The Whisky Blot
Journal of Literature, Poetry, and Haiku
"Happy birthday, Barbara," my favorite nurse, Ebony, calls to me as she snaps on the light and enters my room. I am propped on an angle in my hospital bed, which helps me breathe and sleep.
I used to love birthdays. Now, they bore me. We celebrate someone's birthday or some other holiday almost every day here at Alpenglow. I guess today is my turn.
I know the staff means well, and I always put on a happy face. But the truth is, I’d rather be with God. I am 95 years old. I can barely speak or move. I am either in constant pain or napping from the drugs they give me. I know it's not Christian to ask, but inside, I wonder: What did I do to deserve this?
“We have a party planned for you” she changes my diaper and props me in my chair. I have changed many diapers in my life. First for my children, then my grandmother, and later, my grandkids and my mom. But I always hoped I would not suffer this indignity. It’s so hard—being treated like a baby but understanding everything. People wish you a long and happy life. A little shorter would have been okay by me. Each night, I pray I die peacefully and as soon as possible.
She reaches into my closet and offers two freshly laundered cotton sweatsuits.
“Green or blue?” Ebony asks. She is attentive and kind, not like Nurse Sharon. Sharon texts all day, and she passes gas right in front of me. So rude! I try to reply to Ebony’s question.
My answer sounds like “Arrgh grrr.”
"Green? Okay. Let's go with green to bring out your eyes," she decides. Ebony dresses me. She tenderly brushes my white hair and clips a sparkly butterfly barrette above my temple. I would never choose to wear such a childish thing.
“Your family is coming with cake and presents,” Ebony’s voice is rich and honeyed.
I must have dozed off for a bit after breakfast. My daughter Clem and her son Brian await as Ebony wheels me to the great room.
“Here she is,” my daughter says. I feel foggy from the drugs. There are balloons. I express delight as best I can.
It sounds like “Yaaarg.”
My grandson Brian is handsome and clean-shaven. He wears a long-sleeved shirt to cover his arm tattoo. I don’t mind tats, but he somehow thinks I do. He also thinks he has hidden his from me all along. I allow him his secrets. I have mine, too.
“Hi Bo-Bo!” he says.
“Happy birthday, Mom!” My daughter's mouth is smiling, but her eyes are so sad. I know seeing me this way is taking a toll on her.
I eye the cake box. They brought an expensive cake from Beth’s Bakery. It’s a dense chocolate cake with a fluffy buttercream. Chocolate is my favorite. They will put a little frosting in my mouth. I have dysphagia, so I eat baby food. The euphemism for the slop is “puree.” Who would ever choose to consume cake puree? It’s better than salmon puree, I can say that much.
I take the energy I was going to use for self-pity and I try to divert it. I often pray for young people who have suffered all their lives. Never knowing what it feels like to run barefoot across the lawn on a summer day. Or to even have a private moment to dress and undress unassisted.
I must have dozed off. I startle awake, my grandson clasping my hand while my daughter sings. The staff joins in. They bring me the cake, it has many candles, but they cannot light them—fire hazard.
“Make a wish” Brian’s eyes sparkle. I see so much love there.
But my wishes have been ignored. When I was first diagnosed, I wanted to go to Vermont or Oregon. I asked for death with dignity. The priest said I could not do that. My daughters sobbed at the mention.
So, I smile and make a wish. My wish is the same as my prayer. I wish for an easy death—and soon.
Sarah Gauthier Galluzzo is a freelance writer and recovering Catholic who lives in Connecticut and travels the world.
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