March 17, 2007


Alphonse "Tootie" Dimino
December 16, 1930 - March 17, 1969

the school of the dead

As I waver between life and death in my own hospital bed, 30 years after his death, on his birthday in fact, I am somehow not surprised. Terrified, yes. Facing death is not something I'm prepared for. My new baby is just 9 weeks old. How did I get here?

When you lose a parent early in life, you wonder if you'll make it past the age they were when they left you. Every child of death wonders this. That's why I'm not surprised to be near death myself at 36, the same age he was when the luck of the Irish eluded him.

In my hospital bed, hemorrhaging uncontrollably, I am violently enrolled in what Cixous calls, "The School of Dreams." Because I don't die; I live. But in walking the line between here and there, I dream. Images as vibrant as those five-year-old memories, scenes that will carry me through the next half of my life.

Bleeding to near death. Watching helplessly as my lifeforce leaves my body, playing tricks with my mind and taking small pieces of my soul with it, my sanity too. The emptiness is unfathomable. As a new mother, instincts of self-protection battle with the responsibility of caring for this new life. I don't want to see her; don't want her to see me, not like this. My one gift to her: protect her from images of her dying parent--I know how they haunt.

But she comes to visit just before surgery. My sister carries her down the elevator toward the operating room, this small life that has almost cost me mine.

Anxiety gives way to resolve. Once again, I cannot control. I cannot fix myself, I cannot fix my family. I let go, I go to sleep. And I dream.

Dreams of pain. Dreams of loss--where is my baby? My husband is gone--no, there he is. And I hear talking, outside of myself. Again.

I am a dream within a dream. A death within a death.


the school of the dead 2

Cixous writes: "For a long time I lived through my father's death with the feeling of immense loss and childlike regret, as in an inverted fairy tale: Ah, if my father had lived! I naively fabricated other magnificent stories, until the day things changed color and I began to see other scenes--including everything I could imagine that was less consoling--without overinvesting."

I tell all my friends growing up that my father died of a gallbladder operation. Because no one tells me otherwise, even though he lived another six months after that operation. My fourth grade teacher tells me it is very unusual for someone to die of a gallbladder operation. She says, "Are you sure?" And I wonder if I'm hiding something.

I'm 21 before I ask.

My mother tells me the truth then, about the day he had his operation and the doctors took her in a room, there by herself, to tell her that her husband's gallbladder is fine, but his pancreas isn't. The diagnosis is pancreatic cancer. The prognosis, much as it is today, omonous. Six months maybe. My mother tells me the news rips her apart, and her first and strongest instinct is to wail for her own father. "Bring my daddy here. He'll know what to do. I need him." But there is no comforting to be done for this family.

There will never be comfort again.



because, there is no bypass for loss.


Unprotected and vulnerable, there are no words to clothe you, to make you beautiful. You are raw, revealing yourself by the clumsiness in your covering. we live naked, a rack of peacock feathers can't cover your scars.

I see every one of them in the space between your words.