Hospital Birthday


It’s in my mouth. At first, I thought it was in my jaw, the pain, like marrow to the bone. But I was wrong. It seems to be living in the saliva, moving between my teeth, collecting under my tongue, sometimes slipping out the corners of my mouth. The watery, moving anguish that is my son’s insanity. Yesterday was his thirty-third birthday. We couldn’t take him out to lunch because he’d demolished his apartment. Cabinet doors ripped apart, broken furniture, coffee and Gatorade all over the walls. He is sorry. He promised he won’t do it again. But it is not up to him.

Now my mouth burns even more as I look at him on the gurney in the emergency room: large mound of a man. I sit in the very corner of the room and my saliva starts to taste like blood. The pain. The fucking, never ending, pain. I can’t seem to put it down for even a minute. It tastes like red, red blood.

So yesterday was his birthday. His middle sister posted pictures of them as children on the internet. His delightful smile, the cartoon dimples. The future written neatly in skin-colored ink on the surface of his body. I could see it. I could always see it because I have the Mother Eyes. But it lied. The real story must have been written somewhere else in some other kind of ink. Maybe that’s what is accumulating like a tidepool in my mouth. The real story written in blood. The one where he gets the crazy eyes when he is nineteen and punches holes in the walls. The story where he shakes his head no when he says “yes.” The one where he doesn’t become a famous artist after all, he never becomes a husband, a father; just a big, vacant-faced person who lives on an empty island. The real ink tells me to shut the fuck up with my stupid idea of how it was supposed to be. Just let the truth swish around in my mouth until my teeth are like swiss cheese and my esophagus rots.

His middle sister tells the internet that he is her North Star. God help me, but he is mine as well. The skin-colored ink confirms this. Who looks at a careening bottle rocket and calls it the North Star? People blinded by love.


He is making wild grimacing faces and showing all his teeth and gums. I can’t take it. I pull the chair from the corner of the room out into the hall. I cover my face with my left hand (of all the family, only Nick and I are left-handed) and cry. Then I decide, this is a hospital, I don’t have to hide the fact that I am crying. I lower my left hand and rest it in my right just as a nurse places a small box of Kleenex in my lap. I just sit there and bawl. I make eye contact with everyone. I don’t care.

 Another nurse asks me she can get me anything. I say no, and I mean it. But then she says “how about a hug?” I surprise myself by saying “yes please” and fall into her ample arms and stay there a really long time. My mother told me that as a little girl I hated being hugged. She said I’d stand there, steel rod straight, and endure until it was over.

I don’t remember who that little girl was or what she was thinking. God, I wish I did. Maybe she knows the answer to the mystery of the ink. But she is not here anymore. Actually not here. The cells of my body have died and been replaced so many times in 62 years that my original body is gone. I look intently at my foot, tapping the linoleum floor and wonder if maybe, just maybe, a speck, a trace of the original me might still be on the very tip of a toe. Or what about my first permanent tooth, awash today in the blood-ink, is some truth written there?

I sit outside the room where my son lies making faces. I’m clutching the brightly decorated, single-serving Kleenex box, the police report, the never-ending paper cups of water they keep bringing me. A big, silly Sad Mom Doll (she cries real tears…) complete with accessories. The green bag labeled Patient’s Personal Belongings sits on the floor next to me.