Wednesday, June 7
The day my mama died I'd been sitting there, wondering what I was gonna do, just like I had for the last three days of mama's coma. The hospice lady said I should tell mama it was all right to let go, but I didn't want to. I wanted her to sit up in bed and tell me what the hell she was thinking when she said I wasn't really her son. Who else's son would I be? Hadn't she been with me every single day of my life? It was only seventeen years, but I remembered her in almost every one of them. She was my mom as sure as August in Alabama is miserable hot, as sure as honey sticks to your fingers, and then she had to go and ruin it all.
"Jamil," she whispered to me, 'cause the emphysema had stolen most of her raspy voice. "I need to tell you something."
"It's OK, Mama. I know you wished you'd never smoked."
She done told me that about a million times. Made me swear on my immortal soul I'd never do it. I couldn't tell her I already had. It'd crush her. She wanted so bad to believe I was better than other kids who sneaked smokes out of their mama's purses.
"It's not that. Sometimes people do the best they can, but it ain't no good," she said.
She raised a bony hand for me to hold, her nails like claws they'd gotten so long. I took her brown hand in mine and leaned in close so she wouldn't have to talk loud.
"There ain't much time left, so I better tell you this while I still can," she said.
"Aw Mama, you gonna get better." I felt my eyes tearing up again. I'd lost track of how many times I'd cried that week.
"No, I ain't Jamil. No time left. I just want to meet my maker with a clear conscience."
I couldn't imagine what she was talking about. My mama always had a "strong moral compass" she called it. She taught me right from wrong with a switch so I'd have one too, whatever that was.
"Then what is it?" I asked.
"I ain't..." she paused, her face bunched up like something hurt her.
"You need a nurse?" She shook her head no.
"No. I ain't your mama."
"What?" I was sure my ears heard her wrong.
"Your real mama died and your daddy lives in Charleston."
"You said my daddy died..."
"It was a lie 'cause I wanted him gone, Gawd help me." Now she was crying too, tears running like rivers all down her cheeks.
Mama never told lies. Mama always obeyed the rules. When I was six and took a Tootsie pop from the store without paying, she made me take it back and apologize to the owner. When her paycheck was five dollars too much, she asked if it was right. She couldn't lie. It wasn't in her. My brain couldn't even think of her doing different.
"I did it 'cause he weren't no good and never will be. When he got arrested, I said 'You ain't my brother no more and you never will be.'"
"Your brother? He's your brother?"
"I ain't got no brother now, but he used to be."
So that was lie number two 'cause Mama always said we had no family left alive. It was just us.
"What's his name?"
"Don't you go looking for him now." Her eyes pleaded with me.
"I won't. Just tell me," I lied. I figured she lied to me so what did it matter now?
I didn't say nothing. I just sat there memorizing the name, wondering what he looked like. I'd given up having a daddy a long time ago.
Mama coughed like a coal miner, deep and loud, trying to hack up the fluid that was slowly drowning her. I knew that was the end of the conversation. She wouldn't be able to speak for a while after all that talking.
Later I asked the hospice lady what she thought of all that, but she just shrugged.
"Folks at this stage don't always know what they're saying."
Now it was too late to get any more questions answered. She went into a coma after that and didn't come back. It was like she had finished what she needed to.
Mama lay still as a stone, a part of the earth again already. She didn't care anymore if I had a daddy and she had a brother somewhere. She didn't care if I was mad at her, which I was. I would have swore if she hadn't beat it out of me when was ten.
© Lisa T. Cresswell
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