I was setting up a queue for posts for my book blog (because otherwise I’ll forget to post on it) when I saw an interesting topic for a future “Top Ten Tuesday.” To those not in the book blogging community, “Top Ten Tuesday” is a weekly meme now hosted by book blogger That Artsy Reader Girl where book bloggers list ten (or as many/few as they can) books/bookish things that relate to that week’s topic. Past topics have been things like “Top Ten Books To Read on the Beach” or “Top Ten Books That Give Me Nightmares,” a simple and fun enough theme that gets the book bloggers thinking about books and the blog readers adding more books to their To Be Read list.
So again, I was setting up a queue of “Top Ten Tuesday’s” on my book blog and saw that next week’s theme will be “Top Ten Books With Sensory Reading Memories.” The topic was submitted by Jessica at A Cocoon of Books and gave examples of what “sensory reading memories” entails: basically any book that you’ve read that reminds you of a certain time of year, what you were doing, where you were, who it was from, books that made you hungry, etc. It’s an interesting topic for sure, but I could only think of one book that gave me a clear memory when reading it.
I got Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes for my twenty-first birthday, or maybe it was for Christmas in 2014. I can’t remember which (already) though in my defense they were the same year and my birthday is two days before Christmas. It doesn’t really matter, but it does. It was my mom’s last Christmas and she spent it dying in the hospital, the book was one of her last presents to me.
I brought it with me to the hospital on what I guess would have been Christmas Eve but a lot of that time is muddled in my brain, the days blur together. I know she went into the hospital on December 17th and died January 4th, I got the book either the 23rd or the 25th so it’s up in the air when I read and finished it. In-between that time my mom’s health got worse and soon she couldn’t eat or speak or even stay awake.
But that isn’t what I’m remembering.
Whatever day it was, before or after Christmas, before she died and when she could still speak anyways, it was the only day I was alone with my mother in the hospital. It wasn’t for long, just the morning, just while my dad took my sister to an eye appointment. Except that she usually has to wait forever for those appointments. Either way, whenever any of my family members are in the hospital we rally with them. We’ll stay all night in the ER when one of us needs it, we’ll keep each other company until visiting hours end when one of us is in the hospital, we go to each other’s doctor’s appointments big or small, it’s not to be martyrs, we just don’t want the other person to be alone. But that day it was just my mom and I because of how doctor’s appointments work and the unpredictability of cancer.
Like I mentioned, she could still talk at this time but she was drowsy. She had a morphine pump, it knew when she was in too much pain and pumped the drug through her body so she didn’t feel anything. I brought my book because she had gotten it for me and because there were two options when my mom was dying in the hospital: I could sit beside her and watch her slowly die, or I could read and pretend all of this was temporary.
Regularly there was no time for reading, there was usually too many people in the room. She had a private suite and it could fit a ton of visitors, which was great in the long run. Usually there were the four of us: my mom in her hospital bed, my sister and I, and my dad. Her and my dad’s friends had been visiting from Florida which made two more, and she’d usually have a handful of friends that popped in throughout the day so add maybe five to that, and some of her old co-workers and I’ve already lost count. To keep it simple, there were usually a lot of people in the room talking to my mom or to our family when she fell asleep. It was a great distraction, spewing off the memorized lines of what my exams had been like and who my friends were and how is your Christmas going? But that morning it was just my mom and I, and there wasn’t much to talk about.
My mom and I always had good conversations, before and after she got sick, but the morphine was doing it’s good work at that time. Every so often she’d open her eyes and look at me, or ask a question about my sister’s appointment and I’d give her the update. Sometimes we’d try to have a conversation but she’d fall asleep in the middle and wake up later sorry she had fallen asleep. It wasn’t that the conversations didn’t matter, they were just hard, her brain was so foggy and the words were getting farther and farther away from her.
I would look at her as she slept, the twitches of her body, happy that she was still breathing, focusing too much on the breathing, because I was terrified she would die with just me there.
It might have been after an hour of watching and half conversations that I decided to read my book. I didn’t finish it that day, but I finished it quicker than a lot of books I read. It was something to do, it took me away from the hospital and from having to think about my mom dying. It was an escape, though it was short.
While I read my mom would open her eyes every so often and I would smile at her. She asked about my book and I told her the plot of it as best I could, she said I must have liked it with how far I’d gotten in such short a time. She fell asleep again, I read, she woke up again and she looked at me with her eyes in the past. She said, “I wish we could go to the mall again like we used to.”
And her eyes were drowsy, she was going to sleep again and I wish I remembered what I said. I can’t remember if it was “It’s okay,” or “Don’t say that” or what but I said something and she fell asleep again.
My mom would always take my sister and I to the mall, since we were very young. My mom couldn’t drive and we usually ended up going on a P.A. Day when my dad was working so we’d take the bus down and have a day with it. It was a normal trip to the mall: we’d shop, we’d look around at everything, she’d pay for my sister and I’s lunch, and then at the end of the day our dad would come and pick us up and take us home.
I don’t know when our last trip to the mall together was, just the three of us. Long enough that I didn’t know it would be our last one together. It hadn’t been done on purpose; my sister and I hadn’t zoned her out or insisted on going to the mall without her like kid’s on t.v. do, it was a slow thing. I learned how to drive and we started going with our friends, or just my sister and I would go. It wasn’t intentional; it’s just something that started happening with growing up. We started doing things on our own without realizing it, but our mom noticed. Maybe it’s something all parents notice, this place they used to inhabit in their kid’s lives that shrinks as they get older, trying to squeeze into a space that no longer fits.
And I missed it too.
I miss it still.
And other things happened that day too, a priest came in and gave my mom the Sacrament of the Sick and I was terrified the whole time she would die right after it was done. I remember my confirmation classes and the priest telling us all stories about cases of the Sacrament of the Sick where people were either miraculously cured or died immediately after. It was supposed to be holy either way, but I was obviously hoping for the former and dreading the latter. Neither happened on that day, by this point a miracle was too much to ask for, but I know my mom still hoped for one.
I don’t remember a lot about what happened in Broken Monsters except that I liked it. There was a young dead girl found with her torso gone, replaced with the body of a fawn like some forest centaur, there was an old woman with pennies for eyes, a taxidermist and some strange magical portals. It was magical realism which is one of my favourite genres, and it made Beukes an author I now loved and promised to read more of but so far haven’t.
I don’t know if the book is a trigger, some things are but I don’t care to discuss them all here point blank on my blog. I don’t know if re-reading it someday (if ever) would bring me back to that hospital room, back to my mom.
It wouldn’t be all bad I guess.
(Picture from my bookstagram.)