“I love you, gorgeous girl!” says Mom. I am between sleeping and waking, delighted to hear her voice. She sounds like she did in her thirties: vibrant, happy, raring to go. Her energy warms my heart, causing an hours-long smile. Unbeknownst to me, her body is in the New Orleans VA hospital: COVID, pneumonia, collapsed lung. She’s on a ventilator, and slated for dialysis.
“I’m not dying,” she says when I finally receive the messages from brother, doctor, father. She repeats this all week as I cycle through the stages of grief, reminding me that the body dies, but the spirit cannot. I take long walks, commune with the mountains, get my ass in the ocean often. “Stay where you are and write.”
I finally connect with my brother Friday afternoon. He yells and cries, “Where have you been? Don’t you want to be a part of this?” After awhile he is able to hear me. I am a part of this. We’re all a part of this. And the woman told me to stay here.
I haven’t always obeyed her in the past — ha! But the mountains chime in, Stay. I walk to the sea after we hang up. Should I go? Should I stay? The Clash song has never been more relevant. Clarity arrives on the hike back up: mountains don’t lie.
I email my father, “Not going to NOLA at this time.” Then notice a voicemail. “She was just waiting for us to talk,” says Jim with a laugh-sob. “The doctor called. She’s left her canoe.”
Her labels and names: Daughter, Niece, Friend, Dancer, Pianist, Lieutenant, Wife, Lover, Mother, Aunt, Irish Catholic, Pagan, Fighter, Pacifist, Pat, Mary Pat, M-Pat, Mom, Mary PK Turn, Bitch, Witch, Liar, Storyteller, Physical Therapist, Divorcée, Kinesiologist, Student, Healer, Teacher, Guru, Smoker, Alcoholic, World Traveler, Tree Whisperer, Pizza Slut, Grandy, long-time Jazz Fest Supporter and Second-line Follower, Catalyst — all gone.
She’s just as chatty now as when she was embodied. We had a fight about which path to take to the snorkel spot on Saturday. A dead tree limb whacked my cheekbone, drawing blood. Bushes scratched my ankles. But I stayed on my path, not hers. We are both hardheaded, even without a head.
Today she is gleeful, untethered, opinionated, apologetic. Am I delusional? Am I just talking to myself? Doubtful. She is still one of the few people who can make me laugh until I pee my pants.
This morning I hike down to a saline pool on the edge of the island and float. Tiny pale fish gently nibble my body: armpits, legs, face, eyelashes, arms. We lived in Klamath when I was five, after Johnny left his body. I’d sit on the dock over the river and let the fish tickle my toes. Today, as then, it makes me giggle. I am food.
Mary Patricia Kathleen Magonigle VanTine Braunlich — I am loving you.
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