prologue  undone

Brutal. That's how I'll remember this.

I knew she was scared. She was always scared. But after nearly four months and countless arguments, she had finally agreed to go. Maybe it was just to get me off her back, or because my brother would be home in two days, and she didn't want him to see her like that. Or maybe she just couldn't take it anymore. Maybe the pain was finally stronger than her fear.

On the way to her house, I stopped to buy flowers. I’m not exactly sure why. I knew they wouldn't make it any easier; couldn’t change anything. I guess I just wanted to try and soften the blow—ease into what I knew was going to be a shit day. All I remember about those flowers now is how numb they made me feel. Pretty little reminders of what life could have been, but wasn’t.

As I drove through the streets of Boulder, to the house where I grew up, memories from my childhood came flooding back. On my left, the cemetery where we buried Molly. To the right, my old junior high. A few blocks ahead to the house where I hung out the first time I ever ditched class—7th grade German. Another mile or so up the road and I’d have hit the house where I had my first job washing Ferraris for my dad’s rich friend. But I turned instead. Onto the side street leading to my mom’s place, slowly driving past the old 50’s moderns and tear-downs-turned-mansions, until I found myself sitting in her cracked driveway, staring out the window. One last moment of life as I knew it.

I crossed the lawn, and took a deep breath as I unlocked the front door and slowly turned the handle. Inside, everything was still in the shuttered darkness. The quiet aura of a day that wasn’t quite ready for itself. I wasn’t sure I was ready either, but there was no turning back now.

I walked through the living room and opened all the blinds. Bright morning light filled the room. I set the flowers on the dining room table, then turned and looked down the long, narrow hallway to her closed bedroom door. I wondered if she heard me when I came in. Wondered if she was even awake. I walked quietly down the hall and when I got to her door, I stopped and listened. On the other side, I could hear her dog, Beastie, a sweet old thing of an Airedale, pacing back and forth, collar and tags jingling around the thick, shaggy hair of her neck, nose sniffing wildly under the crack of the door. It was nine in the morning on the last day of February.

I gently knocked, and from behind the door came a faint moaning sound. That's all she had left—she was done talking. I opened the door, and light from the hallway fell on piles of folded laundry and stacks of loose papers that were scattered all around. On the bedside table was an ashtray filled with half-smoked cigarettes, an open can of Pepsi, and the telephone she no longer answered. And there, lying in bed, fiercely clutching her blanket, was my mom.

“Hey, Mom,” I said softly, “it's time to get up.” There was no response. “I got you an appointment with my friend’s husband. We need to be there in an hour.” Maybe it wasn’t exactly fair to spring this on her first thing in the morning, but she had finally told me the day before that she’d let me take her to see someone. Careful what you wish for, I guess, because I really didn’t have a clue as to what I was getting myself into. Hell, she didn’t even have a dentist anymore. They’d shown her the door years ago. Probably got sick of dealing with her neurotic behavior, last minute cancellations, and nasty attitude. I’m not saying that was my mom's personality, by any means. It's just that she had some major anxiety issues about going to the doctor—any doctor. MD, psychiatrist, dentist, whatever. Didn’t matter. She hated them all. Stressed her out and she just couldn’t deal. So when I ran into my friend, Karen, later that afternoon, it all just fell into place—she’s married to a dentist, my mom needs a dentist. Done. It was happening and there was no way I was letting my mom back out now.

“Un-uh!” she mumbled over and over as she shook her head and grabbed the blanket even tighter.

“I know you're scared, Mom,” I said, crossing the room to open the shutters, “but Mike’s a nice guy. Our kids play together. I promise he’ll take good care of you.” I was gearing up for her to keep fighting me on it—that’s how it always was between us. Only this time, she didn’t. She simply stood up from the bed and made a sad sound as she opened her mouth and motioned for me to come see just what it was we were dealing with.

I knew it was bad, even before I looked. She'd lost a tooth just before Thanksgiving and had been drooling pretty much ever since. The smell of infection was overwhelming, and the pain obvious by the sudden bursts of cringing and grabbing at her jaw. I knew, all right. We all knew—my brother, my wife, family, friends—everyone. Even my mom. Especially my mom. She’d been smoking Old Golds and drinking straight vodka nearly every day for who knows how long? Thirty years? Forty? We all knew. But what difference did it make? Didn't change the fact that she was standing right there in front of me with tears pouring down her face. Eyes wide with panic, staring into mine as if to say, What have I done to myself? Look at what I've done!

I leaned in close to get a good look. Jesus Christ! I thought, stunned. What the fuck is all this? Where the hell is her tongue? Why is everything all gray and black and white and sticky and . . . “It's okay, Mom,” I told her, trying to keep my voice steady. “It'll be all right. We'll take care of it.” I put my arms around her and held her tight as she began sobbing. “We'll go to the doctor and we’ll figure it out. It'll be okay.” Lies. All lies. She knew it. I knew it. Nothing was going to be all right about this. Nothing.

While my mom was getting ready, I went to the kitchen and called my brother, Jamie. It went straight to voice mail. “Damn it!” I slammed the phone down. Picked it back up and dialed again. Still no answer. Slam! I felt the room start to shift around me and braced myself on the counter. Took a few deep breaths, then walked over to the sink and puked. I grabbed a paper towel and wiped my mouth, then went back to the phone and called once more to leave a message. “It's really bad,” I choked out. “This is so much harder than I thought it was going to be . . .”

I went downstairs and stood shaking in front of the bathroom mirror, tears running down my face. “Jesus fucking Christ!” I yelled, slamming my fist on the sink. “She doesn’t even have a fucking tongue anymore! What the fuck am I doing taking her to the dentist? She doesn’t need a dentist. She needs to go to the fucking hospital. Fuck! I can’t do this. I can’t do this . . .”

And then it hit me. Hard. What happened to Molly all those years ago. I latched onto it. Said it over and over and over again, like some sort of twisted mantra—“If Molly can get run over by a fucking train, then I can get back upstairs and help my mom . . . If Molly can get run over . . . If Molly can get run over . . . Goddamnit! She got run over by a fucking train! This isn’t as hard as that. This isn’t as hard as what she had to go through . . .”

© 2013 Falcon Lounge Records, LLC.  All rights reserved.