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  • Ma and Me
  • Sandra Leong (bio)

She's the love of my life, for all my life, and she's finally confined to bed.

We've been home alone for the last 12 hours, an unbroken seam of pills, and feedings, glass tumblers full of cloudy water, soaked Depends, cryptic blood splotches, endless changes of linens or clothing, phantom pains, garbled speeches, and phone calls.

And this was just the first night.

When Lambert comes by to drop off the prescriptions, I barely greet him. He asks me how Ma is. I shake my head.

In her room, I place the new medication, the morphine, next to the others. It looms, the largest of the bottles, a prop in a Hitchcock film.

"Don't take 'em all at once," he tells her.

He jokes with her in a way I never can. She beams, llama-toothed, loving his sense of humor. Getting it, even though many of the words have lost their meanings. She feels recognized, provoked. She's always been morbid, and knows it.

He pats her muu-muu'd shoulder.

"When is that pigeon-head going to take me home?" she asks him.

You are home, I tell her. She's sitting up, throned in her motorized bed. Wearily, I point out familiar items, evidence in my defense. On the dresser, photos in frames, traditional figurines of Buddhas and Quan Yin, ceramic Chinese children. There's stuff we made together, silk flowers, glass pillows, velveteen bears and frogs. And, on the walls, paintings we did separately: my Cubist flirtation, my Abstract Expressionist fling, my Blue Period, all art schoolish and naive. And the paintings she stunned me with the year I was finishing my degree, done spontaneously, competitively, in our garage. A floral still life, paint applied with a palette knife, hangs opposite the bed, signed with her Chinese name. No [End Page 111] painting in our little museum dates past the moment I, as if saying 'uncle,' packed up my last brush.

Lambert listens impatiently. He hates something in my tone. The words bother him, too. He tells me not to argue with her. He says I'm getting old, always stuck in the past. He's brought some papers to go over. He leads me into the living room, tells me to pay attention to what I'm signing. What if he's stealing my inheritance? We laugh. Sam (we've always called our father Sam) put every penny he earned into our education. We're grateful to him. We long for more.

The decisive fall came the day of my little brother's wedding. His fourth. The bride's third. Ma, before she became demented, would have been appalled at their spending a portion of the deceased previous husband's bank account on a ceremony.

There was hidden sadism in his wanting Ma there as a full participant, but I went along with it anyway. It was just assumed that I was in charge of her four changes of clothing, her gifts to the couple, the special trip to the safety deposit box to select and say good-bye to yet another piece of family jade. I had to get out the formal porcelain tea set, clean the greasy dust from its curves, and buy fancy tea. I never shirk my hand-maidenly duties. By the time a bunch of cousins called to help, I was good and ready for it. Relatives forget about you day to day, but for weddings there's a resurgence of familial urges, a few hours of being somewhat taken care of for a change. Relief from being solely responsible.

I'd gotten her through the noisy dim-sum lunch in the packed hall. Later at home we'd changed and sat stiff as ventriloquist's dummies, while Viva, wife-to-be number four, knelt in her clingy green cheong-sam offering tea with a combination of excitement and irony. Cousins came by to help with the numerous transfers, from chair to walker to elevator to car to wheelchair to restaurant to bathroom.

After the change from church to evening clothes, after we'd arrived at Tommy's on Grant...


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pp. 111-124
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