My Daughter, Marisa


With nails that curved over toes. Her limbs, limp, her eyes vacant. She took her acoustic guitar to music lessons. She attended art courses at the Douglas Hospital for the mentally disabled. She had lived in shelters and foster homes. She visited emergency rooms at different hospitals.

Cognitive disorder associated to epilepsy, chronic. Contribution of sarcoidosis to mental state is unknown. Mental retardation and psychotic episodes greatly impair insight and judgment. She has basic ALD. Adult learning disability and anxiety disorders. Although she was on welfare, she received a settlement from the sale of her former family house. Less than a year later, she was penniless.

The kitten ran and hid under the bed when it saw me. The Persian cat with a broad round head, long silky hair, and a thick tail. Within a few weeks, it looked as sickly as my daughter did. Bony and undernourished, its hair unkempt and tangled.

The last Thursday of April, Susan, her nurse, called me from St. Mary’s Center Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic: “Can you stay with your daughter until I come to pick her up in the morning? I have a tryout appointment at a foster home in LaSalle. I don’t want Marisa to check herself into emergency. We will not be able to find her.”

“I’ll stay with her,” I promised.

Lemon-yellow apartment block. Alley view of walled gardens. Fragrant with new blooms of red tulip, daffodil, purple crocus. Hum of traffic on Decarie Boulevard. Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

I arrived unannounced. Knocked on Marisa’s door. “I can take care of myself. Go home!” Her eyes blazed with anger.

Behind closed doors, acrid, pungent smell of cat litter. Here in these three overheated rooms of my daughter. Hardwood floors. Canvases. An easel. Metal rack of CD’s, black guitar, rickety table. Stale pizza crusts littered the refrigerator. “Did you eat yet?” I opened a can of chicken soup. Popped a toast.

White T-shirt, blue jeans, and running shoes. After supper, she lay down on her crumpled bed. Unhung paintings leaned against a walnut dresser. A landscape of turquoise, pink, and orange. Vibrantly embroidered floral motifs. Her rent check returned with insufficient funds.

I watched her stroke the cat’s knotted hair. Moon-pale, my first-born daughter. At times, I wished I could hug her as she hugged her kitten. I looked at Marisa and the cat. They didn’t accept pets at the foster home. New and unfamiliar world.

She lost all things that she dealt with daily. Everything in her house and kitchen garden. Red ochre stucco with long windows and narrow green shutters. Five years ago, she had a home. Interim divorce court. Her husband obtained custody of their two daughters ages five, and three. Five-month-old son.

The woman in those pictures is skinny, tense looking, and young. Her brown hair is short. That final summer, before her bout with chronic depression. Before Youth Protection Court declared her an unfit mother. Before I supervised her children’s visits.

Today, I bedded down on the living room floor, fully dressed. All night, Marisa tried to leave the apartment. In the dark, I yelled: “Don’t even try it!” Dozing, I awoke to see the door ajar. Down one flight of stairs. Cold cement steps under my stockinged feet. I caught up with her in the lobby. Hugged her close. Felt her gaunt, rigid body: “Come back upstairs.”

“I’ll hit you! I’ll hit you!” Her face, ashen, her eyes wild with rage. “Don’t do it. Don’t hit your mother!” I clamped her face with one hand. My fingers pressing her cheekbones. I held her there. “Don’t even think about it!” The sky, a curtain of indigo. Candles to light a room. Four in the morning. I hadn’t slept. Neither had she.

Ilona Martonfi Blue Poppy, a first book of poems, published with Coracle Press (2009). Published Coracle chapbook, Visiting the Ridge (2004). Poet, editor, creative writing teacher. Founder, producer/host of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Poetry and Prose Readings. Co-founder, producer/host of the annual Lovers & Others.