Marisol’s daughter, Jaquelin, turned 19 yesterday. She and her 15-year-old brother have been pacing the pea-green fluorescent-lit hallways of the intensive care unit for days. Their mother’s body teeters precariously on the verge of extinction. Her body was once their body, a dark laboratory of creation in which their fingers and toes and neurons were hatched. Now, she rests immobile amidst a spider’s web of IV lines, ventilator tubes and heart rate monitors.
Marisol has been trapped inside her body for seventeen days. An aneurysm exploded inside her right cerebellum as she was heading out to buy Sunday groceries. If she’d been back home in Mexico, she would have died within minutes. Instead, she was blocks away from a world-class teaching hospital in San Francisco. There was no peaceful, quick fade to black. In this story, Marisol was whisked into an ambulance, into an operating room where a sea of neurosurgeons opened up her skull, reached into her brain folds and tried to stop the tidal wave of blood.
Now, she is in a coma, hovering, trapped. When you shine a light into her eyes, the pupils don’t constrict away from the light as they should. The nervous quiet in Marisol’s room is punctuated by the shrill beeping of vital sign monitors and the heavy hiss of a mechanical ventilator. Her lungs expand as though she’s taking a deep, yogic breath every 15 seconds. Her mouth is fixed in a half smile, air in, air out, through the ventilator’s heaving bellows and vacuum tubes that fill with air, compress and force the oxygen through a tube tape to Marisol’s parted lips. She lays back on her bed, her long dark hair in undulating waves on the pillows, almost obscuring the shunt tubing lodged into her skull, to keep her brain from swelling.
Marisol’s nails are painted shimmery lavender with appliquéd silver flowers pressed into the lacquer. Jaquelin remembers choosing this polish when they went to the TeeTee’s Vietnamese nail salon on Mission and Geneva Street just last week. She wants her mom to wake up. Something went terribly wrong. Marisol didn’t mean to leave quite yet.
Behind those peacefully closed lids, what does Marisol see? Is she traveling through the cosmos on a fiery tour of distant galaxies? Is her spirit crushed and dried and turned to ash? Are there still thoughts running through her mind, a continuation of the ones she had the day her brain exploded? “When is my son’s next kidney doctor’s appointment? Did I remember to write an excuse letter so I can pick him up early that day? How will we pay the tuition for Jaquelin’s next semester of college?”
Or, has the real Marisol long since vanished from this garish, fluorescent hospital scene? Where did she go, our Marisol? Perhaps, at 39-years-old, her body got tired of carrying its heavy limbs, of the Lupus that ravaged her kidneys and brain. She was tired of cleaning houses for a living, of lugging a giant vacuum cleaner up and down the carpeted stairs of Pacific Heights mansions. She was tired of taking her lanky, rebellious teenage son to his nephrologist’s appointments, only to hear at every visit that the prognosis was “not good.” She was tired of making dinner every night for her anxious husband, helping the kids with their homework, loading and unloading the washing machine, falling asleep to wake up and do it over again.
Marisol. Mar y Sol. Her name means sea and sun. Perhaps she has returned to the fishing village near Veracruz, the place of her ancestors, the home she loved before this immigrant life in California. Perhaps she is walking now along the water’s edge, white sand and toes submerged in a warm blue sea, freed from the heavy weight of the life she has withstood.
Raluca Ioanid was born in communist Romania and raised in capitalist New York City. By day she is a Family Nurse Practitioner in Oakland, California. By night she is a trapeze flying writer of stories. She is a founding member of the San Francisco based Reverie Writing Group and a frequent contributor to the Bay Area Generations reading series. Her work has appeared in The Sun.