My mother cleaned the house every Saturday.
She took all the pillows off the sofa
To vacuum it, and piled them on the armchairs
Where I would sit and fish for my stuffed animals
From my pillow island, and when she was done
I would make a fort of the sofa pillows on the clean sofa
And play until I got tired or distracted
And my mother would put everything back where it belonged.
When we had my father’s friends over for dinner,
My mother polished the silver, and the copper casserole,
And she washed every single wine glass and liquor glass
And returned them, sparkling, to their shelves in the dining room.
When my mother cleaned the house every Saturday
I would sometimes hear her yell “Son of a BITCH” when she
Stubbed her toe on the bed while vacuuming
And I often heard her say “Jesus Christ!”
When my father was driving, but beyond that,
I rarely heard her swear.
When my mother turned fifty, she said
She was going to be old, or she was going to be fat
But she was not going to be both. She planned to be
Not the sweet soft grannie who baked cookies
But the mean skinny grannie who whacked the hoods of cars
With her umbrella when they inched too far into the crosswalk.
She stopped cleaning the house every Saturday. She started
Walking, and she lost enough weight to scare my sister.
We started having HER friends over for dinner
And before they came, she did not polish the silver and copper
And she did not wash the wine glasses.
My mother worked at the Smithsonian for over twenty years.
She managed a museum shop, and supplied it with the most
Eclectic book collection ever to grace the shelves of an art gallery.
When they began to push out their older and probably higher paid staff
She retired, and went to volunteer as an invertebrate interpreter
At the zoo, where she explained the exhibits to curious visitors
And sometimes sang The Octopus’s Garden to the octopus,
Even after one of her fellow interpreters informed her that sometimes
The exhibited animals, their visitors, and their singing interpreters
Were live streamed on the internet.
When my mother was clearly dying of cancer
Her neurologist wanted to insert a shunt in her brain
To deliver chemo directly to her brain and spinal column.
I asked my mother what she wanted from treatment,
And she said “Not to be in pain any more.”
So I asked the neurologist what this would do for her
And I relayed the information to my mother:
This will not help with your pain. It will not help you walk.
It will give you, at the most, six more months to live
Pretty much the same life you are living right now.
She looked past me as I sat on the foot of her hospital bed,
Staring at the wall for a minute, before her eyes returned to me
And she said “Fuck it.”
It was the first time I heard her say it