The Most Tender Bruise

The Anderson Sisters: Sally, Ketty, Sissy, Mimi

Last week, I banged the back of my hand against an aggressive meter jutting out of a brick wall. My fingers tingled, and a bruise immediately began to spread. (It seems I can’t sneeze without bruising these days). It was sore to the touch, and I whined about it for a good 24 hours. Today, I looked at that same bruise, green around the edges, and I thought about Mom. Her hands, her arms–they were covered in bruises during the last couple years of her life. IVs and shots and age and tender skin all combined to make her look like she’d been in a prize fight… one that battled on day after day after day.

Mom never complained about anything. Those bruises? Nothing to her. There was so much going on inside her body, so much conspiring against her, that she barely even registered those tiny, tender places. That small bruise I spent a day complaining about was a blip on the radar of Mom’s ongoing pain, but she never spoke a word about it. When her MS flared and her neuropathy was at its worst, she’d just say she was “having a bad day. And would you please rub my feet?”

I think about her pain often, about how it’s gone now, too. The blessing within the curse. And I spend many sleepless nights thinking about Mom being gone, too. About where she is. About how she is no longer. I have to keep from imagining her in that hot, dark crypt, her final resting place. I cannot let my mind go there. I was always afraid of the dark as a kid. If I’m honest with myself, I probably still am. But not Mom. We’d walk through the woods of Brown County in the deep, dark of night and she’d say, “Isn’t it peaceful?” And I’d think, “Nope. Not peaceful. Terrifying.” I’m not sure what I was so deathly afraid of… Jason Vorhees? Freddy Krueger? Something more sinister and menacing?

Never finding my way back to the light?

Disappearing forever?

For reasons far too numerous to expound upon, I lost my religion long ago. The Catholicism of my youth–the religion that taught me about heaven and hell and mortal sins and blackened souls–never truly resonated with me to begin with. It only scared me. Made me fearful to move, to think, to breathe. After all, thoughts of sin were as dangerous as the sins themselves, and my mind never stopped racing. I asked far too many questions, and Sister Veronica Ann would lose her patience. “You just have to believe,” she’d say.

Like clapping for Tinkerbell?

Losing my religion meant losing an elusive god as well. But I was never a fan of a god who would let children die of cancer and babies be slaughtered in Rwanda. “Everything happens for a reason” is a statement I cannot reconcile. What is the reason for rape and murder and bloodshed? What is the reason for telling those who love differently that they are an abomination? For making sure trans children feel less than in the name of righteousness? Whatever the reasons are, I cannot abide by them. I cannot play a part.

But losing my mom leaves me in a quandary. I will never begrudge those who feel she is somewhere better, that she is in heaven, that she is reunited with her lost loved ones. I am happy they find comfort and solace in those beliefs. But I don’t share them. For me, Mom is just gone. A beautiful, light-filled, loving spirit extinguished by the last day that’s ultimately coming for us all. It’s a hard pill to swallow, a bitter one. In the darkest hours of the night, I am overcome by her absence.

I am crushed by the nothingness of her.

In the still morning light, though, I look down at my hand, the one with the green edges of a bruise dissipating into familiar wrinkles, and I say to myself quietly, “Oh. Mom. There you are.”

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