Outside this house, everything has changed, but inside this room nothing seems to have changed since I was a child. My parents bed, the mirror on the dresser, even the blue colored walls are still painted in a shade that went out of style forty years ago.
Nothing is different but the woman on the bed. This woman I have never seen before. This woman is an old, decrepit stranger, someone who resembles only slightly the picture of my great grandmother hanging on the wall. White disheveled hair, heavily wrinkled face, eyes whose brightness has long ago vanished, she has been propped by pillows into the same position my father was in when he died.
The anger I've held for all these years has been directed at my mother, but the woman I see bares no resemblance to that person who I screamed at all those years ago for what she had done.
I keep trying to refocus the rage I've felt, but I can't, and I can't because this person, whose breathing is labored, whose face is distorted with pain when she looks at me, deserves only compassion at this moment in her life.
Her first words to me are, "I had to end his life," and they were the same words she said to me when I stormed out of this house all those years ago.
When I was eighteen years old my father was my best friend. He was a strong and proud man who took me camping, fishing, played ball with me in the backyard and never tired of giving me his time whenever I needed it. He was supportive of my enlistment in the Marines, my mother not at all. And when I left the house for my tour of duty, he stood tall in the doorway downstairs and waved goodbye.
That was the last time I saw him. Two months into my tour he suffered a stroke, a ruptured blood vessel in his brain that took away most of his speech and any chance of him ever getting out of bed without someone lifting him. It also took away his desire to live, but his body kept fighting his will, and I was glad of that, because I wanted to see him before he died. I wanted to look into his eyes and thank him for the father he had been.
My mother, the woman in this bed, never gave me that chance. Three days before I managed to get an emergency leave from the Marines she poisoned him, and then had him cremated. The ashes on the bureau were the only thing left of him by the time I got home.
'I had to" she says again with her raspy voice. "I had to poison him."
I want to run away and scream, yelling back to her that she took away my chance to say goodbye, and that's why I never forgave her, but the thought never makes it to my voice because her next words are. "He didn't want you to see him that way. He couldn't stand the idea of your pitying him. He begged me to help him end his life before you got home. And he made me promise to cremate him so you would not see his withered body. He only wanted you to have the image of him as a strong man, never anything less. Those memories of you two playing and camping together are the only memories he wanted you to have. I loved him more than anything else in the world, and I had to do what he asked.
"He made me promise that I would never tell you this. Even begging to die was too much weakness for him to ever admit to you. But I have to tell you now. I don't want you to hate me in death as you have in life."
And with those last words, I watched my mother die.
(The first two parts of this story on Gather can be found at: