Saturday, October 10, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter, Turns Out...

Last year my father had heart surgery. It was pretty grim. And I was, for the most part, alone taking care of him. See, I don't have children so everyone assumes I have to do everything, because only people with children have responsibilities. I have a husband, own a small business and teach private voice and brass instruments classes, but none of that counts if you don't have kids. Not that I minded taking care of my father. I'll do what it takes. The only person in my family who has ever made me feel loved just for who I am as a person, even when we bicker, is my dad. But after so many days straight of not sleeping or eating I was starting to get pretty cranky. If my dad's cousin hadn't stepped in and relieved me a couple of nights I would have gone completely nuts.

I have a rather large family. My father is the youngest of 8 children. So when my dad needed a third transfusion I figured they would step up. Boy, was I wrong. Before the surgery my cousin and his wife and I gave blood, but that was used quickly. There wasn't enough for a third transfusion. I called my aunt and asked her for help. She said she would call her church for donors. I waited and waited and no one came. So I called an Army friend for help and exactly thirty minutes later there was a person hooked up to a bag donating for my father, then a couple more, then they took more from me since I was the "Emergency Direct Donor". See, in Puerto Rico,I found out, whenever you go in for a surgery you have to bring donors to replace the blood that you are using because there is a huge shortage of blood. Luckily I have the same blood type as my father.

Crisis averted and two days later I returned to my father's room from getting some coffee and found a group of people from the church gathered around his bed. There was my aunt with a bunch of strangers holding bibles. My father looked at me with pleading eyes and clenched teeth. He was not happy and neither was I. They couldn't give blood or help me out with a little bit of a break, but they're here to pray? In Puerto Rico hospitals you also have to be there 24/7 to make sure your loved one gets the right medication and a freaking bath due to the serious shortage of nurses. Not to mention look out for well meaning morons who show up with food you're not supposed to give a diabetic, like dad's roommate's wife. All of this was going through my head as the preacher lady opened her mouth to spew her verbal vomit. That was it. I lost it. And all of a sudden, in front of my father, family members and a bunch of unwelcome strangers - I came out. Talk about a show stopper.

Although I've been calling myself an Atheist for over twelve years, I've been one since the day all the nuns in my Catholic school took all the girls to the basement of the building to explain to us all about the menstrual cycle we were going to have when he hit puberty, and how it was our punishment for being born sinful girls, and how there would be pain because of Eve and yada, yada, yada. I was like - are you fucking kidding me? Except for flushing bananas down the toilet, I hadn't done anything sinful! I had a lot of questions. And when no one would answer me I took it upon myself to read the bible and my brother's biology book to try to understand what was going on. It was the best thing I could have done. Aesop's Fables made more sense. This was no punishment. This was nature. Not that it still didn't suck, it just made me feel better that it wasn't inflicted upon me by some angry, woman hating, invisible man. But I digress.

The filter between my brain and mouth was broken. Before I knew it, I heard myself saying something like, "You couldn't pray and give blood at the same time? Don't do us any favors with your useless prayers now!", and ended with something like, "If your Jesus actually existed, he probably would have given some of that blood he's always leaving all over perfectly good linen!" My cousin's wife grabbed me by the arm and dragged me out to the hall. I told her, "They have thirty seconds to leave that room."

It's a year later now and after a painful recovery and lots of disillusionment, my dad now lives with me in Florida. I'm so relieved to have him with me. No more worrying about his health from afar, no more emergency trips. I also realize that this is an opportunity to learn more about my mother. The other day my father made a comment that pinched my heart. He said, "There's a lot about your mother that you don't know." Well that's the understatement of the year. There wasn't exactly an outpouring of family information thrown about when I was a kid. My mother in particular had very little to say about her family. Everything was always so secretive. My mother succumbed to brain cancer when I was only 28. And between school and the military I had spent all of my adult life away from home. When she passed I felt like I never got a chance to know her. Not really. I missed out on the opportunity to do things with her as an adult myself, the benefit of her experience as a woman and her views on life in general. There's not a void, there's a black hole.

I look a lot like my mother. I have her facial expressions and her sense of humor. When she died it was hard for my father to be around me at first. I don't blame him. But it sure was hard on me. To this day I can't even be around some family members without them staring at me. Freaks...

Dad told me a story about my mother sneaking a bunch of "For Sale" and "For Junk" signs on his cousin's crappy cars. I couldn't believe it - I had pulled the same prank on a drummer friend of mine who drives a really crappy car. He told me, "You are more like your mother than you know. She was an Atheist, too." My jaw dropped. "Yeah, she never believe in any of that. The only reason you kids were put in a Catholic school was because the nurse at the public school you were in wanted to have you admitted to a hospital for Palor, because you had white skin and red hair and since you were Puerto Rican, you were supposed to be black."

I remember that day clear as a bell. I was sent, along with my older sister, to the school nurse for a required exam. I remember she was looking at our paperwork and had quite the confused look on her face. She kept pulling at my copper hair, looking at it closely and pinching my skin. Then she would open my sister's green eyes really wide and flash a light in them, then back to my hair. So annoying. Finally she picked up the phone and called my mother. A few seconds later I distinctly remember hearing my mother yell, "What?!" I could hear her yelling into the phone from the other side of the nurse's room. She sounded even more pissed than that time she found the doll head I tried to flush down the toilet. (yeah yeah I used to flush all kinds of shit) The nurse turned pale, even for a "white" lady, and looked like she was going to puke. My sister and I looked at each other and figured someone in the room was in a lot of trouble, and thank goodness it wasn't either one of us. Then next thing we know, I swear, my mother showed up in a fairy godmother *POOF!*. My mother was as white as me with the same green eyes my sister had, and there she stood yelling at this woman who kept getting smaller with every word. I learned a few words that day: Ignorant, Racist and Bitch. We were then pulled out of school.

My mother was an Atheist who never came out, not even to us. When I asked my father why she never talked about it, he said she thought everyone had to figure things out for themselves. Then I asked him what he thought, he said "I'm not a fan of religion."

I miss my mother. Having my dad here sharing his memories of her gives her back to me in a way. So I guess I have them both. Thinking back I realize that I grew up in a home that was filled with all kinds of music, books, games, we recreated lots of things from different cultures like miniature pyramids, and discussed different mythologies. They gave me the tools I needed in order to become a thoughtful, reasonable person. Boy were they sneaky rents.