Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Excerpt: A Praise of Motherhood

MORE DETAILS on the author and book - see post 6 August 2012 below

It was Veterans Day; the Pope spoke into a microphone so the thousands around him could hear his weary voice. And in the airport lounge my sister and I waited for our flight to take off, trying not to listen to the televised broadcast of the Pope’s solemn speech. I held my sister’s hand and heard her say fuck for the first time.
“fuck, do you think she’s going to be okay”
and I said “I don’t know”
and she said “but why aren’t they telling us what’s going on”
“I don’t know”
“I don’t want mom to die”
“I know”
“I’m so scared”
“I know”
and the Pope went on, speaking of the dead, the men whose lives had been lost in a terrible war, and he praised them, their families, for the courage they’d shown. He spoke of Christ, but not much. Sometimes he closed his eyes and paused. From the airport lounge, sitting in front of the television screens, I had to rely on the cameras for a sense of what being there was like. Safe and comfortable and mourning out of patriotic or humanistic duty, in a spirit of contemplation. The Pope did not know that my mother was dying in a little hospital in Portugal. Neither did the lady who announced, on the intercom at the airport, that out of respect for the men who had lost their lives during the war however many decades ago now, we were all invited to stand for two minutes of silence. Everyone else in the lounge stood up, but my sister and I remained in our seats and hugged each other.
As far as I knew, my mother was dying or dead, a small, tanned Portuguese woman with curly dark hair and two dogs, two kids, a lovely loving wonderful lady, all of that sob-story stuff. It turned out that when we were waiting for our flight, she was still alive. She would only die in the evening, after the Pope was done speaking and everyone was having dinner and no longer thinking about the veterans. But nobody had warned me. Nobody had warned anyone. Everybody was on the way to Portugal, my uncle, my grandfather, me and my sister, all of us trying to protect someone. They didn’t tell me what had happened until I arrived in Portugal. I didn’t tell my sister everything I knew, which was next to nothing, because I wanted to think I could protect her. I spoke to my father on the phone and he was in tears: “I will be there when you land,” he said,
and I said:
“but why, what’s going on”
“I’m not sure, I’m not sure, but if I were you… oh, Jesus, if I were you I would brace myself for the worst”
And he broke into tears and hung up. They had been separated fifteen years.
On the plane my sister and I spoke little. I told her it’d be okay. I told her even if the worst happened, I’d be around for her. You’re my little sister. Tell me about Denver. How are classes going? She gave short, bored answers, and she asked me about my life. I told her I’d been about to take the train to Paris from London with a friend when I found out something was wrong with our mom.
“but what’s wrong with her” my sister said
“I don’t know”
“why don’t they just tell us”
“because they’re trying to keep us sane”
“how can I be sane when my mom is dying all of a sudden”
“I really don’t know”
When we arrived in Portugal, and I saw my family standing together waiting for us — my grandparents, my father, my aunt — I knew at once there was no hope.