Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cosa Nostra



This morning I woke up with a sharp pain between my shoulder blades.

It felt - still feels - as if a long, jagged knife had been stuck into the middle of my back while I slept.
It felt - still feels - as if the handle of that knife at some point snapped off, leaving the sharp blade inside of me.
It felt - still feels - as if that blade cuts a little deeper with each move I make.

Let me be clear: There is no heavy lifting going on, no jumping jacks. What I mean to say is that, when I inhale, the expansion of my chest to let air into my lungs causes the constant pain to become sharper, clearer, more intense. It hurts to breathe. Other things that hurt include:

Lying on my side
Lying on my back
Lying on my stomach
Sitting up
Standing up
Putting two slices of bread in the toaster

You get the idea.

I love mafia movies. Invariably in these movies, there's some WASPy, rookie cop who asks what "cosa nostra" means, to which the older, seasoned detective always answers, "It's what the Italians call the mafia...it means "our thing.""

Words and phrases lose a lot in translation. "Cosa nostra" shouldn't be translated in such flat terms. The phrase is charged with emotion - love, even. It's not "our thing." It should be something more like, "this thing of ours" or "this thing we share."

The pain of crumbling bones is not one of the things I thought I'd end up sharing with my mother. It's certainly not a thing I ever hoped to share with her, or that she ever would have hoped to share with me. But here it is. This thing of ours. This thing we share.

When I wake up on a morning such this one, and feel that knife in my back, I can't help but imagine my mother: 22 years old, pregnant, suffering from asthma so severe the doctor worries she might die in the same way her sister died - gasping for breath. He has her come in every morning for a shot of steroidal drugs. Drugs that keep the asthma at bay and allow her to breathe, and her baby to grow. Drugs that also, over time, turn her bones into brittle pieces of chalk. I imagine this as I roll out of bed. And, as that rolling movement makes the pain between my shoulder blades sharper, clearer, and more intense, I imagine being that baby who was not yet born when those life-saving, bone-crushing drugs started flowing through our shared blood stream.

This thing of ours. This thing we share.

When I put it in these terms, it's so much easier to bear.


7 comments:

shirley said...

I love and I hate this.

Stacie said...

Oh man, those steroids are so hard on bone. I think they used to use higher doses before they realized the extent of that. I'm sorry you hurt. This is beautifully written though.

Jasbir Kaur said...

Me too. I love and hate this! I

goodnightalready.com said...

This is strikingly beautiful.

(Megan) said...

Woah. This packs such a punch. The organization and flow of your piece, how you reveal things to us as we move down the poem, is just right. Job well done.

Asha Rajan said...

Beautiful and poignant and tragic. I'm delighted by your connection and deeply saddened by it at the same time. So gently told.

innatejames said...

The saddest part of your story for me is the fact that the doctor was well-intentioned giving those meds to your mother (and you). The kind of well-intentioned that scared the shit out of me. Beautiful post.