In honor of Mothers Day, here’s an except from Ancient Blood: A Novel of the Hegemony in which Avery remembers his:
From the Unpublished Manuscript by Avery Doyle
So what is it with me and vampires, anyway?
Well, it started with my mother.
I didn’t know my natural father, since he and Mom didn’t marry and I’ve never been interested in finding him. I also never got along too well with Jim. But I was very close to my mother.
She was a slender, pale, dark-haired woman with a smile that was often described as “pixie-ish.” The things I remember most about her, aside from her affection, were her intelligence and humor. She had a wicked, exuberant sense of humor that carried her through even the worst times. It’s the greatest gift she ever gave me.
My oldest memories are of her reading to me from the large collection of novels and short stories she had in bookcases all over our house. She never read the kind of typical kids’ stories to me that most parents would, choosing instead stuff like The Once and Future King and Tolkien before I was five and simply glossing over the parts that I didn’t understand. She enjoyed fantasy novels but loved horror movies, especially the older ones. We’d watch the Creature Features on weekends and I grew up loving the old Universal and Hammer vampire movies. Then I’d go to the library and check out those novelizations of the classic Universals that Thorne used to publish, complete with stills from the movie and have her read them to me at bedtime.
Anyway, by the time I was in the fifth grade, I was reading Stoker’s Dracula and Shelly’s Frankenstein for myself—in fact, I remember getting in trouble for doing just that when the teacher disapproved of my choice in reading material. My mom came into school to defend me, which was not as small a thing as it sounds.
My mother had a form of Multiple Sclerosis known as relapsing-remitting which is characterized by bouts of worsening symptoms, known as “exacerbations,” followed by full or partial recovery. My mom had the type that never fully recovered after an exacerbation, so by that time, she was already walking with the help of a cane and became fatigued easily. Still, she came into school to speak to the principal and my English teacher over something that wouldn’t have even earned me a detention.
I had the greatest mother in the entire world.
I suppose I’d have to say that Mom’s disease was one of the defining elements of growing up. I was able to prepare simple meals, do grocery shopping and do most basic housework by the time I was twelve. We didn’t have the money or insurance to hire visiting nurses, so my half-sister Lisa, Mom wanted to name her Arwen or something like that but Jim wouldn’t have it and I were mainly responsible for helping her out. Jim worked extra hours and even got a weekend paper route to pay the bills. I sometimes had to help out and to this day, I hate the smell of newsprint. Later, I suspected that the asshole also used any excuse he could to stay away from home those last years. Well, that’s probably not fair to say—there’s things I’ll never forgive Jim for but I know he loved my mom and it had to be tough to see her like that.
In Seventh Grade, I was held back because I’d missed too many days staying home to take care of her. On her bad days, she was too weak to even get into her wheelchair, get dressed, take her medication, use the bathroom, or feed herself without some assistance. She also had difficulty concentrating enough to read during these flare-ups, so I’d read to her instead. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s novels, ‘Salem’s Lot and George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream were particular favorites of ours.
It always made me proud to know I was helping make things easier for her. It was never a chore or a duty. It was a true labor of love. She helped me take care of her by keeping my spirits up, creating jokes out of things that might have been embarrassing or awkward and making sure I knew my efforts were appreciated.
The summer after my second attempt at Seventh Grade, my mother had a particularly bad exacerbation and had to be hospitalized. Anyway, what can I say about watching someone you love die that you can’t guess? The thing is, as hard as dredging all this up is now, I was pretty numb at the time. When you live with the slow course of a progressive disease, on some level you’re always waiting for the last time, for that last downturn, while the rest of you accepts the symptoms and flare-ups as normal. As a kid of thirteen, I doubt I was capable of coming to terms with the fact that my mother—the brightest star in my private universe—was dying. I’d go see her just about every day and we’d talk and read and watch movies just like normal, except she had a little less energy and would fall asleep more often. I remember a lot of insignificant moments from that summer but my favorite memory is us watching Fright Night together. We’d planned to go see it in the theater when it came out but her condition made it impossible.
That was also the summer I read Interview With the Vampire.
More and more often as the weeks progressed, I’d come in to find her asleep or too fuzzy from the painkillers to talk much, so I’d bring books to read until she was ready. I’d been avoiding Interview for a while because a friend at school described it as “girly.” Mom told me that she’d loved it and I’d run out of other choices, so I read it and became enraptured.
I felt Louis’s grief and guilt over the death of his beloved brother, his torment at Lestat’s hand, his doomed love for Claudia and his complete misery at her murder more genuinely than my own feelings. As I sat at Mom’s bedside, day after day, I wept for Louis le Ponte du Lac and his ordeals the way I couldn’t weep for my mother’s or my own. To this day, he remains one of my favorite characters in all of literature. Of course, everyone else thinks Lestat is cooler.
I do know for certain that as that thirteen-year-old boy sat in that smelly hospital floor reading that novel, he began to wish that he would be given the chance Louis had. Deep down, he decided that he could live with the limitations, the pain and the hardship if it meant having the power to restore vibrant life to his mother’s crippled body. He knew he could live without the sun if he could have her young, strong and with him forever.
The last time I saw my mother alive was a week before my fourteenth birthday. The tubes that grew out of her and the colorless, shriveled figure that lay in her bed didn’t even look familiar anymore. Sometimes I talked to her and held her hand, just to give her the feeling of my presence but the idea of speaking to this cyborg that wasn’t really my mother embarrassed me. After a while, I figured I’d come back on one of her more normal days and got up to leave.
As I got to the curtains, however, I was nagged by a persistent, pragmatic intuition. What if there were no more normal days? What if this was the last time? I didn’t want to regret leaving without at least telling Mom I loved her, so I walked back and took her hand.
Her eyes opened. Those wonderful, soft gray eyes focused on me with recognition and a hint of moisture. Suddenly she was my mother again, alive and alert, trapped in a malfunctioning body. There was a kind of mingled joy and sorrow in her expression and I think that was when it all struck home for me. She wasn’t going to get better. This was what it had all come down to, all the happiness, the difficulty and the struggle, all for this.
I’d come up with a long list of beautiful, appropriate, mature things to say to her while she was sleeping, thanking her for various moments together, gifts she’d given me, things I’d learned but confronted with that loving-goodbye look, I felt a sensation like I had when my cousin held me underwater in the deep end of my aunt’s swimming pool. All those beautiful, mature insights disappeared. All I managed to choke out was, “Mommy? I … love you, Mom…”
She’d been having problems with her throat and could only nod, mouthing the words “I know.” Or maybe it was “I love you, too.” It’s hard to remember, because I didn’t want to look. I could feel myself getting ready to erupt in tears and, for no reason I can understand, I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to take the chance that it would be her last memory of me. I know it doesn’t make any sense but I was so used to making decisions based on her comfort that I couldn’t make myself stop. To this night, it still bothers me.
So, I kissed her forehead and I left, practically running in my haste to get out of there. I’d killed her, you see. I was certain of that. That damn whisper of practicality in my ear that made me tell her I loved her. After all, everyone knows “I love you” is what you say when there’s no hope left and nothing else worth saying. My selfish desire to have it done with had sealed her fate. I knew that as I walked home and let out the tears I’d been holding onto.
I was right. The next morning, we got the call that Mom was no longer breathing on her own. Rather than “burden” me and Lisa with having to see her that way, Jim told them to disconnect the machines.
Mom’s funeral was a terrible experience, full of sanctimonious relatives who’d never bothered to help out while she was alive but now insisted on a Catholic service conducted by a priest who’d never met her. So it was all God this and Jesus that and let us pray and give it up for the Lord and hardly a word about my mom’s life, her joy, or the loss of her bright, courageous spirit to the world. I haven’t said a prayer or stepped into a church since.
After that, I started eating all the time, even when I wasn’t hungry. A few months after Mom died, I attempted suicide by swallowing some sleeping pills and an airline-size bottle of Anisette from Jim’s liquor cabinet. Everyone assumed that it was just grief and I let them go on thinking that, even after I started seeing Dr. Hanson.
In reality, I’d taken the idea that suicides return as vampires a little too seriously.