Capture the water
This afternoon, I took a walk with my daughter. She didn’t want to go at first, but that’s normal. Inertia is a powerful force, and kids these days (did I really just say that?) don’t seem to like to take walks. This grieves me as I took my kids on regular mountain hikes from an early age, but so be it. I choose my battles, and that’s not one of them.
In other words, I would have let it go if she’d been determined to resist me, but something in the universe shifted. A ray of light shone through, and she accepted my invitation. She went upstairs to her bedroom and came down wearing waterproof rain pants. She reminded me she’d gotten them at ThriftTown. She requested an umbrella. I produced one. And we were off, with dear Daisy, our seven year old golden retriever with the 6 by 5 centimeter lipoma, not cancer, we were happy to learn this week.
Daisy was ecstatic, so happy that when she bounded, her spine nearly doubled in on itself as she twisted and leapt. Soon, she’d settled into a trot, and we were on our way. Em led the way down our street. She had me take a short movie of her striding in the rain in her rain pants. She made me put Daisy’s leash on as we got close to the busy thoroughfare near our house.
Pretty soon, I realized where we were going. Together, we made our way down the hill and then up to a ridge where a row of gaily painted houses perched. We can see these houses from our back windows, and Em had said the other day she’d always wondered exactly where they were. That’s where she led us.
We wanted to try to see our own house from the ridge. I crept into a side yard to peer over the fence and see if I could spot the back of our house, but Em said a man was watching me out the window. We backed out shamefacedly and continued on our way.
On the way home, we descended a steep hill. The gutters overflowed with rushing streams. I found a leaf and placed it atop the frenetic little river. We watched it get snatched away and carried down the hill aloft the churning waters. Em got into the act and placed her own little boats on the river. An orange flower, a twig, a smaller leaf. They raced away so fast it was comical.
We passed the muddy, swollen creek and wondered what we would do if Daisy went in and got carried away. We knew we’d jump in after her, get sucked into the tunnel and deposited below the streets, drowned on our way to the sewer or Lake Merritt, all because we wanted to save Daisy. We had fun laughing at our silly, macabre tales.
Shortly after we got home, I went to see my dad. I was nervous. I hadn’t seen him all week. When he’s in bad shape, it deflates me utterly. I’m filled with a gloomy anxiety and restlessness. Helpless irritation. Sadness.
Tonight, however, he was alert, even bright-eyed. He was right there when the elevator opened. He was seated in his wheelchair beside Fairchild, one of the nurses. Fairchild said he was restless, trying to stand, which is why he was now stationed beside Fairchild as he entered notes into the computer.
To learn my father has to be near Fairchild so Fairchild can prevent him from trying to stand and walk is… troubling.
Physical therapy is being taken away from my father again because he’s “not progressing,” but when he tries to do anything that would constitute progress or practice, he’s forbidden to do so because he might fall, or the attendants aren’t strong or numerous or credentialed enough to help him. I grimly made the mental note to come tomorrow and have a word with the social workers again about this.
My dad said, “Are we going to the movie? I want to see Moonlight.”
I laughed. “You do, huh? How do you know about Moonlight, dad?”
I glanced at the clock. It was 6 p.m. I briefly considered taking him to Moonlight. He was in his pajamas. The last time we tried to take him to a movie, he had to go to the bathroom right before it began. Now that he’s in a wheelchair, visiting the loo is a harder task to accomplish (and believe me, it was plenty hard before. I’ve wiped my dad’s butt many a time. And it’s fine. It’s just fine.) We got our money back and returned to the facility to get help from the nurses.
Also, for at least the last three years, my dad’s fallen asleep in every movie we’ve taken him to. Before that, though, he enjoys an invisible coke. Well, that only happened once in the theater, but it was certainly memorable. He very carefully lifted an invisible coke from the floor, took a sip from an invisible straw and carefully passed it down the row. We all took a “sip” from the invisible straw and dutifully passed it back, at which time my father carefully placed the dewy (obviously) cup back on the floor.
I promised to take him to Moonlight on Sunday.
I got some vaseline and applied it to my father’s lips. His chapsticks keep disappearing. I had him hold his poetry book, the New Yorker that came in today’s mail, and my journal in his lap. I made sure his feet were on the pedals of the wheelchair, and we headed headed for the elevator.
We descended to the ground floor and wheeled around a little bit. We passed the guard at the front desk. My dad said, “Hi!” The guard ignored him. I said, “Hi!” a little more forcefully. He grudgingly acknowledged us.
We passed a Filippina woman in a chair. “Hello, Mr. Gordon!” she cried. “Hi!” my dad said, as he waved. “She’s cute,” he said to me.
I wheeled him down the long, curtained hall connecting two of the Piedmont Gardens towers. It was chilly there. My dad said something about how they’d done a lot of work on the theater, how nice a job they’d done. I noted how my dad always has something positive to say, about anything and everyone. For my entire life, you could never draw my dad into a catty conversation. Even if you set it up perfectly, and you knew he HAD to agree, you could never bait him to say a bad word about anyone.
It’s like his relationship with pain, which I tell all of his care providers about. My dad is a classic stoic. His dad was the epitome of Victorian propriety. There are certain things a man never does. Arrange flowers is one of them. Paint watercolors: definitely not. Admit pain. No way. Everyone who knows my dad knows that if he says he has a headache, he likely has an aneurism. If he says his back hurts, his breath is likely being cut from pain.
When we got to the lobby of the other tower, we checked out a statue of a woman holding an umbrella over a child, fitting for these rainy weeks. We poked around in some empty activity rooms. I moved the couch and wheeled him right in front of the aquarium. I took a seat on the couch beside him. I read him the names of the articles in this week’s New Yorker. He chose the review of the new James Baldwin documentary. I read that to him. It was long, as New Yorker articles are wont to be.
He listened quietly. When I was done, he said, “You’re a beautiful reader, dear. Thank you for reading to me. I really appreciate it.” Something about the formal delivery of these sentiments seemed very tender to me. They made me think he was neglected, that he felt he had to express, clearly, his gratitude so he wouldn’t be abandoned. Why did I think this? I murmured, “Oh, Dad!” and wrapped my arms around him as best I could when a mass of metal is blocking you from your dad.
He’s sort of imprisoned in that wheelchair. One of the reasons you don’t want to end up in one is you can never sit beside your loved ones again. Around 8, I brought him back upstairs and left him in the care of one of his pretty Ethiopian nurses.
There’s not a single native English speaker, by the way, on my dad’s skilled nursing floor. There’s the Ukrainian pianist-orderly. The bevy of lovely Ethiopian nurses, a handful of Latinas, a handful of Asians — I need to do a survey. I want to know where these people are from.
On the way back to the car, I passed several grates in the street where torrents of water streamed. A cacophony erupted from their depths. A hell of a lot of water was down there, rushing beneath the streets, after roughly 24 hours of soaking rain, which in turn came on the heels of several other storms. I stopped and listened to the cascading water, the turbulent sloshing, the velocity and power. It was new for me, something I’ve never noticed or heard before.
It made me think of the article my son’s girlfriend sent me recently: Of Methods and Manners for Aspiring Sociologists: 37 Moral Imperatives, by Gary T. Marx, an MIT sociologist. One of those imperatives is, “Take notes and keep a journal. For an observer of the social scene it is wasteful not to do that, like leaving a faucet running.”
I liked that. Like leaving a faucet running. That implies that literally everything is fair game. What is art? I often wonder. How do we turn the seemingly mundane into art, into beauty, into something bigger? That’s the task for writers — figuring out how to do that, or being open to serendipity, God, the Muse, call it what you will, whatever that subconscious, subterranean force is that helps the universe sort itself out.
It’s the force that creates soothing patterns, like the way gravity works to hold the planets in place, suspended so perfectly in space. The beautiful structure of a cell. It’s harmony, or grace, and it allows us to see things just so, to find alignments and echoes that allow us to actually learn what we think and feel by the very act of recording it.