I think she was about 33 in this picture.
How could I possibly breathe without you? How could I take my next step without you? I don’t know how to be me without you by my side. Oh, sure. We’ve had our rocky times. Words left unspoken and words that should have been. Battles which raged on far too long, sometimes for years. During the times we weren’t speaking, I always knew you were nearby. I was okay knowing you were just a hop, skip and a jump away. Without Martha, there can be no Henry. He would be but a shell of a man if Martha were gone. I can’t even remember the day or the date that Henry and Martha were born. But I can feel the heat of the summer day and I certainly recollect why.
I was eighteen and you were thirty-six. You had come to the “Merca” to rescue me from the place where they keep crazy people and people who want to die. I was definitely crazy and I certainly wanted to die. I was eighteen and I felt like a ninety year old and I bore the scars to prove it. My spirit was broken and I was tired. I remember seeing you for the first time in three years and on one level you were a stranger, but on another level you were the mother I had always known. I was a part of you and you were a piece of me. Our hearts are entangled and will forever be woven together.
We got past that awkward stage eventually. You broke me out of the crazy place and we jumped a greyhound and rode our way to Cape Cod. We had just enough money for the ferry tickets to Nantucket. Can you believe the Captian let us sleep in the office that night AND fed us that night and the next morning – for free? All because they couldn’t believe we were mother and daughter. They were certain we were sisters and had to be lying about it. You were so young and so beautiful. You are still beautiful and no one believes you are in your seventies. But you are in your seventies and someday you are going to leave me. You are frail now. Not at all like the Martha I knew all those years ago. Has it really been thirty-six years since Martha and Henry came to be?
I remember the sun caressing my checks. I was a ball of eneegy ready to explode because I was no longer dead. You helped me find my will to live. Life was incredible in Florence, Italy! I had been there long enough to speak a little and understand a lot of the language. An American couple overheard us speaking English while out walking and they came at us in a heated gallop. “Oh, thank the heavens. Martha, they speak English”. Apparently, he believed his wife to ignorant to catch on to that tidbit of info so he just had to tell her. “My name is Martha. Could you PUHLEEEEEZ tell us how to get to the nearest McDonald’s?” The brat in me almost fell on the ground laughing. This was 1980, after all. There were no fast food restaurants in Italy. Period. I thought that poor woman was going to have a stroke right in front of me. Poor Martha and Henry. If they were so interested in American food, they should have saved their money and stayed home. All wasn’t lost. They went on their merry way in search of the nearest leather goods shop. I bet that couple went the rest of their lives without ever knowing what the “Ponte Vecchio” was or the fact that it was the ONLY bridge in Florence which survived WWII. I lay odds they had some mighty fine leather coats though! The most beautiful city in the world and most of them just wanted gold, leather and McDonald’s. It was tragic to witness. I’m ashamed to admit I was just the same in the beginning but if you stick around Florence for awhile, she has a way of changing you. What I wouldn’t give to stand in Piazzale Michelangelo with you for 30 minutes while staring down at la piu bella citta nel mondo. Martha, please come back to me. Let’s go back to the most beautiful city in the world. We were so happy and alive there. Even our fights were fewer and further between in Florence. They were never as ugly as they had been in the “Merca”. I miss hearing baby Kate say that. English was my youngest sister’s second language and she couldn’t say “America” when she was three.
We spent the rest of our days doing this “Martha and Henry” routine when we were out on long walks. That happened to be any day the weather allowed us outside. We laughed until we almost wet ourselves. And now “Martha” lies in her hospital bed, in a level one neuro trauma center with a breathing tube down her throat. She has been there a week now. They weaned her off the vent this morning, but a mere 30 minutes later she had to be intubated again. “Mommy, mommy please wake up. Don’t leave me. I’m too little. I still need you”. How odd too feel so young and vulnerable at the ripe old age of fifty-four. I’ve known for almost five decades that there would come a day my parents would leave me. When we’re young, we can’t even begin to fathom the fear and grief that can put a chokehold on you as that day draws near. As the tears surge down my cheeks, I can’t help but wonder if I will feel ninety again. Will I feel dead again like I did all the years ago in the “Merca”? I don’t know how I will be able to afford to keep my promise to you, but I will find a way. You want your ashes spread in Florence, as do I. I am good for it, mommy. Florence was the only place I ever got to see you joyful. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience the same feelings you experienced. Those two years were the happiest of my life. I couldn’t be happier that I got to share them with you.
I love you, mommy. Please don’t leave me yet. I admit I am being very selfish. It’s so wrong of me and I can’t help it. Just promise me one thing. When you leave this world, please find a way to be near me from time to time. I will know you are there, just as I have always been able to sense when you were in trouble and needed me. I know you remember the night I ran all the way from the club to our home in Florence because absolute fear and panic set in for no explicable reason. I went flying into the house to find you in desperate need of an ambulance. Both times you have ended up on the vent, I knew hours before that you were in serious danger medically. I will know you are near to me. If you do leave me, I hope your journey will be full of peace and joy. I hope you find the hapiness that only Florence was able to give you here on earth.
Thank you for teaching me the most important things one needs to know on this earth. Manners, compassion, honor, honesty, dignity, fairness, love and above all else, that ALL humans are equal. Race, religion and financial status is not who we are. Those things are just accessories. Who we are comes down to the choices we make when no one is watching. Do we do the right thing if we think we won’t get caught? Because of you, I am a better person than I might have been without you.
I love you, Martha. I always have. I will see you in a few hours.
Love and hugs,
The first child of your heart. (I never get tired of hearing you say that.
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