Mercy

I’m sorry for that place you last lived, if that was living. I hated its tired floral décor and it’s endless wings, strewn with wheel chairs, walkers and nurses’ stations like an obstacle course. I’m sorry that when the man in the open-backed gown reached out his hand, I pulled away. I’m sorry I didn’t play Chopin waltzes on the piano for the bored, haggard women in the cafeteria. I’m sorry that I didn’t start the VHS player for those vacant eyes glued to the fuzzy screen. I’m sorry all those twisted, Cubist faces so haunted me.

I’m sorry the numbers on the clock scrambled, the hands circled counterclockwise, that your favorite velour sweater sets began disappearing, even after my mom carefully scripted your initials on the tags. I’m sorry that to you, the Nigerian nurse who brought your meals was a “spook.” I’m sorry that you took more pills than you could swallow. I’m sorry you had to relieve yourself like a child, strapped into a plush diaper. I’m sorry that your sudden attachment to an old stuffed animal of mine—a plush duck—disgusted me. It’s sweet, mom said. I’m sorry I kept it.

I’m sorry I didn’t hold your hand as you drew a last timid breath through those plastic tubes, hanging like tentacles around your bed. I’m sorry it smelled like urine and that the nonsensical shouts of your neighbor kept you up at night. Until you could do nothing but sleep, that is. I’m sorry that I shouted to your gaunt face in those enunciated staccatos, that I replaced compassion with frustration. I’m sorry I pretended you were already dead but hated that you were dying. I’m sorry you became a burden, an annoyance, a door that wouldn’t stop creaking.

I’m sorry that losing our golden retriever, the summer after you passed, was harder on me. Your death felt more like mercy than pain. I cried all night when he died, but only a few relieved moments when you did. I’m sorry that mom, dad and I sat consoling him when the vet pushed something poisonous into his veins, I’m sorry all three of us laid our hands on his grayed, copper face, his arthritic hips, his straining rib cage. I’m sorry he heard I loved him as his eyes shrunk to glossy slits and his heartbeat slowed. I’m sorry that he is buried and marked in our backyard, but that your ashes are still un-spread in the Sound.

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