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Sunday Soliloquy:Stirring a cup of DNA and Sympathy June 14, 2009

White, Awaken from the Unknowing-12 inch-High Res.

“A woman’s health is her capital.
-Harriet Beecher Stowe

(This post is in memory of my mother who died maybe today, maybe yesterday. July 27, 1938- June ? 2007)

Nicely laid plans are foolishly laid plans. I learned this about two years ago. If you could measure a year in miles then my mother’s death would have been passed by only two miles. See, that isn’t that far at all. Let’s pretend you were looking for a store to go shopping, perhaps for some imported yarn and darning needles. At some point you are in unfamiliar territory and you realize that you have gone by your intended destination without realizing it. You have arrived at the present point or moment by mistake. Your road map has the instructions which tell you exactly where you should be going. Your GPS said nothing about this slight detour. Two miles is not really that far. You could just turn the automobile back around and get back on track. Unfortunately death is not a shopping trip and there is no turning back. My mother died sometime this week of June, two years ago. Pushing back time is a frequent habit of mine. Remember 1 year = 1 mile. I am not that far off course. She is still back there somewhere, at a thrift store or five and dime waiting for me to pick her up. I have simply lost her for a moment. That’s all.

This anniversary has produced a series of delays in my posts. People expect that I have gotten over my mother’s death by now. I have not. Again 2 years = 2miles. I can still go back. Some connection certainly exists between the month of June, my fuzzy mindedness, and my increasing anxiety. The truth of the matter is I do not know the exact date of my mother’s death. It happened sometime between June 6th 2007 and June 14th. June 6th was the last day I spoke with her. Her electricity had been cut off and she contacted a friend of mine to tell me. I was somewhat perturbed with her. She had borrowed $89 dollars from this friend and she was without a phone. I lived 500 miles away from her so without a phone, communication was difficult. Social Security was not cutting it for her financially. She was only accessible through written communication. Now I was being asked for money for a cell phone. This was after she allowed the land line I set up for her to be disconnected for the third time. Mother despised land lines because of frequent calls from telemarketers. Hogwash, I thought she was as usual being stubborn. An occasional ring from a solicitor or two was a nuisance that was well worth its weight in the comfort and security of knowing that help was a phone call away.

Before June 6th, 2007 I had not heard my mother’s voice in exactly six months. It would be the last time I would hear her voice. My last words to her were “Is there anything you need from me.”

Alice Neel "Two Girls"

Alice Neel "Two Girls"

How appropriate a statement, for it summarized our entire relationship. On July 1, 2007 I received a phone call from the morgue telling me that her body had been found. She had been dead for nearly three weeks, alone as if she had no son, no daughter, as if no one cared. And so ended the story of Afrocity and mother, without a good bye. Nothing was ever easy with her. I cannot conclude what happened to her without going over that one prior conversation again and again and again. As with most of my reactions concerning her, of course I felt that she was my child and I had to help her. I dream of making some alteration in the tone of my voice during the call. Was it absolutely necessary for me to scold her for not having a land line phone. I should have just bought the damn cell phone like she had asked me to.

Here I am now, Sunday June 14, 2009. The sun is shining but who am I to enjoy anything. My mother is dead because of my own neglect. I want to think about what I could have done differently. That was my plan for today.

Of course this did not happen. How many times do I need to remind myself that plans never follow through because we are not in control of our lives? My phone rang and the number on caller ID was unfamiliar to me. Sunday meant that it was not a business call. I thought what the hell and answered it.

It was my sister. A woman I have never met.

As hinted in my earlier posts, my relationship with my father is a “work in progress”. I have known him for maybe four years. He has other children which means I have other siblings, or half siblings however you want to describe it. During his youth, my father epitomized the well known ghetto cliché of Johnny Appleseed. Spread as much seed around as possible in order to ensure conservation of the black race- the more trees, the merrier. Who cares that they have no roots or branches to success.

The woman I was speaking with had a connection to me. We shared DNA of the same man. She needed a “tree surgeon” and called me for help.

I will call her “Kim”. Kim is only 16 months older than I. I knew of her through my father who often commented on her “ghetto persona”. Fake blond hair weave, long nails, multiple kids. He called her ‘soulful”, which means “ghetto” in black code. In telling me this, I took away the impression that my father did not think that Kim and I would get along. I am far from ‘ghetto”. I have a masters degree, short nails painted with clear polish, no children. I live on the good side of town. It should also be noted that my father has three other children besides myself. I have attempted a relationship with the others and it was awkward at best. After mother passed, I did not have the patience for drama. Especially drama that involved new found family members.

This description of my father and his offspring should serve as a reminder that while I am trying to include him in my life, there is also a piece of me that is somewhat hesitant to get too involved. I have already birthed and reared a mother who died on me without so much as a goodbye.

My coping mechanisms are fried at this point. But still here I was on the phone listening to Kim, who has just been diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 41. Dad has told me that she wanted to speak with me because I was “the smart one” and I had real medical insurance. Kim does not and is on government assistance and health insurance. Once our conversation got beyond the awkward “Who is yo’ momma’s man” etc, the tone took on a subsequent closeness. Not only do we share the same paternal DNA but we are both women.  I jumped straight to the point.

The Thankful Poor, 1894. Henry Ossawa Tanner

The Thankful Poor, 1894. Henry Ossawa Tanner

“What stage is your cancer in and how where you diagnosed?”  I asked.

“Huh? I dunno. All I know is that the spot is bigger than 2 centimeters, so they have to take it all out. My reproductives.”

This was her neat characterization of having a hysterectomy. I asked her what sort of insurance she had. I already knew the answer from my father but I wanted to hear it from her.

“It is government assistance”

This means you are as good as dead, I thought.

“Have you had abnormal pap smears in the past?” I asked.

“Um yeah, for the last 13 years…”

13 years?? WTF? Kim is scared and with good reason. Like with most government health care agencies, the quality of “care” sucks.  Kim explained to me that there was never any real explanation or follow up on her abnormal test results. An interruption in her period necessitated a visit to her doctor. This was when she was told she had stage one cervical cancer and they wanted to do a hysterectomy.

“But I don’t want a hysterectomy. I want more kids,”   (Don’t ask me why)

It sounded as though the doctors were being vague about her treatment options, giving her a scarce amount of details. When the details were shared with Kim, they were rarely precise and varied from doctor to doctor.

Normally this conversation would have got me started on why government run health care is inadequate. Kim did not need to hear this. Indeed my primary focus is to help her, how is the question. Kim was nearly in tears when she told me how the doctor told her that she had cancer.

“It was like that commercial where the lady says he was mean-the one from the American Cancer Society. They have froze things off me before and put vinegar in me.”

Daguerrotype of White woman and enslaved girl

Daguerrotype of White woman and enslaved girl

Vinegar? What sort of quack is this?   “I know the commercial. You deserve better than that.”   But the government won’t think so. This is not my problem. Why am I on the phone with this woman I hardly know? What am I getting myself into? Does she need money? Why is she calling me today of all days?” I could not help my mother how the hell can I help this woman who is my half sister? This is Sunday June 14th, 2009, the second anniversary of my mother’s mystery death. But although I was thinking the bad thoughts of hanging up the phone- cutting the conversation short perhaps by using some lame excuse that my doorbell was ringing, I found myself giving her the number to my gynecologist. More than likely they will not take her insurance but I will call my doctor in the morning and beg her to treat my sister.  My doctor is a wonderful and thoughtful woman, she cares about her patients. I would expect her to treat Kim, as well as she would anyone with private health insurance.

Before ending the phone call, I assured Kim that I would speak with my doctor and call her tomorrow. If she is denied care, I suppose my next step would be to let Kim pretend she is me and go to another doctor. I think that is what my father wants me to do. That is insurance fraud and I do not want to involve myself in that. As with my mother, I am fearful that I am once again unable to help another woman in my life. Another woman that shares my DNA.  There is a faint sense of guilt coming over me already again. I feel guilty for having good health care. It was not always this way. My elevated status in life has afforded me what my mother, sister and father have been denied. Turning to the specific aspect of universal health care, it seems that Kim is getting health insurance from the government and it is inadequate. Just a band-aid. She does not have access to the best doctors or a say in her treatment options.  However, I can’t help but think why didn;t she do more with her life so she would not be at the mercy of the government to decide when and how she is cured.

As I continue my Sunday, there is no doubt that guilt and sorrow will be prevailing theme of the day.

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