She entered a room like a ship with sails full, her cigarette holder balanced between two fingers, eyes fluttering, smoke torn voice announcing her entrance. Her arms would sweep through the air dramatically as she feigned deep delight and excitement at the sight of all who were gathered there. She flirted with the men. She flirted with the room. Most of all, she flirted with life. There was no obstacle that couldn’t be overcome with charm and coquettish swing.
When she was ravaged with cancer and terrified, sitting on the stainless steel exam table, the minute the doctor came in the room it started — the batting eyelids, the pointing toes, the Southern Charm. It worked. Her doctor slid into his role of the gentleman savior, patting her shoulder, assuring her in soothing tones that she had time left. One year. Maybe one and a half. This seemed to appease her. Superficially. But I could smell the terror that screeched inside of her, as much as she tried to magic it away.
I think she knew the one thing she couldn’t charm was death.
I don’t know what made her give up the fight. One minute she was towing the line, not smoking the cigarettes that had ravaged her lungs, not drinking the booze that had destroyed her liver. She was gentle and kind, humble and loving in a startlingly new way. The next thing I knew she had suddenly given up. The smoking and drinking were back, as if she’d decided, ‘What the fuck does it matter?’
This was the worst time. The fangs came out then. This is when she would throw deep, wounding words like spears. Once her attack referenced a time when we were living in Puerto Rico. I was five years old and half dead from an infection. ‘That time in San Juan, when you were so damned sick...’ she said, ‘ You were such a pain in the ass!’ And a poison spear struck the five-year-old girl inside of me.
I hope she didn’t mean it. I hope she was just horrified and full of guilt. I’ll never know. The worst thing about death is that it keeps its secrets forever.