"The Last Time I Came Home”

            The television whines when I come inside, and I hear the buzz of the fluorescent bulb above the kitchen sink, but my ears don’t twitch with the presence of another person.

            She ought to be here. But then, I know to take nothing for granted with Mom. It’s been—what?—ten years of this madness? There’s a glass with a few drops of clear liquid in it left out on the counter. I sniff it by instinct.

            It’s water. This time.

            “Mom?” No answer. Students’ papers litter the kitchen table. Essays on Frankenstein and MacBeth. The papers haven’t been graded—those poor students. They’re dated from last month. Criminal that they have to suffer a woman destroying herself.

 The smell of cigarette smoke has gone deader than usual. A week-old ashtray rather than a chain-smoker in the other room. Because I don’t gag in my own house, I’m concerned. Because the atmosphere has calmed, I can approach her room, her domain of drink and smoke and self-imposed solitude. This is what you’ll never hear at the seminars for dealing with addicted family members. They speak in hopeful terms; they’ll let you imagine a future of magical change. They never explain the failure, the cycle repeating endlessly as she drowns over the years in regret and lost opportunities. Nothing prepares you. You think you can handle it as it comes, but sometimes…

I am not ready for the blood.

The couch is caked in it—who knows for how long? A thick trail leads to the bathroom. I find her bloody, broken—hardly a person at all. I kneel closer, choking back vomit to see her struggle for breath. She hasn’t eaten for days, and a small, bantam woman as it is.

I wonder if today I’ll see my mother die.

I dial 911 slowly, like a drumbeat.

Things begin

            to fall apart

like a string-doll losing tension,

                        falling to its base.

I connect; I disconnect.

And then, as I hear myself give name and address,

I wonder,

After so many years and,

So many she’s hurt,

So many chances she’s squandered,

If I woke up to an atmosphere

even calmer than today’s,

and I saw a glass on the counter

without needing to smell it,

Would it be,

            Really?

So bad?

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