Five Days in Arkansas
The pilot urges us to look out of the right-side windows of the plane, asking with a smile in his voice if we have ever seen a bald eagle in flight.
There it is, winging next to the Airjet as we ascend.
When I was five-years old and my brother eleven, he taught me to play chess. This as a distraction after his failed attempt to enter me in the Little Miss America Pageant.
The family joked that his eyesight was always poor. I liked that he believed I could pull off a crown.
“Each piece, from Pawn to King, has its place and its own characteristics of movement. Remember that: in this and in life there is order, and the Queen rules the board.”
He is a fastidious man, he always has been, and it serves him well now. His shower strictly scheduled and timed, each body part cleansed in its specific order. His skin smells of amber when he is done.
I have inherited some of this compulsion for order but not all – I save private chaos for manic paint on sleepless nights. He can afford no chaos. Or privacy.
I say I will make mashed potatoes this evening. He smiles – he loves mashed potatoes. I make enough for five days. Not enough for him.
He is more mother to me than the mother I had, and certainly more father, but just as they are to me strangers, he is in many ways an unknown.
Each day now, he is a stranger to himself. He takes inventory each morning to determine what has left him, what he has left.
I stand beside him and hold his head between my hands to stop the now constant movement. I kiss his forehead.
His eyes meet mine and still I see joy and wonder there. How can that be I ask? That’s what happens when you live in the moment he replies.
I argue with God as my form of prayer of late.
I cry and drink mimosas too early in the morning.
I listen to Abbey Road over and over and try to learn to play the tambourine and bongos with an urgency that causes me to lose the beat and rhythm.
I know timing is everything. I know there is no time.
I cover his clean shirt with a beautician’s cape and joke that his back-length hair needs a perm. Then I feed him, soft food to keep him from choking.
I search my mind for some new joke, some witty thing to say to make those eyes laugh and I fail. My sister is the funny one.
People say surrender – to God, to the Universe, to “it”. Okay, I’ll surrender, but not without a fight.
His friends come each and every day. Tonight the musicians are here. They play his own songs for him with a tenderness I envy and admire.
They are his arms and legs and hands. Too rapidly they are becoming his ears and eyes.
Charm and talent will only get you so far on life’s road I tease. That seems to be the road I’m on he replies.
In all this, he has never lost his voice.
When I first arrived, my sister-in-law mused at my newly cropped hair.
An emotion-fueled night with blunt instruments, and a bottle of wine called Running with Scissors I explain.
I pull out a book from my bag of the same name. It is a theme.
Back in my hotel room, I open her gift to me, carefully wrapped
with cobalt tissue paper, tied with gold string and glass beads.
I saw her select these beads with concentration the day before.
I thought she would make earrings for herself.
In my hand I hold her Grandmother’s silver shears,
smaller than my palm.
In her note she warns that they are sharp.
She warns not to run.
Bob Dylan is singing Forever Young through my earphones
and I am sobbing and cannot stop.
I think one day I will write this all down,
that I will understand the complexities of my emotions
and my brother’s emotions
and my nephews’ emotions and my sister-in-law’s emotions
and my sister’s emotions and my husband’s emotions
and everyone involved’s emotions
and that job is too big to think about
so I think about what it is I can think about,
and tell the flight attendant No
although I wonder if I should have taken the cookies
I write for three minutes at a time,
obnoxious-sobbing reprieve time, and I think,
are these tears indeed obnoxious?
It depends on who I’m crying for.
And while this seat on this plane
leaving the Ozark Mountains is a really lousy place to have tears,
there is in this moment flight with a bald eagle,
and mashed potatoes waiting.
There are no revelations today.
No secrets uncovered. No cures.
No no-fair calls.
There is melody, the Spring maybe.
There is a prism in the window
raining cool color on wood and stone,
and in this white light moment it seems
is the road we’re on.
© 2007, Charleston, SC