattie, I possess the same personality traits, the torment of never being comfortable in your own skin, the overwhelming fear of being yourself. Low self esteem. Poor self image. I get those things. Catherine was stronger. She assumed her role of caretaker and became the parent. I was remote and angry, it is only now I embrace my awkward and anxious inner workings, she allowed herself remedies that took over and annihilated her whole being. Hattie had relinquished her self. Having an understanding of these things doesn’t quite mean it can be controlled. I apologize for my embarrassment of you, Mom. I am a coward. Your son is a coward, frightened and ashamed. I am ashamed of us both. And I thought about this dreaded moment for years, since dad left. He couldn’t stand it either. I used to cry and be scared I was going to find you. Our relationship was destroyed. Our family dissolved and then I cried, as I am now. Catherine and I left and I feared everyday we would get the phone call to inform us of your death. I’ve written a eulogy for you everyday for years, without even knowing it. Hattie thought everyone hated her and it was only me. And deep down it was the biggest lie I’ve ever told. She would be crying and she’d slur the words, I love you. She just needed love. That was all. And I would stare into her brown eyes without saying a word, because I was too damaged to give in. I was too resentful to say I love you back. I was never a strong person, Catherine is the strong one. I am a bastard. And I have let the world down and I am sorry. I fear I am a bad person. I have to go.”
“You always have to go, you always want to leave it all behind, especially us.” Said Catherine, all eight versions of her in unison. The strange man rushed Elvis to the podium for an impromptu encore of Are You Lonesome Tonight. The Floods are lonesome every night. It is not even a question.
“You’re always sorry.” Said Catherine, all of them, again. Did anyone know me at all? If sorry was a color what color would sorry be? I’d paint the whole world that color to show how sorry I am.