My grandmother lifted her crooked index finger at me and said, “You have to be careful of those poisonous mushrooms.”
Her eyes were wide and worried, like Minnie Mouse, or some other anthropomorphized animal from an old cartoon.
I nodded at her with mocking congruence. “Oh, absolutely, you must.”
She leaned back slightly, seeming a bit confused by the shared testimony of precaution. She winced and nodded back with hesitant approval.
I knew that she was referring to “magic mushrooms,” but I didn’t feel like getting into a discussion about it. She must have been reminded of the rumor since I expressed interest in Uncle Jean’s homemade risotto. He had picked morels around the trailer park and I became enthusiastic about mycology.
I can’t remember if I eventually told her that psilocybin is being used to treat terminal cancer patients diagnosed with “near-death anxiety.”
After recounting an experience on psilocybin during a lunch date with Uncle Jean’s new fiancé, my grandmother was, for some reason, informed of my drug use. She called my cousins, “sobbing,” they said. It was a mistake because I assumed, by association, that my new aunt would be as explicit with drugs as the rest of the family- not that this really matters.
Mistakes happen. Uncle Jean’s fiancé simply asked me what I did on the weekend and I answered with sincerity. The biggest /only mistake was my word choice.
I do hate to hear my grandmother cry.
The nurse comes in wearing a yellow smock with latex gloves. She empties the catheter bag, humming melodically with a smile.
“We gave him some morphine,” she says to her. “Even though it’s a suppressant, it should help him breathe a bit better.”
Nana’s white hair shakes a little, nodding with childlike innocence.
Before exiting the room, the nurse waves with cheerful, mock-sadness, like a loveable clown.
I go back to sitting at the edge of the bed, next to my grandfather’s necrotic feet.
“Quebec is in the process of passing a euthanasia bill,” I say, attempting to make conversation.
“What’s that?” asks Nana, kind of dazed.
“Assisted suicide,” says my mother, without looking up from the blanket she’s knitting.
“Oh,” says Nana, distracted-like. “I don’t agree with that.”
After the second stroke, my grandfather’s brainstem is the only thing left in tact, although evidently his thermal controls have been damaged, as he fluctuates in fever. Nana is apprehensive about discussing the funeral around him, sometimes whispering, “What if he can hear us?”
I watch his body breathing, thinking about the strangeness of the human body. As his chest decompresses rhythmically, I can only think of him as a flesh-covered breathing machine.
This slow plummet into non-existence is kind of nice though, I have to admit. All of the family comes in to visit and we exchange stories about his old, legendary sense of humor. We look at photos while ignoring the corporeal reality.
Uncle Jamie just got back from rehab before Christmas.
With a longing, loving sigh, he said to me, “I was on opiates.”
I met the guy who used to trade him Oxycodone for empties. Everyone called him “6-Pack.”
When I first saw 6-Pack come up to the trailer on his ATV, dragging a wagon full of beer cans, I thought he was mildly retarded.
“Did you have a stroke?” he said to my brother.
“No, I have cerebral palsy,” Toby replied.
When I told Toby that cerebral palsy was essentially a stroke, he lifted his eyebrows in amazement, having been unaware.
Cerebral palsy, stroke,
not enough morphine,
the breathing machine,
ill-defined by words,
words, words, words, words,
the very-real ability to go on without them.
The idea that we are all “stardust.”
Reconciliation after the bad trip.