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She only needed to complete a couple more classes to graduate, and she would, she told me.
She would get her BA if it killed her, she said, and we laughed and then looked at each other darkly. She would be strong enough to start in on those last two classes soon, she absolutely knew. I stayed in school, though I convinced my professors to allow me to be in class only two days each week.
As soon as those two days were over, I raced home to be with my mother. Plus, I was needed. Eddie was with her when he could be, but he had to work. Someone had to pay the bills. I cooked food that my mother tried to eat, but rarely could she eat. I took everything from the cupboards and put new paper down. My mother slept and moaned and counted and swallowed her pills.
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On good days she sat in a chair and talked to me. There was nothing much to say.
I knew that her love for me was vaster than the ten thousand things and also the ten thousand things beyond that. I knew the names of the horses she had loved as a girl: Pal and Buddy and Bacchus. I knew how she met my father the next year and what he seemed like to her on their first few dates.
Cursing and sassing off to her mom, bitching about having to set the table while her much younger sister played. I wanted to know.
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But now that she was dying, I knew everything. My mother was in me already. Not just the parts of her that I knew, but the parts of her that had come before me too. A little more than a month.
The idea that my mother would live a year quickly became a sad dream. By the third of March, she had to go to the hospital in Duluth, seventy miles away, because she was in so much pain. She sat on the bed and I got down on my knees before her. I had never put socks on another person, and it was harder than I thought it would be. They went on crooked.
I became furious with my mother, as if she were purposely holding her foot in a way that made it impossible for me. She sat back, leaning on her hands on the bed, her eyes closed. I could hear her breathing deeply, slowly.
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It was a word she used often throughout my childhood, delivered in a highly specific tone. This is not the way I wanted it to be, that single honey said, but it was the way it was. It was this very acceptance of suffering that annoyed me most about my mom, her unending optimism and cheer. Her movements were slow and thick as she put on her coat. She held on to the walls as she made her way through the house, her two beloved dogs following her as she went, pushing their noses into her hands and thighs. I watched the way she patted their heads.
The words fuck them were two dry pills in my mouth.