What can YOU say in six sentences?
The walls of the Houston Health & Human Services office are pale gray and brown, the death requests blue, birth yellow. The chairs are deep chocolate brown with torn vinyl, occupied mostly by women with dark skin. We are outnumbered by children which is why most of the adults here are holding small yellow requests for birth certificates.
Lisa calls me to the first window, an attractive woman in her mid-forties with short black hair and cool blue eyes, takes my check for $10.00 and pushes a small rectangular piece of paper in my direction, ticket #296, then asks me to take a seat against the walls scuffed from chair backs as untold numbers have plopped down in the deadening ritual of waiting.
An elderly man is coughing violently, lungs wet and rattling, so I take shallow breaths and consider moving to another seat but stay put to avoid hurting his feelings, then I burrow my right index finger into a vinyl tear and push against the spongy yellow insides, just as in 1972 at the hospital where my mother spent Christmas after an alcohol binge and suicide attempt.
Lisa calls my name again a half hour later which is when I decide she doesn't belong in this gray torn place, that she is far too kind and intelligent, then she smiles as if she knows what I am thinking and hands over a blue form with my mother's name on it, the only blue in the room.
The next stop is around the corner, 1885 Old Spanish Trail, the Joseph A. Jachimczyk Forensic Center where I am assigned a red badge with yellow print: Visitor #056. I complete a request form and pay $25.00 for an autopsy report dated 9/19/1983 which I need because I have questions about her death, about what the neighbor found, about the condition of the mother I would never see again.
I'd last seen her on a Wednesday when she loaned me her pair of white nursing shoes and a $20, spoke to her by phone Friday when she asked if I wanted to go out with her and Nancy to a club - "I'll drink a Shirley Temple" - but I was studying for a test later missed to attend her surprise funeral; at the end of the call I felt a push to say the three words I'd saved too long, to send them across too many miles and years apart, the I love you that sealed us forever.
She died early on Sunday and when the police asked if I wanted to see her I said no because she was no longer in that bruised bloated body, nor would she be in the closed casket two days later, stitched back together like a monster after autopsy.
An abstract goodbye is never final so now I choose to see her, through the eyes of a medical examiner; it is unsettling to read a blunt dispassionate report about your own mother's corpse, a body once beautiful and twenty-five, cradling you in the safety of her womb, the body whose arms held and rocked you until your fever broke, the body who laughed heartily, walked like a proud duck, ate Fritos daintily, one by one.
In the report the familiar shape of my mother is cut, dissected and weighed on a scale, organ by organ.
The medical examiner, Dr. Espinola, reports that her eyes are brown, that her stated age is forty-four, that her body is in an early state of decomposition.
The report is twenty-eight years old but I feel compelled to call this doctor who disassembled my first love because he inaccurately reported her eye color, seeing only the old blood pooled behind a striking green. He knew nothing of her heart except that its surface was smooth and glistening, that it weighed 290 grams. He does state her cause of death as an "accidental overdose" for which my family was grateful since it meant her newly obtained life insurance policy would pay for the funeral, but after half a dozen failed suicide attempts one doesn't "accidentally" succeed. Yet now Dr. Espinola has me wondering because who chooses to die then prepares dinner for herself?
The tracheobronchial tree is completely filled with aspirated food material...
She choked to death, blotting out the bright green of her eyes, erasing memories and her true intention known only to a unique gray organ weighing 1390 grams.