My mother’s eyes.
And I am anxious, as a writer, to describe that blue exactly:
The complex sheen of a blue jay feather?
The polychromatic blue of a dying match?
The sharp blue of a crisp autumn sky?
The iridescent blue of a mussel’s inner shell?
The mercurial grayish-blue of snow at dawn? The blue stretched taught across crimson in one of my mother’s paintings? Her own whorled interpretations of blues? Whenever I sit up close to her hospital bed, I seek depth in my mother’s eyes. Eyes I have looked into all my life. Across tables at dinners of shared favorite appetizers, mussels with lemon grass, as we’d talk of the latest gallery exhibits, my latest novel I was drafting; talking avidly over bottles of wine at her kitchen table….
In her studio she could ask: “What do you think?” Looking at me – directly. Into my eyes. Looking to me for my opinion about her latest work-in-progress, a dab of camdium yellow she had her doubts about.
Looking to me for an opinion she has always respected, though I never felt quite deserving of such respect; she was the professional artist, I her student, informally trained without her registering that she has always been my teacher, from the time I was a child, when she encouraged me to fill the page.To be bold and unafraid.
And it was she who taught me exactly that, how to see: “Oh look at that,” she could gasp, in reverence to a muted sky, on walks along the beach near her house: With one of her sweeping hand gestures, she would draw my attention to the way light could at once seem strained and gently filtered, excited by such paradoxes. She taught me that, how to see past the obvious of the perfect sunset to the complexity of the less obviously exquisite in nature.
That was a different kind of seeing. How we always had looked at each other. To each other. A seeing all of my life I have taken for granted.
When I’ve never before thought about what it means to really look into another person’s eyes.
Not as consciously as I peer into my mother’s own. As she lays dying a slow and agonizing death of gangrene, of bed sores.
Of dementia.When my mother’s eyes seem not to receive and reciprocate the seeing.
I sit by her bed. She stares at me. Blankly.
“It’s me, Mom.”
She blinks. Once.
And I am desperate: “Mom can you see me?”
No change of expression. “Yup.”
And that may be the extent of our communication.
She blinks. I stare. Try to penetrate the blue. One pupil seems smaller than the other. One small black moon. One larger black moon. But both spheres perfectly symmetrical. Black moons against shallow blue skies.
And I want to grant and honor that blue as more complex than the shallow blue of pool water. As that complex sheen of a bluejay feather. That polychromatic blue of a dying match. That sharp blue of a crisp autumn sky. That iridescent blue of a mussel’s inner shell. That mercurial grayish-blue of snow at dawn. That blue stretched taught across her own crimson. The subtle gradations of her own seeing.
The staring – is she unthinking? I don’t know. Is she merely dazed from pain medications? I look for alternative explanations other than the one that I see: Dementia.
And I wonder: as the mind fades, so does the soul? I can barely ask that question, silently, even to myself, never mind try to answer it.
So I lean on her hospital rail which she clings to as she is so afraid of falling.
And I immerse myself in her blue. Unseeing and seeing eyes.
And I face up to the truth: their light blue is shallow. Because the complexity of her intellect has become fragmented. Simplified into the flat toneless blue of pool water.
I am graced.
Because she is still here, in body perhaps now more than in mind.
And so I can gaze into my mother’s eyes and envision those pupils as black moons against blue skies. Perhaps, yes the shallow of pool water. But still. To me, the boundless of blue sky. My mother’s skies.