Frank

April 14, 2016

My father looks the same basically as he always did; he is just an older version of the same man who raised me and has been such a major figure in my life all these years. Inside, though, he has vastly changed. Dementia has been gradually eating away all remnants of the man I know and love so well. The man who at 4AM woke me wielding a baseball bat at the open front door and hollering at nonexistent intruders is a stranger to me. I do not know this fragile, elderly figure who looks at me with a blank gaze and clearly does not know me either. This (nevertheless) dear man asks incessantly where my mother is, when the man he used to be would remember that he took her to the ER yesterday and that she spent last night in the hospital. This dear, bewildered man has been lost without his wife of 67 years. He has been wandering the house blindly, calling her name and asking me where she is. I tell him each time, but five minutes later each time he asks again. This professor of music education, who played in big bands and semi-professional baseball as a youth, awakened me last night pounding on my door asking where my mother is. I am trying to reconcile this man with the father I have always known and loved. I know I need to get to know this version of my beloved Pip, and the versions that will likely follow. At this point he still has lucid moments, thankfully, when his eyes fix on me with recognition and he calls me by my name. But for the past 24 hours, he has been trapped in the dream he keeps repeating, the one in which he sees Mom walking down a street at twilight and he approaches her from the other direction. This dream is reality for my father. It breaks my heart, but I apply a figurative Band-Aid and keep listening to him, holding his hand and sitting tough.

Mom may be released from the hospital today after a thankfully successful procedure. We both hope that her return will soothe Dad’s troubled mind and spirits. But we also know it will not last.

Meanwhile, my dad is smiling as he watches a cardinal take flight from the dogwood tree outside the kitchen window. I kiss his cheek and finish folding the last piece of laundry for the day. Done.

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In the shadow of the pyramid

camels are

fire racing through the dunes.

Diamonds shatter like glass.

Servants feed

their masters manna from heaven

and honey from the catacombs.

Orion is yet a decade away

as your skin tastes of caramel

and eyes burning pure amber

we soak up sand in every crevice

and mystics whirl

entranced by thunder sounding

in our memories alone.

Pinwheels explode

in the moon’s eye and he shuts it in reverence

as I lick the sweat from your every pore

and the pyramid winks.

Patient (a very short story)

September 5, 2009

Outside it looked like a perfectly ordinary day. The sun was streaming through the branches of the oak trees beside the window; she watched the reflected light and shadows tango on the carpet, wall and furniture before her. She noted how, gradually, the said light and shadows moved as the sun crept higher in the heavens. People passed by on occasion, in car or by foot, apparently not paying heed to the immaculate sky, the warm spring tinge to the air, that lovely intangible scent and feel that the air gets when winter has finally shut down for another year and the new season brings the world back to life.

The Beatles sang that all we need is love as she thought of another spring day not so long ago. On this day, there were clouds, lots of them, dark ones that hovered low and thunder rumbled distantly. She was enroute to meet a friend at their favorite café for lunch and decided to take a shortcut through the park to hopefully beat the rain. While crossing the grassy expanse between the pavilion and the playground, something caught her eye and she stopped, knelt down for closer examination. It was a four leaf clover, wasn’t it? She had always hoped to find one but never really thought it actually existed. Automatically she reached for it, pulled it out by its roots…only to find that the fourth leaf had been an illusion created by her own mind or the grass beside it. Before she could react, she felt the first raindrops hit the back of her neck, quickly joined by many more. Standing quickly, the three leaf clover dropped from her fingers as she pulled her jacket over her head and began to run, imagining herself darting between the bullets of rain that now fell liberally and smashed on the ground below. In her wake, the clover landed near its plucking place, already forgotten, waiting for the next person who might mistake it for something magical before it died.

As The Beatles gave way to an anonymous female singing of lost romance, she watched the shadows dancing on the Manet print beside the black metal floor lamp and tried not to dwell on the what ifs, the maybes. Suddenly another memory filled her mind. She must have been ten years old and it was January, not April. She was trying out the brand new ice skates she had received for Christmas and she was doing so on the small pond two blocks from home. She was too shy to let her friends at the rink see her in her beginning stages on ice, so alone she ventured to the pond, sat in the snow to lace up her new white Riedells and then, very carefully, stood up on the edge of the ice. Tentatively she tiptoed out until she felt safe enough to put her feet down and take that first skating step. She thought she heard the ice groaning and creaking below; she worried that it might give way, so she kept to the sides of the pond as she relaxed and enjoyed the feeling of moving on the blades, her arms extended for balance. Eventually she stopped concentrating, losing herself in the cold wind hitting her back and imagining herself being propelled along like a kite. It was then that she caught her toe on the ice and sprawled headlong on the frozen water, banging her chin, biting her tongue and tearing a hole in her Christmas snow pants in the process. Tears freezing to her cheeks, the taste of blood in her mouth, chin and knee aching, she crawled back to the snowbank and removed her new skates. At least I didn’t fall in, she reasoned from her current vantage point, as the memory of her younger self limping home, torn and raw, receded into the distance as the sun rose higher in the sky outside the window.

Restless now, she wondered how long it would be as she glanced at her watch for the nth time and shifted in her chair, recrossing her right leg. She caught the eye of an elderly woman in a blue linen shirt and trousers sitting across the room; the woman smiled blandly and rolled her eyes in mock exasperation and comradeship before turning her attention back to her book. Meanwhile, the small boy in blue jeans and dirty sneakers crossed his eyes at her before turning around and attempting to stand on his head in the chair beside the oblivious older woman.

The song playing now was new to her but soothing to her ears and spirit. She began to relax in her seat as the piano and gentle harmonies seemed to leap out of the speakers and Norah Jones et al. played before her. A familiar hand was taking hers and gently pulling her to her feet. All of a sudden she was dancing with him again, this special person whom she never expected to see again after that ugly, hateful night last year. Bitterness ebbed, only to be replaced by peace and that feeling of rightness that only love can bring. Seamlessly they moved together in the natural way they always had done…her head fit so comfortably into the crevice of his shoulder and neck. Just as she was about to speak, though, ask him if he was back for good…the song ended and she found herself sitting where she had been all along: no Norah Jones, no piano, no lover. She blinked back tears and looked at her watch again. Tick tock tick tock tick tock….the girl jumped off the dock…the band knew how to rock…I need to mend a sock…I’m going into shock. No, he wouldn’t be back, and that’s fine. Life moves on. There’s no time for corny reveries or might have beens. There is just now, and that might be all there ever is.

Somewhere nearby a phone rang but by now she was unsure if it was inside or outside her mind.

When the door opened and the nurse beckoned to her, she stood, setting aside the unopened People magazine, and as she left the waiting area for the examination room, she thought of three leaf clovers and scabbed chins and knees, the marks of a survivor who was just lucky enough. So far, anyway.

Ninth month

September 2, 2009

September…new beginnings…a hint of autumn air finally cooling summer’s humid hold…birthdays for family and soul mates alike…a David Sylvian song…a Woody Allen film…school days and waiting for December…work days and waiting for December…Halloween decor assembled in stores…good tv, bad tv…canadian geese headed further south still in beryl skies..nine one one…goodbye to an old friend…a bittersweet hello to others.

September…a month of promise and sorrow, a month of change, of more color to come.