Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Father, Son, and Holy Toast
My mother was searching for a word, but it refused to be found. At last night's dinner table she told M and me how she often fainted at Mass as a girl. The word she couldn't quite muster was "Communion," or perhaps "host." Her eyes flutter at these moments, as if the blinking might cause the word to materialize, writ in front of her. But, no. This word, like others, had somehow sifted itself into the dustbin of her 88-year-old brain. "You know," she said, "when they put the toast in your mouth." We knew exactly what she meant--and she went on to tell us that she fainted every Sunday at Communion time. Too many people milling around, she theorized. Too much heat.
It seems, sometimes, that my mother has reached a point where her first and only language is becoming, by small increments, foreign to her. After her pre-dinner martini, she often speaks English the way I speak French. Creatively. Through a roundabout back door, where you are forced to explain the more sophisticated concepts or ideas with words that you know compensating for the words you don't know.
I also wonder if these teen-age fainting spells prefigured her mid-life diagnosis of narcolepsy and sleep apnea. These days if the conversation lulls at dinner, her eyes close, and she sometimes lists to one side. "Mom," I say, "You're falling asleep." Or, "Mom, don't fall off your chair." Her eyes might flutter open then, or she might speak to me with them still closed.
"I'm awake," she'll say. "Awake, but far away." She never says where she's been exactly. But maybe she's in church, fainting--there in the company of her long-dead mother. There with her sisters, smelling the incense, feeling the heat, and falling to the ground.