Fizzy Death. Brilliant Life.
By Nicole B. Hagg
Diet Coke killed my mother. OK, well, Diet Coke caused the cancer that killed my mother. I guess that technically makes it an accomplice. At least, that's my own unsubstantiated theory and I'm stickin' to it. There is always a raised eyebrow above a set of eyewear when I explain this to people. A few even put down their Diet Cokes. Or sometimes they don't know where to look. I think I am expected to say something like, "My beloved mother passed from ovarian cancer seven years ago." Like she flitted from this world to the next in her CHANEL heels and matching purse with a quick toss of her hair over her shoulder as she blew a kiss to all of us left behind. I think that sounds like lying. It didn't look or feel anything like that. And, while she may have handled it with grace befitting of Jackie O., make no mistake about it, cancer is no storied Camelot. It ravages your body, uninvited, and stays with the power of an unwelcome house guest, littering it's goods everywhere until you no longer recognize your sanctuary as your home. That's just what it did too. And then, it killed her. It was the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me. That's another statement that causes people to raise their eyebrows. So, I'll say it again. It was the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me. You see, when lives are cut inexplicably short, like at the tender age of 62, the liv-er-s of those lives usually did a bang up job on the living part. At least, that's the conclusion I draw from my own anecdotal study. Across the board, those who leave us early, tended to have something exciting to report. They were the cream-in-your-coffee-life's-too-short-you-only-live-once crowd. And, they were right. They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, kept their chins up, were never without their rose-colored glasses and took a bite out of the arse of life. All cliches were written with these vibrant revelers in mind. Diane Grayce, Di, Di-baby. Mom. Ma. Whatever name you chose, you called upon the most extraordinary of revelers, the raddest-old-school mom, most dedicated Italian-wife; an unwavering friend. Her energy was immeasurable. Her deep devotion and loyalty to her family were the hallmarks of her existence. She blanketed the world in the hot pink of her love. Di was nuttier than a fruitcake. Certifiable in the best way possible. She lived in some parallel dimension all her own. And, it had a better view and no fluorescent lighting. Her life was a ride and anyone who had the good fortune of knowing her wanted a ticket and to meet the height requirement. As she once said to me, “Nicole – I could make eating a hot-dawg fun!” Her thick Long Island accent dripped with charm of mustard down your wrist. And, she could. And, she did. She made everything fun. If you knew her, you might have noticed that Di spoke her mind from time to time. Italians are not known for their subtlety. You always knew where you stood with her and often didn't even have to ask. More people could learn a thing or two from speaking their minds these days. Her discourse landed her somewhere on a trajectory between Archie Bunker and Audrey Hepburn. Di's biological mother died when she was a year old. She became the eldest of seven when her dad remarried. Poor in life's luxuries, she was rich in scrappy spirit and hard-wired for elegance. Devouring Miss Manners' books in secret she taught herself the ways of the world, which she would see many times over. This, despite heralding from a town that no one ever leaves unless they’re headed to another borough. She sparkled. Her smile was luminous. Her laughter contagious. Her sadness was raw. You see, Di felt the spectrum of her emotions deeply. She was passionate about life. Of all the things Di was, a complainer she was not. She didn’t complain about the day to day. And, she didn’t complain about her cancer. We all at one time or another complained more about our seasonal allergies than Di did about her cancer. No time for complaints. Languishing neck-deep in mire is not the reveler's M.O. Some days we wake with the gravity of what we are doing and the insignificance of it all at once. It is within the nucleus of that moment that our truth is seeded. It's a self-regulating system. You don't have to tell those who are on the AP/fast-track track of life to get it all in because they already do. Di-baby's death shifted my life. I got divorced. First one in my family. From there, I co-created "The Commune" as our amiable mixed family is affectionately known. I believe if I'm gonna' get divorced, it's going to be the best damn divorce around. I changed my career from lawyer to yoga teacher. Not in a pull the rip cord way, but in a methodical, heartfelt, claw-at-life kinda way. I became a writer. I was all of these things all along: an individual, a teacher, a writer, but Di's death created the space for these parts of me to unfold like a worn love letter kept all these years with the secret truth waiting for it's moment of discovery. With her death came a re-birth of my life. There is a lot that is put into perspective when someone tears the last 25 pages out of your book. Now. Now is it. For realz. It's the only moment over which we have control. Now is the cradle of our choice and creation. In re-birth, I learn fear is the leech of life. The slow blood draw before the real one that gets you in the end. Grace is the nurse that rips the leech off and gives you a popsicle. Green. I like green. I miss her every day. I feel her pulse in the beat of my heart. I deeply inhale her dark purple scarf in hopes of getting a hit of the Shalimar perfume she wore her entire life; her own French infused pheromone. When the scarf runs out of smell, I can still call it up like a 33 record, so deeply burned on my senses is that smell. I see her in my dreams. She is whole and beautiful as ever. She is healthy and lives in a world where life isn't cut short by dark, fizzy caramel colored beverages. In her death, her celebration of life manifested. With her life cut a chapter short, I learn acutely that the final chapter may or may not ever be written. From that moment on, the rules of the game change and existentialism roars majestically, loud and clear outside of the confines of a high school text and into the innermost channels of my psyche. For the longest time I try to preserve her; to energetically embalm her so that I might enjoy her for all time and, at the same time, the intermittent comfort of the "stayed course" when my ego whispers like a misguided lover across my shoulder in the dark of night. I lovingly leave her toothpaste and the toothbrush she used last in my house as she left them in the downstairs bathroom drawer. I keep the outdated copy of the Vanity Fair magazine she was reading in her room here simply because there was a picture of Jackie on the cover. I keep the container of make-up pad removers. Her slippers stay by the guest bedside like she might swing her legs down at any moment and they would pad and warm her hot pink toes once more. I even save a message on my answering machine, which means I save the answering machine. Periodically, I close my eyes and play it and listen to the sound of her voice rife with strength and knowing and love. The message is my favorite. I keep it safe, protecting that otherwise defunct answering machine on my kitchen counter like the Hope Diamond. Basking in the comfort of my mother's voice in secret for years. And, then, one day it's gone. Blank. No messages at all; won't even turn on. And, just like that she dies all over again. There is a scream and a light and a cry for life.