[<< | Prev | Index | Next | >>]

Monday, March 06, 2000

The Story of Mom

I just returned from my mother's funeral. She's not dead yet, though, so she hosted it herself on the big island of Hawaii. She had her wedding reception (2nd wedding) before she was actually married, so she figured she'd stick with the trend of doing things backwards. She also noted that at a typical funeral when people stand around, get drunk, and tell stories about the person, they can make stuff up.

I didn't get much chance to actually talk to her--only a couple of hours this morning while everyone else happened to be out. The rest of the time, everyone around seemed to need to dump their every thought or story on her, as if she needed these to take with her to the grave. I was really much more interested in minimizing what she would take with her, so I listened and collected whatever gems of wisdom or history I could.

Among these was the story of her life from age eighteen to about twenty three, which I will relate below. She also told me how glad she was to be able to visit a few weeks ago, here in Maui, before the medical industry got its grips on her and shortened her life expectancy from about six months to about two weeks.

The cancer tumor had spread to the lining of her lungs and was causing fluid to build up between the lungs and lining, giving her pain and shortness of breath. The symptomatic treatment for this is to open up the chest cavity, sprinkle in some talc, and close it back up; the result of which is to irritate the body into adhering the lung to the lining, thus leaving nowhere for fluid to build up.

Unfortunately, the gung-ho surgeon decided without her permission to biopsy the vascular tumors while he was in there and they bled so profusely that she almost died. But she pulled through that, and seemed to be getting better for a day or two, except for sharp spiking fevers. Her husband, an internal medicine specialist, thought this was indicative of an infection she may have picked up from the hospital during the surgery, but the surgeon told him he was not being objective due to his emotional attachment to the situation. And out of what I can only imagine was ego, he refused to order any tests to determine the truth either way, and discharged her from the hospital (still with spiking fevers). Her husband drove her eight hours from Portland to the Crescent City hospital, closer to home, and tests there promptly revealed that the Portland crew had failed to scrub up adequately and had infected her chest cavity with MRSA -- a drug resistant strain of Staphylococcus.

In order to keep the advanced MRSA at bay, they had to push a tube into a vein in her arm, all the way to her heart, through which she now takes vancomycin infusions twice daily, carefully calibrated to stay just below its toxic level. All of this was and continues to be rather hard on her already failing body, and has changed her prognosis from many months to probably a couple of weeks.

But you wouldn't know it to look at her, except that she has to walk slow or she gets out of breath. Who do you suppose would guess that that woman over there sitting under an umbrella eating fries and watching the family snorkel has a tube jammed between her ribs draining her chest cavity into a plastic bag tucked in her shirt? Loaded with toxic antibiotics and a couple of weeks to live, she sits there with a wry but gentle smile on her face and puts us all to shame as we fail to comprehend and continue to worry about our insignificant little problems.

She will take her own life fairly soon rather than spending the rest of it suffering, so this was, truly, the last I will ever see her.

The origins of Simon Funk

It was just assumed that Cynthia would stay home like her older brother and attend UCSD--which is just what she did except that she cleverly got a grant to stay in the dorms, much to the chagrin of her father who couldn't stand the idea of her being out of his controlling reach. She was excited by everything that was happening. The year: 1966, at the age of 18 she was spending her evenings in a small diner populated by truck drivers and political activists, and spending her nights with one or another of the people in her growing clique of disestablishmentarianists.

One day one of them came running or floating in yelling "I know what we are! I know what we are!" carrying back news of similar enclaves in New York and the term that had been coined for them: "We're hippies!"

One day as she returned to her dorm on a foggy night, her father emerged from behind a bush, wielding a gun and telling her in no uncertain terms she was not going to live like this. He picked her up, threw her over his shoulder, lugged her to his car and threw her in. She recalls being incredibly embarrassed by the whole thing, but was saved by the fog since no one could see them anyway.

That night, back at home, she waited until all were asleep, slit the screen and escaped. She stayed with friends, dropped out of UCSD, and started working full time for the political movement.

After a few months, she called her mom, just to let her know she was doing ok and not to worry about her. Two days later, the police came knocking at her door, cuffed her, and threw her in a juvenile detention cell.

She remembers getting along ok with her cell mates--they all had one redeeming quality or another, and certainly at least an interesting story. One of the girls was fifteen and had five kids waiting for her at home.

The hard part was not knowing when, or if, she was going to get out.

Her lawyer said it didn't look good. Her father wanted her thrown in jail, essentially, and back then even at the age of 18 you were still mostly subject to the whims of your parents. During the detention hearing to determine what was to be done with her until the actual court hearing, two of the people she had worked for -- one of whom was a psychologist -- offered to take her into their custody until the court date. Her father wanted her kept locked up, and her brother testified that she had tried to get him to try marijuana. But the judge, not completely unwise, gave her over to the couple who had offered to take her.

She had been betrayed by her whole family. She left the couple a thank-you note the next morning, and promptly headed out with my father (who she had met and was hanging out with by this point) for Las Vegas, where they were married simply to protect him from being arrested as a kidnapper. From there, they smuggled themselves to Vancouver, Canada, via draft-dodger's channels courtesy of their political affiliates.

In Vancouver, they lived and worked in a animal shelter run by a number of nuns all over the age of 70. They cleaned kennels and stalls, and did other labor the old nuns couldn't do. One of the nuns had a bunch of particularly mean dogs, which she would let out on the grounds at night once everyone was inside and safe from them.

After a few months, they got news that the courts had given up on finding them and had closed their case, and since they were quite homesick by this point they moved back as close as Los Angeles for a while, and then eventually back to north county San Diego.

At nineteen and a half, they decided as long as they were married they may as well act like a married couple--raise a family, and all that. They agreed to clean up from drug use before having a child, and she cleaned up completely, down to staying away from caffeine, but he was unable to kick his heroin habit. Finally, a week before I was born, he kicked it cold turkey, and for a short time we existed as a pseudo-normal family in a small house on 101 in Encinitas, with Dad working every day in the lumber yard down the road and mom raising a baby boy.

But one day my father decided he was going to start shooting up heroin again. And Cynthia said "if you're going to, then so am I, because I can't live with a junkie again", thinking this would dissuade him. But he just said "Ok" and so they became junkies for a time. Fortunately for me, she got horribly sick and threw up every time she did it, so after a few months she finally gave up, and moved out with me in tow.

So Erik got another girlfriend who he was apparently quite fond of-- another junkie with a small child.

Cynthia decided to call her family one day, and her father answered the phone. She said hello, here she was, would he pick her up? And he said ok, and he picked us up, and they talked as if nothing had ever happened. And so we went down and visited her family every week, mother, father, and six year old sister. By now her brother was away. I was about one year old at this time.

And then just a couple of months later, her father died of a heart attack. And she was glad to have made this last brief connection with him. And she was relieved not to have to be afraid of him any more.

Somewhere in there, Erik got busted for dealing drugs, and he called Cynthia from jail, asked her to clean out the guns and drugs from the attic before the police returned to search the house. And so she did, because she felt sorry for him; risked her life and mine, should she get caught... But she didn't, and Erik was out soon enough on parole.

After her father died, Cynthia learned from her mother that back when he had had her arrested, he was originally planning to kill her. He was on his way out the door with a gun in hand when her brother intervened--fought him over a loaded 45 and eventually wrestled him to the ground. Having her arrested, and agreeing to testify against her, was reached as a compromise to killing her.

For one reason or another, Cynthia decided to come back to Erik eventually, and for this he promptly dumped his girlfriend and took us back, and we returned to a life of paranoia, with drapes always shut and a gun in hand to answer the door.

There was a huge drug bust, and for a while heroin was quite scarce... so much so that Erik ran out and was going to be in sorry shape real soon. So he sent Cynthia down to Mexico to smuggle back heroin, triple-wrapped in condoms and swallowed. There were delays getting back, and by the time she was home he had found other heroin and she was unable to throw up the condoms. With her prior experience, they figured shooting her up would cause her to throw up, and so they tried it but it only slowed down her digestive system and left them waiting for many many days... watching the little shreds of condom come out... waiting for the balls of heroin to appear, or for her to die when one of them broke open.

Finally she called a doctor, and told him that she had been hitchhiking and while they were driving the police had pulled them over, but before the cops got to the car the driver made her swallow something... and she is worried what it might do to her. The doctor said, basically, "Yeah, right..." and prescribed a bottle of some nasty oil to drink in preparation for a colon scan the next day; and the oil alone unpleasantly but efficiently flushed out the little balls of heroin -- most of them on their last condom.

One day an old mutual friend came by to visit, looked at how they were living, and said umn, what are you doing? She said they were living, this is life. And he said "I thought you had all these dreams, wanted to travel the world and all that?" And she said well that was before I got married, had a kid, yadda yadda. And he said "I know you. If you really wanted to go, you would find a way."

And two weeks later she and I were on a plane to Frankfurt, then a taxi ride to some out-of-the-way cabin in the middle of the black forest where we pounded on the door in the middle of the night until her brother opened the window upstairs to find his sister, who he had not spoken to or heard from in six years, and her three year old son standing out in the cold with no particular plan.

She travelled around Europe with me for about six weeks until we ran out of money, and finally returned home with precisely one dime to make a phone call to Erik to pick us up. She'd stayed in touch with him during the trip, by phone and by post card, but when we arrived back there was no answer on the phone, so with great effort and no money we managed to haul ourselves home, and when we arrived Erik answered the door, surprised to see us, and said "Umn, could you come back in an hour?"

And we just never came back.

[<< | Prev | Index | Next | >>]

Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com