We smooth out yellowing documents: birth certificates; the Nicaraguan passports that brought us to this country that October of ‘49, Mom a dewy red-lipped girl, Pop exiled and stormy, my sister and I just 6 and 5; the Certificate of Naturalization that in ‘56 proclaimed us U.S. citizens. As Mom fills out her new application, I watch her hand scrawl hesitantly, weighed down by fear of Pop’s blowup when the time comes to tell him. “Mimi, we are only getting you a passport… just in case,” I remind her. “If travel to Bosnia becomes possible, we’ll need to be ready.”
In this rare sliver of opportunity, her determination has won out over fear of Pop’s explosions and toxic silences. She’s carrying a prophetic urgency that time is running out –spurred by the specter that, one month ago, watchfully stood by as she climbed trembling out of her accordioned Mustang. After tumbling down an embankment and twice rolling over, it had plowed into a concrete retainer. Only a miracle, she said, could have spared her life. Now, her pressing mortality adds one more voice to the inner clamor always tugging at her. Despite Pop’s prohibition, her long dreamed-of pilgrimage to Medjugorje cannot be put off any longer.
Feeling Mom’s suspension between life and death swirls me into a moment one year before, another glimpse of Death waiting. Scott, 46, lay in a hospital bed, his tall lanky frame withered by a liver that had spent itself. The interminable days of repeated medical assaults on his frail body mounted while awaiting a donor. That same day, August 24th, 1990, Mom was celebrating her 66th birthday, and I was bursting with excitement that in mere days I’d be flying off to Kazakhstan for a peace march to the nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk. I would miss being here when my Sweetie got his new liver, but we both felt sure I had to go.
That morning I’d dashed from florist to florist looking for the perfect flowers to delight Scott and to celebrate Mom’s birthday. The only blooms special enough for either one of them were some miniature blue-violet gladioli, so intense your heart stopped, with edges delicately ruffled and brushed a pearly cream. But only three stems. Undecided who would be their recipient, I eased my trusty VW into traffic and knew when the time came I’d make the right choice. Minutes later, watching Mom’s eyes as she held the gladioli, their exquisite beauty opening in her an inexpressible longing, I knew they had been meant for her.
From Mom’s garden we snipped pink roses for Scott, large loose-petalled earthy roses, as voluptuous as a ripe woman looking you in the eye and parting one leg just so. Their rich perfume filled his small hospital room. With bony hands he reached for them. Clutching them to his face, his body shook with wrenching sobs for the country garden he would never have.