Wait Until Tomorrow: A Daughter's Memoir

Wait Until Tomorrow: A Daughter's Memoir

by Pat MacEnulty

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A daughter’s memoir of sacrifice and discovery as her ailing mother’s caretaker is “an inspiring story of love, loss and the ravages of aging” (Kirkus).
Like all mothers, mine had a set of maxims that she thought were important to impart to me: if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all (unless it’s irresistibly funny); it’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is with a poor man (a nice idea in theory); if you want to commit suicide, wait until tomorrow (advice which has, it turns out, saved my life).
Like many daughters of elderly parents, Pat MacEnulty finds herself in a maze of healthcare negotiations and surprising discoveries when her mother can no longer care for herself. Pat’s mother, who stood by her through her darkest years, was a small-town icon as a composer, pianist, organist, and musical director. She is suddenly unable to be the accomplished, independent person she once was. Now Pat has two goals: to help her daughter avoid the mistakes that derailed her own life, and to see her mother’s masterpiece, “An American Requiem,” find a new life and a new audience in her mother’s lifetime. Along the way, Pat rediscovers her own strength, humor, and rebelliousness at the most unlikely moments.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781558617025
Publisher: Feminist Press at CUNY, The
Publication date: 04/26/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 309
Sales rank: 350,606
File size: 473 KB

About the Author

Pat MacEnulty is a teacher, writing coach, and freelance editor. She holds a Ph.D. from the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University. MacEnulty is the author of four novels, including Sweet Fire (2004), Time to Say Goodbye (2006), From May to December (2007), Picara (2009), and the short story collection The Language of Sharks (2004). Her interviews, short stories, essays, poems, and plays have appeared in The Sun and other publications. From 1995 to 2002 she facilitated writing and drama workshops for prisoners as well as at-risk juveniles. MacEnulty currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Read an Excerpt



My cell phone starts singing "Love Me Do" at seven in the morning. I've been awake for an hour, lying in bed, thinking, wondering what to do about my crumbling house and my crumbled marriage — abandoned like an old broken sofa by the side of the road. The sound of the phone so early brings on a rush of adrenaline. What now? It's my daughter, Emmy, in a quandary about a paper that's due in an hour. I'm almost grateful to be given a problem that I can handle so easily. I get up and shoot her some suggestions by email. Emmy is in college now and rarely needs my help anymore, but her moment of desperation brings me back to all those times when she was younger — when she forgot her homework or lost her keys or had some other mishap and I always ran to the rescue.

A couple of hours later, my friend Darryl calls. He's agreed to go play Scrabble with my mother on Tuesday and Thursday evenings since I have late classes to teach. He wants to know if I've seen my mother this morning. I haven't.

"Well, she wasn't doing well at all last night," he says. "She was very slow and only able to come up with three-letter words. Then, when it was time to go, I asked her if she wanted me to take her upstairs. She said no and then she said yes. So I started to walk with her to the elevator. She was wheeling herself, and she turned and went in the other direction. I tried to correct her, but she insisted I was wrong and when I tried to push her wheelchair to the elevator, she began to fight me."

Oh God, I'm thinking, picturing my tiny mother, her mouth set in grim determination, her silver head lowered like a bull, and her hands with their purple bruises clutching the wheels of her wheelchair. And poor hapless Darryl, ever the gentleman, trying to convince her to go the right way.

"I finally let her go in the other direction and then after she couldn't find the elevator, I pushed her the right way but by then she was very upset." And this too, I can imagine: the resigned despair in her eyes, the fluttering hands, the hangdog look, and the inarticulate stammering.

"Yes," I say. "Every time she goes to the hospital she comes back a step lower. I've no idea what to do."

And it's true. I've no idea what to do. They surely won't keep her at the Sanctuary indefinitely if she's that diminished. They do have a memory care unit — a locked door at the end of the hallway. I've never been inside, but I've heard sounds: people calling out, people laughing sometimes, or crying.

It reminds me of a story by Ursula Le Guin that I often assign to my students called "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." Le Guin describes a happy, almost perfect society — except for the neglected child kept chained in a basement. This is the price that has to be paid in order for the society to be as delightful and orderly as it is. Everybody studiously ignores the horrid basement and the unspeakable cruelty in which they are all complicit. Though I know the memory care unit is not a bad place nor run by bad people, still, I have ignored it with the same suppressed horror as the people in Le Guin's story ignore the child in the basement.

But why am I even thinking about the memory care unit? We can't afford that. She'd most likely have to go to one of the nursing homes where the lumps of flesh are gathered in their wheelchairs, dozing and drooling and occasionally looking up to ask where they are and if you will take them home.

Then I pause and wonder: maybe it's the new prescription the doctor in the hospital gave her. So I call her family doctor and ask him to "d.c." — discontinue — that medication. Maybe I can buy her a few more months. If she can just make it till February 21 when I plan to take her back to the church in Jacksonville, Florida, to hear her music one more time. Her requiem.



I sit in one of the pews of the Church of the Good Shepherd, an Episcopal church in Jacksonville, Florida, where I grew up. Blue velvet kneelers are propped up in front of each wooden pew. So many times I knelt here as a child, not praying but somehow enjoying the meaningless ritual — stand up, sit down, kneel, sit down, kneel, sit, stand. Religion was cloaked in secrets and mysteries. When you know the ritual, you're in. I liked being a member of that secretive club.

But I am no longer a child. I am twenty-six years old. I have been a heroin addict and a recent resident of the Florida Correctional Institution for women. I have even more recently graduated from college with high honors. I have a teaching job at a community college and am thinking about going to graduate school. It feels right to return to the fold this Sunday evening to be present at a performance of my mother's requiem — her masterwork. I am not here out of love for sacred choral music. I am here out of gratitude to the woman who stood by me and waited while I explored the realms of degradation and despair and then who helped me get back on my feet.

I gaze around at the stained glass pictures. It's evening now so the light does not shine through them, and their brilliant colors are muted and dull. Small square and triangular stones make up the floor of the aisles. These floors always fascinated me with their odd hieroglyphs. I inhale the stone smell, old with a fusty sort of holiness. It has been a long time since I've been to my mother's church.

I stopped going regularly when I was about twelve. Before that I had to go because my mother was the organist and the choir director, and I couldn't stay at home alone. Besides, I liked being in that Gothic castle with its secret passageways, dungeons, and sequestered rooms full of pipes for the organ. The choir was my extended family. My godmother was a soprano in the choir. My godfather a baritone. The rest of them were like assorted aunts and uncles. I even adopted the church secretary as my grandmother.

Then I became a teenager, and figured I didn't need all that family anymore and damn sure didn't need to have some stupid God preached at me every Sunday. Of course, as Episcopalians we weren't exactly fire and brimstone, but the liturgy entailed telling God how worthless we were and how thankful we were that his Son died for our sins. And none of it made any sense to me. I was too young to have committed any sins anyway.

But in the ensuing years life has done me the favor of kicking me around a bit, and though I still don't get the dying-for-mysins bit, I have now committed some grievous sins of my own, and I have come to believe that something larger than me exists, something ineffable. I'm not sure, however, that it lurks in this big stone building with its stained glass depictions of ecstatic saints and doubting disciples. Or maybe it is here. Maybe it's everywhere, like they say.

My brother John (or Jo as we call him in the family), wearing tails and looking magisterial, comes down the aisle, bearing the conductor's baton. An orchestra awaits him. My mother is seated at the console of the big organ with its four keyboards and its row of foot pedals. The choir is robed and ready. The concert begins.

My mother has always composed. At Yale she studied with the famous composer Paul Hindemith; he told the dean that she was his most promising student. In her professional life, she'd written original arrangements for her various choirs to sing and a couple of commissioned musicals, and she'd even rescored the music for The Lost Colony, an outdoor drama in Manteo, North Carolina.

Marriage to my father, however, had kept her early ambitions in check. My brothers said that he threw her compositions in the fireplace when she was younger. She told me that the most crushing thing he ever did to her spirit happened one time when he came into the music room of our house and found her working on a composition. Overhearing the work, he sneered and said, "That's facile, isn't it?" He did much worse things, but his snide comment about her work stung the most.

Tonight is her vindication. She's written a piece from her heart, a requiem for two young men. The men (both in their early twenties) died in separate accidents within a couple of weeks of each other. They were sons of close friends of hers. As a woman with sons of her own, as a friend, as a human being, she was deeply affected by this sudden, inexplicable loss of promise. "Why do people die so young?" she wondered. "Why am I still alive?" Not being a particularly religious person, she couldn't fall back on that old standby: God's will.

I'm sitting in the crowded church, listening to this strange, sometimes atonal piece. It doesn't sound like traditional church music; the voices are haunting. The saints in their stained glass prisons hold their breaths and listen. Do the dead gather to hear the music written in their honor? The list on the program includes more than just the two who inspired it. There are about thirty names of various church members who have died within the past year. I know a few of them.

And am I thinking about the dead I have known? Two of my cohorts from the bad old days died from drug overdoses. Other acquaintances died in drunk driving accidents, and others might as well be dead, locked away for years. No, I am not acknowledging them or any of the others. I am only looking forward. I have stepped out of my dark past, but I haven't really found my place in the world, and I have no idea that resurrecting this piece of music will become my mission more than a quarter of a century later.



I place my lips around the regulator, take a breath, and fall back off the side of the boat into the greenish-blue water. My hair floats across my face as I turn belly down and swim toward the bottom. The water is murky, churned-up sand making a thick filter. I look for my dive buddy, Joel, and spot his fins waving languidly. He's swimming toward the reef. A thin layer of water seeps into my wet suit and begins to warm me.

The current pushes and shoves. The surface is choppy, and my stomach didn't like the ride out. I've always been prone to motion sickness, so scuba has been a challenging hobby, but in the past, as soon as I've gotten below the surface, my stomach has relaxed and I've been able to enjoy the serene beauty of the coral reefs or the wrecks. Not today. The egg biscuit I had for breakfast taps on the door of my esophagus. I remember my dive instructor advising, "Don't puke in your regulator."

I can no longer hear the purr of the boat engine. The only sound is the steady stream of bubbles pouring out of my regulator. I check my air tank and see that it's about three-quarters full. I'm not enjoying the dive. My stomach won't unknot. I feel tired and can't see much of anything. We're above the reef; a few random angelfish slide by. I swim alongside Joel and our eyes meet through the masks. He makes the okay sign, and I make it back. I'm not really okay, but since this is such a crummy day, I can look forward to a short dive.

A strong arm pulls me back on the boat. My feet with the fins on them are unwieldy. I feel like a clumsy dinosaur until I slip my buoyancy compensator and the tank off my back.

"How are you doing?" Joel asks, pulling off his mask.

"I'm still seasick," I answer. "I don't understand why."

"Well, it's kinda rough out there."

"Not that rough."

I lean back and don't say anything else. I'm too sick to talk. The other divers are all back on board, and I can hear the boat engine roar as it's pushed full throttle. Once the boat starts speeding over the waves, the tossing will lessen and I'll get a little relief. Joel sits beside me and pats my arm. Joel is an editor at the newspaper where I work. My boyfriend, Hank, is out of town, a fairly common event, and Joel is one of the people I pal around with when he's gone.

Joel and I put our gear into the back of his car and make our exit from the dive park at Marathon Key. My stomach has finally begun to settle down and I'm hungry. We're driving along US 1 with the wind blowing through the windows and the sun jackhammering through the clouds. We stop at a little Cuban roadside joint for coffee and subs.

"Feeling better?" Joel asks. I nod.

"It's funny," I tell him. "The other day at aerobics class I got so tired. I couldn't even finish the class. And then today ... well, I've never stayed seasick once I got in the water."

I gaze at palmetto bushes on the other side of the road. A yellow cat slinks under the table. It looks like a scrawny version of my own cat, Monster, who found and adopted me the day after a bad abortion six years earlier.


"What is it?" Joel asks.

"I know why I'm sick," I tell him, setting down my media noche on the round mosaic table. "I'm pregnant."

As I sail down the escalator at the San Francisco Airport in my long black coat, I look into Hank's eyes and I am reminded of smoky topaz. I slide into those eyes and find myself ensconced in a warm dark place. When Hank looks at me, he sees a woman carrying a burden. He sees cells multiplying, growing fat, thickening against him like a wall.

Hank kisses me when I reach the bottom, not a passionate kiss, but a soft dry kiss. He is shy about kissing in public places, even here in this airport, but he kisses me, and the glow I feel keeps the chill away, the chill I have felt coming like a long delayed winter. He takes my suitcase from the carousel in baggage claim and tosses it into the trunk of a rental car.

I close my eyes when we get in the car. I had no idea that I would be so tired, that pregnancy would be like a drug, that it would fall on me like the San Francisco fog into which we are driving.

"There's damage from the earthquake everywhere," Hank says. "We'll have to stay at a hotel here by the airport. All downtown is closed."

"Mmmm," I answer and nod against the cool windowpane. Then I rouse myself and say, "Not the best time to take a vacation to San Francisco, I guess."

"It won't matter," he says. "We'll go up north and see the mountains, maybe drive into Nevada."

Hank grew up in California, but we live in Florida. Our yard is a rain forest and our swimming pool is an emerald pond. When it is not emerald, but chlorine-doused blue, we drink Cointreau and loll in the water in the moonlight. We are not married. He travels for a television network. I work for a newspaper. We planned this trip to California months ago — long before the earthquake happened, before the pregnancy. I told him the news on the phone. I knew he would not be happy about it.

In San Francisco we eat prawns, we buy sourdough bread and Ghirardelli chocolates, we laugh at the seals in the bay because they remind us of our dog, and we drive down windy little streets and visit Chinatown. We appear to be blissfully in love, but we both know that it may be the last time in our lives we ever feel like this.

We leave San Francisco and drive north through small California towns. We steal an apple from an orchard and share it, the sweet juice dripping down our chins. We eat seafood in Eureka and stay in the oldest hotel in town. We drive to Mount Shasta and hike through virgin snow. We stop wherever we see rocks and streams. He collects water in a canteen he has had since he was a Boy Scout. I sit by the stream, my long black coat fanned on the rock, and drink the cool water from his canteen. The air around me is a fresh new skin. Every single moment seems to be amplified, like the slow motion of the cinema; every moment deepens and widens and holds more than just time.

As I am standing by a grape arbor above Jack London's house, a rainbow stretches across the sky like the trail of a running goddess. I can see the beauty, but I cannot feel it. Hank has grown silent, and I am like someone inside an upturned glass. People will wonder why I am so sad. He's just a man, they'll say, and not a very good one if this is how he treats you. But I am still the fatherless girl, the girl who stuck needles in her arms and straws up her nose and drank her way to oblivion until I found the one person who could drive away the demons.

After we visit Jack London's house, where we see two startled deer and the charred ruins of Wolf House, we head west into the desert. The unspoken fear that has dogged him ever since he learned I was pregnant has caught up to us and clings to his back. He realizes that I am not going to change my mind. I am going to have this child.

We catapult into gaudy, glitzy Reno. I am perpetually hungry. At three in the morning we eat in the hotel surrounded by gamblers edgy to get back to their games. We glower at each other with raccoon eyes. His ragged fear has turned into rage. My passivity has evolved into stony stoicism. The handshake is over; we retreat to our corners.

We go to Virginia City — dirt and dust and a cold wind blowing by brown shops selling turquoise jewelry. We pace along the sidewalks, saying nothing. Then I see a dusty cemetery with toppled tombstones. In the cemetery I stare at tiny little graves, and I can't help thinking about the last time, my legs up in stirrups, the tube inside me, the sucking sound, the sudden inerasable pain. The hemorrhaging afterward.


Excerpted from "Wait Until Tomorrow"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Pat MacEnulty.
Excerpted by permission of Feminist Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
FOUR - MAY 1992,
FIVE - APRIL 1999,
EIGHT - MAY 2002,
ONE - AUTUMN 2003,
TWO - SPRING 2004,
ONE - SUMMER 2009,
SIX - AUTUMN 2006,
TEN - FALL 2007,
ONE - WINTER 2008,
TWO - SPRING 2008,
Copyright Page,

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