The Last Goodbye
By Mubarak S. Dahir
DECEMBER 28, 1998: I am rubbing Margies tiny fingers, literally for dear life. An unwelcome bluish tone has started creeping into her fingertips, which are cold to the touch. I rub harder, desperate to knead some color and life back into my mothers frail hands.
But even as I do it, a terrible pang deep inside me tells me that my efforts are futile. Margies chest is heaving deep breaths, but only with the mechanical aid of a ventilator. A large, white plastic tube is taped into her mouth, along with several smaller blue ones. Clear IVs run into both arms.
Margies hazel eyes have lost their usual color and focus. They stare blankly at the ceiling now. And she cannot talk to me in her rich Southern drawl, filled as it normally is with hope and optimism.
I do not know if Margie can hear my cracking voice. The nurses tell me when someone is in a coma, you just cant be sure.
I talk to her as if she hears every word.
But as I sit by her side in the intensive care unit, I know that what I must tell her is goodbye.
Minutes before her stroke, Margie and I are busy with the daily routine of her physical therapy. But this evening she seems energetic, even eager to get on with things. She is filled with optimism as she performs her leg-bends and arm stretches, but before long her wizened body grows tired, and she pleads to lie back down in the hospital bed. As she lays there, we talk about her return home, perhaps as soon as a few weeks away.
Then, without warning, her body betrays her optimism, and she is robbed of these plans. I dont see her again until the intensive care unit, with her cold, blue hands. I realize now that Margie will leave the hospital sooner than either of us had expected. And I know she will not be walking out.
Perhaps selfishly, I am thankful she has cheated death of a few hours, so that I may say my final goodbye. As I sit there holding her cold, limp hand, I speak out loud about the unconditional love she has lavished on her gay son.
I remember the early days of the epidemic, when, as a volunteer for a local AIDS organization, she manned a table in one of the gay bars, passing out leaflets on safe sex and handing out free condoms.
I recall how she demonstrated in protests outside the administrative offices at the university I attended, blasting the college for its refusal to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy.
I talk about the time she marched with me in the gay pride parade. She found herself to be an unexpected celebrity as she trudged along, plump and gray-haired, with her rainbow-colored sign declaring PROUD MOM. Then, as always, Margie was baffled at the attention she attracted. She couldnt understand why gay people, friends and strangers alike, seemed so enamored. She was only doing what any mother who loved her child should do, she would say. Margie won so many gay and lesbian hearts, beyond mine as her son.
And besides these public displays of allegiance were the ones that matter most, the innumerable personal ones. The unquestioning acceptance of my lovers, who were granted automatic status as family members. The daily reinforcement of love and value she gave me, not just as her son, but as her gay son.
In the last moments we will ever have together, I try to tell her that, through my tears, through the fog of her coma. As I do, I realize I am not saying goodbye. I am saying thank you.
Thank you, Margie, so very much.
Mubarak S. Dahir is a former Memphian and a regular contributor to this space. His mother, Margie, also a former Memphian, died earlier this year.
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