Pam was offered a transplant. A new kidney. She had been on Dialysis for almost all of her life. There was the possibility that she might reject the transplant, but there were new drugs available that might help. She accepted the offer.
For about a month or so, this sickly little girl got stronger, and became, if that were possible, more endearing to the doctors and nurses who surrounded her. Then, sometimes between Christmas ‘77 and her birthday in January, ‘78, her body began to fight the new organ and reject it.
Nanna, Father’s Octogenarian mother had flown from Australia to care for us at home, while Mother and Father would stay in New York by Pam’s side. At Christmas, Nanna had taken me to see Pam in her bed. She was proud of being able to carry the iv tube carriage which was always connected to her, when she walked. She had Christmas presents that were unopened, something for her to look forward to. For a time, I was jealous.
The trip home from Nnew York was horrible, and when Nanna and I reached Princeton, there were no taxis available, as it was Christmas eve. The police refused to help, saying they might get called on duty while giving us a lift. Then a lovely man, on his way home in Trenton, offered us a lift. Nanna, not accustomed to accepting lifts from strangers, considered the snow piled around and got in. He had a friendly booming voice and a self-deprecating sense of humour, cheerfully acknowledged police shortcomings and said, “But you know, if you are in trouble, who ya gunna call?”
We got in and Nanna made the phone call to the hospital and told Mother that we were back safely.
We went to the Hospital many times in the ensuing weeks. I preferred the trips with Nanna. She wouldn’t take me to the New York Metropolitan Opera. Mother became aware she was going to lose her daughter and all her pretensions to cleverness wouldn’t hide the fact. She didn’t know how to behave or what to do. All those times she had taken Pam and I to a church and wrote letters outside. Pam and I were treated like outsiders inside, defending our Mother’s lack of faith, which we shared, against any of the congregation that would assail us. Now my Mother still didn’t believe in god, and she was beginning to hate him.
Father was easy to sidestep during this period.
Doctors realised they were losing the transplant. They would have to attempt another if Pam was to survive. She would have to go back on dialysis. Mother said that she thought about this for a while, and then asked her if it was ok for her to die. She had tried to live, but she was too sick. She didn’t want to go through dialysis again, or face another operation.
It was agreed that further treatment of Pam would be symptomatic. One evening, after school, where I had been making Valentine Day cards at my teacher’s behest, Cathy’s boyfriend offered to drive us all to the hospital in New York. Mother and Father were there. Pam was in intensive care. Her breathing was regulated by a machine, that had a tube that ran over her taped, mouth. Iv drips ran into her arm and her eyes were closed, but had rapid eye movement. I alone did not hold her hand. I looked at her face, at the glue that held the tape. I looked at her pasty white face. At her closed eyes. But her eyes weren’t completely closed, I could see her eyes, a little, beneath the lid. She couldn’t ackowledge us, if she knew we were there.
We went home. I didn’t like to go to the laundry when it was dark, so naturally it was decided by Cathy and John that I should go too the laundry and get something. The light was at the bottom of the steps to the laundry, well above and to the left of the door handle. I remember getting a splinter in my left index finger, as I went to flick the switch, at 11:47 pm on February 14th Nineteen Seventy Eight.
The next morning, I remember the intense disappointment of seeing Father. I thought that would mean that Mother was at the hospital with Pam. Mother was home too. I asked her why she was home at the same time as Father. She told me that Pam had died at a quarter to twelve last evening. The detail, like Father turning of the machines after she was declared brain dead was something Mother would hold on to, until she could find a way to use that against me.
I knew Mother wouldn’t be coherent, so I went to ask Father, what had happened. He wasn’t likely to become a bear at this time. I stood in front of him while he made a few phone calls and burst into tears. I went to my room, and lay face down on my bed. I couldn’t cry. I wondered if I was a bad person for not crying, and felt that I should, but couldn’t. I pretended to cry into my pillow. Then I went to the television room to be out of the way. I was wondering who would get all those unopened presents.
==== Later that year ===
I was eleven and did not know God. On this evening John was away. My Mother was watching Prisoner on TV and I think the neighbours could hear it as well. Adjacent to the TV Room was the bedroom and light was abundant and soft. From the bed I could look up the skirt of the window onto a bright street-light. My arms were straight by my side and lying over the overly warm blankets we had stolen from some European hotel.
Pam had died earlier in the year and I was rewarded with a change of continent and removal from all things familiar. I hated Prisoner, but liked the theme song. I couldn't sleep. I lay there, sweating and not sleeping. Wishing the TV program would end so I could hear the theme. Then I floated off the bed and hovered over my prone body for a while.
In many previous dreams where I float I could choose where I went. On this evening, however, I was asked to leave through the window and I didn't wish to refuse. Some shadowy character motioned its index finger at me while I wasn't watching and I left the building. Using the pole of the street-light to swing and provide purchase to lift up I could glide over the parked cars towards the shops, which had their backs to us in the day. Between the tree-tops and shop roofs and the unit I discovered that I could be caught in the open. I became aware that some malevolent presence was looking for me, but I was ok as it could only look at ground level.
I slowly drifted to the ground and I went in search of cover. I found I was safer gliding close to buildings. Touching a brick here and a roof slat there so I could correct my drift and keep purchase. Whenever I touched ground I found I could float again by accelerating my heart rate. I had not explored far when I came across an alcove. It seems strange to me now, but I cannot remember where that alcove was. But I remember that it was not over the clouds or under the ground. It was nowhere where mortals walk. I followed the shadowy character motioning with its index, into the alcove, which became a tunnel that ended in a bright light.
I came to the end of the tunnel and entered the impossibly bright room. I stood cowed by the light, my right arm shielding my eyes as if in salute. I stood before Him. He asked me if I knew who He was and I confessed I did not know. Not knowing, yet it was clear to me I had a choice. I could stay there forever, or leave and possibly not come back. "My Lord, I will serve you." I wanted to meet Pam and my grandparents but I did not wish to stay. I was bowing, bent, no! I was prostrate, my knees were grounded and my forehead touched the ground. I realised that I did not know God, but I would make it my purpose to. And so I was sent home.
I was in bed. It was hot. My heart was racing. I could feel that malevolent spirits were around me and I wanted to move, to defend myself. I wanted to confront them with my knowledge that they could not harm me. I could breathe and I felt myself trying to say this but soon realised that I could not breathe. If only I could call for help. If only I could get some more light. I called out "Help me." but of course I couldn't breathe and so I couldn't make a sound. I tried to move and found my movements uncertain and lethargic as I called out for help. Soon I found I could exhale and I used that strategically to break the paralysis. My breathing was loud and laboured and I was hoarsely calling for help, but my calls were beginning to take on tone.
My mother was drunk when she came to see what was wrong. She apologised for the loudness of the TV and switched off the TV room lights that had so abundantly shone. I didn’t like her. I didn’t trust her. I had never liked her, but I was used to being able to manipulate her. She had changed now. She did her own thing. She would get drunk regularly. She kept Pam’s toys and the box of her ashes in her bed. This woman who knew no religion, knew no religion. She found no solace. I couldn’t work out what was worse for her. Was it that Pam had died, or was it that Pam had been very sick? Mother no longer had a plaything she could torture with her adolescent fantasy. I would find out she still believed she had the third rate plaything: me.