On My Mother’s Knee-Replacement Surgery

Mummould

My mother took this picture. It’s mould she found growing in the refrigerator, on the surface of a long leftover batch of homemade pea soup, when she came home from a vacation. It’s beautiful and she needed to show us all before she threw it away.

mumteeth

This is a picture she took of herself this winter, when she was propped open, clamped, half-gagged, left alone to wait for anesthetic to set in before root canal surgery. It captures the dehumanization of dentistry with blithely understated honesty where there could be shrill drama.

When I was learning to be a person, the eyes that framed these pictures framed much of my world for me. It’s not that my mother trailed along after me, doting, driving, fussing over making sure I’d grow up to be an artist. Actually, it’s kind of a joke in our family that when I was born, she still wasn’t quite finished babying my 13 month old big brother so she lobbed me at my father with, “Here, this one’s for you.” I’ve never been sorry for that and the truth is, I was never far from her anyway. My father had my ear but my mother had my eye. I saw what she showed me—mould and teeth, pineapple weed in the cracks of sidewalks, clam holes in the sand at the beach.

My aunties said no one finds four-leaf clovers as easily as my mother does. She’d press them in books—thick, heavy, green books by men like Dante and Plato and Milton. She didn’t care for those stories but the books were kept through thousands of miles of moving house for our sake—that is, for my sake, and maybe the clovers’ too.

Get well, Mum.

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