The combination of emotional suffering and regular exercise has given me what feels at times like superhuman strength. I have endurance, I have grit, I can hike for miles on end. I ran marathons in my twenties, but this feels different. I can dig down deeper. I have removed the limitations of my mind, and I am healthy. My body can carry me far if I get out of her way.
I spent last weekend hiking and backpacking 30 miles in the Grand Canyon. It tired me, but it seems as though I could have gone further. I could have done more. I wasn’t spent. But even so, the milage did take its toll, and my feet were blistered, my muscles protesting for several days after the trip. The first evening after returning to work and to my regular life, I eased my swollen feet into the tub and did a double take.
I saw my mother’s feet.
Well, not the feet that flew around her kitchen, making dinner. Not the feet that walked the beach in Mexico. They were the feet she had when she was dying. Puffy, tender. Like a baby’s. I would put lotion on those feet and ease them into her trousers when she was too weak to do so. I rubbed them when they were sore and set Epsom salt soaks to ease the discomfort. She would lean on my arm as she walked, hesitantly and slowly, the pain in her face evident. I couldn’t cure her, but I could care for her, and every slipper I slid on her feet and every pillow propped beneath her swollen legs was done with a frantic enthusiasm of a daughter that had to do something, anything.
We got pedicures about a month before she died and she went to the morgue with pink toenails tipped in white. She looked cherished, and she was. My toenails have canyon dust wedged beneath them, appendages ragged from hiking, swollen due to inflammation from long exercise rather than a failing lymphatic system. I think I’m far from my death bed; I’ve never felt more alive. But still, if you squint in the bathroom , you can see them there, my dying mother’s feet peeking above the bathwater.
Galveston, August 2011
She doesn’t visit me often in my dreams. I don’t hear her voice echoing in the quiet. She feels far away, she feels gone. But I have visions like this one, where she and I are a circle, an ouroboros. My legs, her feet. My eyes, her smile. I am not superhuman. I am just a person, fleshy and messy and powerful and weak. I am living, I am dying. I carry my mother with me, and she carries me forward. Her death is part of my life, as my life was part of her death. We ended, and we have only just begun.
We are one.