I didn't even know it existed...
Isn't life about looking for a way to make the truth more palatable? Maybe, maybe not; but creative nonfiction is the answer to a question I didn't even know I was asking. Creative nonfiction is a genre of writing that skates along the lines truth allowing a bit more detail. Take heed: it is not permission to embellish the truth - that is fiction. Creative nonfiction puts the truth in a box and wraps it with emotions and memories, finally tying the knot of the bow with a sucker punch of relationship between the writer and the reader.
She could tell you to go hell in such a way that you would look forward to the trip. Petite and primped, she was never without lipstick, mascara, and a bit of rouge. Today is her birthday; she is 76, and she is gone. I miss her presence in this world, not just my world, but THE world, because she could form it, deconstruct it and make it make sense to me. And now, I keep her in a box in a trunk that I made for her when I went through my repurposing phase. Now I am old enough, mature enough to understand that not everything old should be made new again. Some things do not deserve second chances. But Mom, she got more than just a second chance. She got the chance to live through death.
We checked her into the hospital on Oct.14, 2014; 10 days later, she was gone. Cancer of unknown origin had eaten her body; her brain, her bones, her liver, her breasts, her lungs, her kidneys, were just a breath away from becoming the blight at her love feast. And she had never exhibited any symptoms until that morning when she called me and said she couldn’t get out of bed. I lived an hour from her and called the ambulance. I met them at the hospital. She didn’t have on lipstick, there was no mascara, and there was no rouge. She was definitely sick.
They admitted her, and the Procession of Doctors began. She had survived four heart attacks and being hit by a semi. She was the human equivalent of a cockroach. And she had at least nine types of cancer that had never presented any symptoms. While the PET scan showed strands of black, indicating the disease, in every part of her body so that it looked more like a Rorschach test than a diagnostic tool, her bloodwork was fine. Typical for Mom: show off, the center of attention, the loudest person in the room, though she couldn’t say a word.
I was relieved when she died. To sit beside a dying woman for 10 days reminding her how full of life she once was is a horrible thing to do, both for her and for me. For a long time, I was afraid to say it, fearful of sounding cold and callous. My mother was never one to beat around the bush; being honest about how I felt about her death was my personal tribute to her. She would have supernaturally kicked my ass if I had thrown a big funeral with funeral flowers and funeral music and funeral food. She wanted a celebration of life, and that’s what we gave her. That little church in Shelbyville was properly pew-packed, the music was loud and very Southern Gospel, and when I spoke, I spoke the truth: she owned over 104 lipsticks, all of them a shade of brown. She never found the perfect shade of brown. She had salvaged plastic silverware from the church women’s banquet because she thought it was pretty. She had 30 purses, and in each one, she had a wad of Kleenex and at least 10 packets of Sweet ‘n Low. She had a crush on Keifer Sutherland, which she wrote about extensively in her TV journal. Behind the sofa, she hid Christmas decorations, in the dishwasher, Christmas decorations, under her bathroom sink, Christmas decorations. I was left with the job of dissecting her life.
There were medical professionals simultaneously dissecting her in death. She was in an anatomical research laboratory at a university. That was what she wanted. She wanted people to study her. “I will have value in death, I know they can learn from all of this,” she would say and sweep her hand over her small frame. When I called to ask if they would take her, they were iffy until they found out her indications. I could hear them drooling over the phone.
The research facility picked up the body and transported it. I paid the $750 cremation fee, and they told me they would send Mom back to me when they were done. Over the next 18 months, I received letters or phone calls letting me know that Mom’s tissues were being sent to China for a study on heart disease, that she was participating in a research study in Israel on the use of CBD and THC to treat cancer growth. Her corneas went to a six-year-old girl who had never been able to see. Some of her breast tissue went to France. That woman saw more international travel dead than when she was alive.
And then they sent her back to me in a box via FedEx with a thank-you note. One of the doctors had scribbled a note: “Your mother was an amazing specimen in death; I only wish I’d known her in life.” Yeah, well, she would have hated you, I thought. She hated doctors. She called it “white coat syndrome.” Mom was slow to trust someone coming at her with a needle and telling her not to be scared. “That’s a sure sign you need to be scared, Jame.”
I remember picking up the box of her for the first time, how heavy it was, and how silent. It didn’t make any noise; I shook it just to see. She wanted her ashes spread over the Painted Desert. I think she knew that would be difficult for me to accomplish and so she cremains in the red trunk until I can gather the time and the money to properly expend what is left of her to the universe. So far, there have been no supernatural ass-kickings to speak of, at least none that I can blame specifically on her. I know that at some point in time, I will go to the Painted Desert and open the box of her and let the wind take her where it will. I will probably get arrested for doing it, but it would be totally worth it. Mom would tuck her chin, screw her mouth to the right and say “Jami Paige…” as if I should be repentant about following her last wishes. But in the end, she would smile and laugh and shake her head. “You are just something else altogether, Jame, something else.”