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259 Iwas sleeping in a house of dying people. It was August 31, 2001. Mother had been diagnosed with cancer and sent to Hopewell House, a hospice in Portland, Oregon, where people deemed terminal live out their final days. The hospice included a guest room upstairs for relatives or loved ones. One room out of twenty or so. I was the occupant for that night and the only one officially not dying. Breast cancer had spread undetected until tumors grew on her spinal cord, sending paralyzing waves of pain up and down her back. She collapsed one morning in January. I got a call in my office at Arizona State University. One of her employers found her stretched out on the floor of her apartment, afraid to move. She had left a note for me, apologizing that she wasn’t leaving me money. “Your mother is irresponsible,” she had scribbled on a piece of paper after her collapse. “I cried last night, not because I’m going to die, since after all I’m going to rest. I cry because I won’t be seeing you again.” It was a nightmarish week. Carmen had collapsed a few days before with appendicitis, and then Mother succumbed to the pain wreaking havoc on her body. In her note she adds, “I’m alone. Carmen’s in the hospital, although she’s recovering.” The two women were in separate rooms in the same hospital, and their friends got an opportunity to see both on one visit. My mother found that funny and cracked a joke or two about it. “I chose the wrong week to get cancer,” she said. There she goes again, I thought, referencing Ronald Reagan in his assassination attempt comment, “I forgot to duck.” 8 Pterodactyls Carmen recovered. Mother was sent to radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Rounds of chemo prolonged the unpleasantness. Since the doctors had told her she was terminal, she decided not to continue with either radiation or chemo. Pain medication sedated her. She was given a few months to live. Eight months later, under medication, her condition stabilized. The chemo had worn off, and she began to thrive again. A period of adjustment , and unexpected calm, ensued. My mother, a Chilean immigrant, sixty-four, was expected to die any day. The doctors kept her at the idyllic Hopewell House, a home ensconced in a wooded area of the urban jungle, a place of tall pine trees, bird houses populated by yellow-headed blackbirds , squirrels in trees, and kind-hearted caretakers—a place in which one might choose to die. The pleasant ambiance allowed my mother to feel alive. One goes to a hospice to die, not to live in relative comfort. More than six months had passed since she’d arrived at Hopewell, and she wasn’t dead yet. The authorities expelled her from the hospice. The director announced the decision with a caring smile on her face. María was welcome to come back any day when she was truly dying. I had to find a dying woman another place to live. I flew to Portland with this singularly bizarre task in mind. I got in late that evening, barely had a chance to say good night to my mother, who’d gone to bed, and went upstairs to the hospice guest room to rest up for a long day of house searching. It felt soothing up there on the second floor of the hospice right above all those dying people, with the peacefulness of both the cradle and the grave. The weather was perfect: cool, breezy, Oregonian comfort. But at night, the demons are easily unleashed from the feverish imagination of a writer who thinks about civilization and death (Herbert Marcuse paired eros with civilization, but I for some reason—not well trained in eros perhaps—seemed to study the cataclysmic end of it instead). In a deep sleep, my mind drew up an infernal, foggy world with a noisy, violent scenario : The nation was under attack from the air. The aliens had captured Senators Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan (she had been elected to the Senate in my dream; Hillary’s election didn’t need my playwright’s enhancement ). The invaders used pterodactyls dropping bombs from the sky. A state of emergency was declared. I was huddled in a basement with other strangers, listening to news on the radio. The pterodactyls kept coming, pummeling the city with their bombs in the shape...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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