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Years ago, when I was still naught but a young boy bright with potential (but already starting to tarnish around the edges a bit) my mom used to be an on-call, semi-professional house-nurse. My dad was still around back then, although his madness was starting to show just a bit more than it had before, and things in life were, generally, as good as they had ever been with me and my immediate family. I had friends, three of 'em s'matter of fact, which at the time was the height of my social achievement; life was good, self-doubt had yet to get its claws so deep in me, I'd yet to be a drunk, a pot-head, or the victim of unrequited love. In short, I was young, untainted, and more naive than I am now when all this went down.

So there was this family, a family in which the parents were part of this Christian group my mom was tight (though never quite in) with. A group referred to mostly just as "The Friends", which I'd always considered fairly ironic considering their decidedly non friend-like treatment towards anyone who didn't see quite level with them. Like me, for instance; even in my tender pre-teen years I was something of a theological rebel in my house.
This family was composed of the parents (big on "The Friends"), the mother's mother (the resident angry, silent old woman), and three adopted daughters who I always fancied to have been adopted not because of lack of reproductive capacity on their pseudo-parents' parts, but because the parents disliked things that were fun to the point that for The Man to put his penis in The Woman would have been unbearable. 'Least that's the impression I got from their treatment of each other and their extreme religeo-osity.

The daughters were horrid and will be left for telling another day; right now it is the old woman (Bella by name) who concerns us; you see, Bella, after the loss of her husband had been stricken with a mysterious malady--something I understood to simply be a broken heart--and wouldn't move or speak. She shat herself, pissed herself, stared into space... But she understood, she was still there, I knew she was still there; I could feel the weight of her consciousness when she looked at me.
I'd get left alone in a room with this woman sometimes and her eyes would shift over to me and there would be understanding there, along with something dark and unpleasant. At the time I thought it was hate, but now I think it was a longing against me, if that makes any sense. I was the progeny of her hated caretaker (my mother) and she wanted to die.

You see, my mother was paid to do everything for this lady. Everything from wiping her ass to holding her mouth and massaging her throat on those occasions when Bella would try to spit up the food my mom had spooned in.
For years I was in that house every day, sometimes late into the night, while my mom forced this woman to live.

But eventually Bella's will to die won out, and that day (most clearly from those years) I remember: It was 'round about three when my mom rushed out into the living room, her face all beams and her hands all fluster. "Bella is dying!" she panted.
I am sure some indication of my horror must have manifested itself on my face at her next words: "Quick! Come watch!" At first I fought her, but I was young and she was still bigger than me and not above physical bullying to get her way. In a matter of fragile minutes I was standing in Bella's room --that antiseptic, hospital smelling room, complete with those beeping machines whose purpose beyond intimidation I've never been quite sure of-- beside her bed. looking down on her face which was wearing the first smile I can ever remember seeing there.
My mother was bouncing about and rambling about something or other as the whole family crowded in and then, finally and gratefully, fell silent as the woman of the house said a few words which were meaningless to me; I was too entranced by Bella's face. Her eyes shut and moving like she could already see her husband, her lips occasionally parting (just a bit) and her breaths coming slow and steady. Her hands were folded on her chest in a manner which I imagine was to look peaceful, but ended up just looking contrived as I'm almost positive my mother had folded them for her. When her last breath entered her that smile was still there; it was only as it left her mouth that it relaxed and faded.

Nothing could diminish the horrific beauty of what I had just witnessed.
Nothing.
Not the immediate arrival of people from the funeral home, indicative of an unpleasant level of planning.
Not the revolting blasphemy of the woman's memory in talk of her in heaven singing to God instead of her as I knew she was: with her face being cradled in some way by her husband.
Not the even more revolting arrival of a take out pizza whose components were transfigured in my mind into the flesh and blood of Bella's crumpled body.
Not even the gorging on said pizza less than an hour after a woman had died in that very house.
I was horrified and knew I would be having nightmares, but I was also dazzled by Bella's smile as she finally reclaimed the honor so long withheld and followed her path a bit further.

To this day I believe that the soul is carried on the last breath of a dying person, up and over the world.

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