Saturday, September 7, 2013
It was a topsy-turvy twelve hours or so for me—roiling evening, some peace at sleep—and I woke up twisted in the comforter with wild hair and the unfamiliar sense of being rested. Half-sat, rubbed my eyes, extricated myself from the bedding. Pushed aside enormous cat, rearranged the pillows, pulled up the bedspread, and felt something hard underneath, near the end on the side away from the wall. Lifted it to find my glasses, prim little package, smug as though resting on burgundy velvet in a long glass case. I picked them up, contemplated them briefly, and set them on the kitchen counter, where they remain.
This doesn’t mean anything unless you know that they’ve been gone for over a week, and for 18 years or so I’ve worn them almost every day. I looked in the bed, of course; it was the obvious place. It’s so rare you can pinpoint when and where something is lost, rarer still that knowing so, the thing stays lost. I had been lying in bed with my little one, in that half-awake state you get when you put your child to sleep, intending to roll out when she’s out and find yourself hours later opening your own eyes wondering if it’s day or night. My glasses were pinned to the pillow by my face, and I picked them up and, as I’ve inadvisably done so many times before, tossed them to the end of the bed. I didn’t hear them hit the ground, so assumed all fine, until the actual morning, when I searched through and under the bedding, enlisted a search crew with better eyesight and, irritated, decided I’d find them later. Where could they have gone? The trajectory arc had been six feet long.
But somehow, at the end of that day, after a cursory pat down and quick peer around the baseboards, I didn’t look anymore. And the day after that, and the day after that, and even yesterday evening, as I walked alone up Park Avenue, just past rush hour as the sky turned milky and the lights came on around me up to the sky like stubborn fireflies, blinking, one by one, I reached up and stroked my own cheek to feel their absence. Grand Central loomed larger in the foreground as I walked, the street signs unintelligible, the light exquisite, nothing clear around me but my own hands, in focus and distinct, like the pavement under each step forward.
All week I’ve been aware of this contrast, the sharpness of my immediate surroundings, the silvery-white of my nail beds, the yellow streaks in my eyes in the mirror, the dust dancing in the faded light through the Madison Avenue side windows, and then the vast, soft, vagueness of everything else. I’ve been walking the streets looking up—skyscrapers with rounded edges, watercolor trees and storefronts, no brushstrokes, no primary colors, even, the whole wide world through a filter of silvery-grey.
And I, pushing through the weighted light half-seeing, have felt unseen, in a strange and even glorious way. Not anonymous, or one of the teeming masses, or whatever people say about being an ant speck in a city of millions, but unseen, and the relief has somehow changed everything. Where are you? a friend I’m meeting asks on the phone, and I look up, first, and then around me. I can see the green, the vertical lines of the poles, but no numbers or words, not even the existence of numbers or words. It’s midtown, so suits, shinier shoes, briefcases like a forties movie—nobody’s young, even out of focus. I stop on a corner and look at my arms, still brown, fine etched lines, golden hairs glinting a little in the dying light.
Where exactly? she asks again, and I cross the street, music playing in my head for the first time in a long time, teeth not clenched, shoulders not tight, eyes ahead on a chalk-rubbed horizon. I don’t know, I finally say, although I know of course I have to stop up close to answer, close enough to see the 36th or 38th, or 39th Street sign, stop because we’re meeting, stop because I have to, because even in this iridescent bubble I’ve been moving in I know that everybody isn’t in there with me. But in that instant—that single shard—I don’t know where I am and I don’t care where I am and I can see that in not knowing, not seeing, letting things recede, accepting the lack of clarity, I have somehow found myself again.
And when my little one—soft-focus, pink and tan, no edges, inside or out—looks at me this morning when life starts up again, after spotting the found glasses on the countertop, and asks me if I’m never going to wear them again, I am startled. Why would she ask that? I think, squinting at her hard, although she always asks the questions you would never think of, forcing me, so literal, to circle back and wonder how she ever got there. And I look at her, and see her very clearly, see the white webs in the black countertop, the fly on the lid of the sugar bowl, my own lined hand reaching out to stroke her soft, soft hair. The glasses rest on the counter, neutral.
I don’t know, I say, which is the truth, and she walks off, satisfied, always, with the indefinite response. And I look at the glasses again, and pick up my lukewarm coffee cup, and follow her out of the room. Without looking back. For right now anyway, I can see enough.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
I spoke to a friend at around 5:30 this evening and realized, when she asked me point blank, that I had not left the apartment in over twenty-four hours. Why? Sick baby, that's why. The routine is familiar to me now, in a dreamlike way--sharply defined behind a veil of haze--perhaps because it so often launches itself in the middle of the night. Like most people, I suppose, I loathe being wakened from a deep sleep, but when a hot face presents itself to you with a wail of utter despair, you are suddenly so awake that it's as though you never were asleep, as though night never actually happened--it is in these moments, at 3 a.m. with a sick little girl in my arms, that I can really believe the world has stopped, that only she and I exist, that only her suffering and my desire to alleviate it exist, and that I was given this child, put on this earth, for precisely this reason, to be the source of some, of any, relief.
We spent all day like this, once the long night finally turned itself over, and all day, we lay beside each other, her eyes hot with tears each time she sat up over the pot I was carting around with us from room to room. She knew the sips of liquid she was drinking were making her sick, but she is two, after all, and she couldn't quite get over the emptiness in her stomach, and we tried, again and again, my teeth clenched as I waited: a popsicle, a cracker, some Gatorade, a rice cake, some seltzer. It all came up, and I held her head each time, and then she sank back into me each time, collapsed, almost, in a rare submission, saying, over and over, "Me not better, Mama. Me not."
"You will be soon," I said, holding her, pushing her damp hair off of her forehead, my own mind flashing a surreal sideshow of my own sick memories, as they always do when they are sick: the antennae on the small TV carted into our sick rooms and the static on the screen, such an anachronism now, my father in the doorway with a coffee Fribble from Friendly's, my mother's face, a face I never imagined wearing until the first of these night wakenings, the cool cloths she always brought, just before you needed to ask her, poking those chalky orange-flavored baby aspirin into the soil of a plant in the living room, a story I have not told my girls, maybe won't.
The rise and fall of a day with a fever, the sobbing at the worst of it, the hot flushed skin, the bright eyes, and then the cooling off, the euphoria, the padding around holding hands--"I like to walk with you inside, Mama," making me mad at myself for tiring of it. "Now I better. I hungry," and then the rise again. And the fall. And the inevitable turn to the favorite game, the way I will remember my littlest girl over the course of this remarkable year of her life: Tiny Mama, in which she turns to me with no warning, no introduction, and announces, "Now you baby," and I am meant to immediately assume my role, no dress rehearsal, no allowances for timing. This time, though, when I complied, when I asked for my blanket and for her to make me some soup in her kitchen, she shook her head, forgetting, in that instant, that the whole thing had been her idea, initiated not by me. "No," she says, climbing onto the couch and nestling into me, her skin, I can sense through her shirt and through mine, hot and dry again. "You Mama."
"Why?" I say, curious about the unprecedented pivot, unexpected change-back.
"I need you take care of me," she says, matter-of-factly, aptly, so sweetly that I almost cannot bear it.
And the day continues. The rise and fall of it.
And I do.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Yesterday, Lily, Annika and I made a cake for a just-four-year-old we love, and today we presented it to her at her birthday party. We made the cake because the birthday girl's mother had expressed dismay at her daughter's very specific yet frustratingly vague vision and wasn't sure if she could take it on or if a bakery could be hired to create it. I liked the idea of the challenge: how do you make something look the way it looks in someone else's imagination?
This is what the birthday girl wanted: a large heart-shaped cake that was the color of raspberries and covered with glitter. We mixed the batter, which I had thought would be white but which Lily and Annika insisted be pink. We baked it, and made the frosting, which came pretty close to raspberries, perhaps a little more pink. We covered the entire cake with silvery translucent glitter sugar crystals, and Lily and I wrote the words "Happy Birthday Amelia" in "fancy" lettering with a glittery, silvery icing tube.
Annika and I walked to the party carrying this enormous cake, as Lily was meeting us at the party spot from the school bus. It is amazing how much attention you get when walking that many blocks with a giant raspberry-colored sparkly birthday cake and an Annika. The cake itself suffered only one relatively minor smushing, into my sweater button, and arrived at the party before most of the guests. It was set in a place of honor, tilted up for maximum viewing potential, and after about five minutes the birthday girl realized it had arrived. She ran across the room, hair flying, eyes enormous, skidding to a stop in front of her cake. She climbed up on a stool for a closer look. She closed her eyes, then opened them again, as though to see if the cake had remained in place. She shook her head slightly.
"It's EXACTLY what I was hoping for," she said.
Sometimes, this actually happens.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
This seems like a good sign: even though it's 11:48, and I still have about 2 hours of work to do on the baby food cookbook, I have not one but TWO entries I want to write. I think I will choose one and have the other in my back pocket for tomorrow. But maybe this will spiral out of control in a good way and tomorrow I'll have seven or eight ideas, and what will I do then? As one of my wiser friends would point out: That would be a high-class problem.
So which to tackle first? Dogs. Or rather dog as conduit to a light at the end of the tunnel, by which I mean a shift in perspective, which really, when it comes right down to it, is often all I am looking for, all anybody ever needs. Today was Sadie's second dog job in two days--they don't call collies working dogs for nothing. (Although don't tell Scout--he thinks his job is licking the garbage can and occasionally moving from the couch to the bed.) This visit, for several key reasons, is mine and mine alone. For one, it takes place when Lily is in school and Annika, theoretically, is napping. For another, it is to the YAI NAtional Institute for People with Disabilities, and when they say disabilities, they're not kidding. I thought I had prepared myself, done my homework, before my first visit, but I was truly taken back by the severity of some of the disabilities: people who could not see, hear, speak, walk or move their limbs of their own accord, people missing eyes, hands, arms, legs, parts of faces, people who, on first sighting, barely resembled what we think of as people at all.
So what is a person, anyway? An assemblage of limbs and organs and brain and skin and blood? What if all that isn't there?
As it turns out, Sadie knows, knows what a person is and how to pad right up to one and lick that person's hand and then her face, turning slightly and leaning into a wheelchair so that person can rest her hand, a loose and angled contraption with three fingers and heavy bulging veins, on her back ever so lightly, burrowing those fingers into her fur, throwing back her head, sightless eyes toward the ceiling, her smile so wide you can't bear to look at it for long because you feel yourself on the verge of bursting into tears, which would be a human thing to do, would make one certainly a person, too, but wouldn't be quite right under the circumstances.
Wouldn't be quite right because this room, the lunchroom of this huge facility, with a sort of funny not-quite-hospital smell and plastic chairs around the edges and social workers and therapists who have that earnest liberal arts vibe and groovy faded t-shirts from expensive islands and a leader of the program who has a digital camera to photograph the people with the dogs and a shiny bald head and the confidence that must come with knowing you are going to heaven if there is one and six dogs, from the polar bear sized Homer down to a teeny curly ball of fluff named Mica, and about thirty people who didn't come with the dogs, people in wheelchairs and careening around unsteadily and lying on the floor and leaning into the walls and clutching at my arm and reaching into my back pocket where I keep the pictures of Sadie--this room is full of joy.
It is the most joyful place, in fact, I have been in years, maybe ever, because the people--and feeling joy, that makes a person--are so joyful that they are shrieking with it, some of them, mouths open so wide I can see their tonsils, or so overcome by it that they are trembling with it, rippling all over from head to toe with it, throwing out their arms and throwing them around the dogs, the whole dog in the cases of the smaller ones, the neck or midsection or tail end of the larger ones, like Sadie, who licks and leans and makes a sort of vibrating whistling happy sound she doesn't make anywhere else, overcome herself, perhaps, with so much showing of joy, so much directed at her.
What makes a person? Joy, and sorrow, too--the man who whispered, "Noreen died," in my ear each time I drew near until one of the earnest social workers explained, "He loved her. It was a very long time ago," and I looked closely at this man's face, his leathery black skin, his red stained sweatshirt, the mournful piece of spaghetti stuck to the top of his shoe and put my arm on his shoulder. He jerked; I realized he hadn't seen or sensed me. "Noreen," he said, shaking his head, and I could see his eyes were cloudy white all over. "I know," I said. "I'm sorry."
But most of all, I think, more than the joy or the sorrow (one thin line, remember?) is connection--that moment when a person becomes linked to you and you to them in that moment more meaningfully than anything else in the world because for the two of you, it is that moment--that is the moment of your life right then. Sadie knows this, always has, knows how easy and life-affirming it can be to simply connect. She brings me to it, takes me home remembering, valuing, wondering--wondering how many people like this there are in the world, people we just don't see.
Oh, Sadie. You are such a very good dog.
And finally, one last late note: the director always tells the people who come to visit with us in the lunchroom not to touch us, to touch the dogs but not the people. They never listen--they prefer the dogs, for the most part, but when one isn't right at hand, they reach out to me instead. And I close my hand around the hand on my arm, it is always my arm, and whisper, "Thank you."