Today was a good day in large part because I wrote on Medium last night, after again not writing for a really long time. After again committing to writing every day, no matter what. Just to keep the muscle alive, to not atrophy entirely.
And wouldn’t you know it, today, an old work contact pinged me to see if I can help her with some editing work evenings and weekends. The answer is a resounding yes, seeing as the mortgage isn’t paid yet, and we really need a corollary income.
I worked hard today. It was my work-from-home day, thank God, which meant I could break free of this chair as often as I needed to, lower myself to the floor, and do as many cat/cow/upward-facing dogs or what-have-you to create a little flexion in my poor kludgy spine. And that was a lot. I took an entire meeting with my legs spread in front of me, my chin in my palms, my elbows planted on the floor.
I managed a twenty-minute walk between meetings and a handful of almonds as well. When Ryan got home with the car, I took off to see my dad. He asked me yesterday when I would be back. I had said noon. I made it there at 5:30.
He was sitting up better than usual in the rolling chaise lounge. He’d already been fed. Soup and something beige, pureed. I said, “Hi, Dad!” He began to chuckle in that way he has. He looked at me, worked to focus. “Hi Dad!” I said again. His eyebrows shot up. His eyes roved then locked on mine.
I pulled up a chair and turned it to face him. I took his hand then began massaging his forearms, upper arms, and shoulders. I caressed the side of his face and smoothed his hair back. I straightened his shirt, noticed it was the same turquoise-and-white striped polo shirt and grey-checked pajama bottoms of yesterday. It occurred to me the staff had once again lost the new clothes I’d brought by for him a week or two ago.
My father spoke tonight, and several times, and even managed to vocalize. He was able to start sentences. He said, “14, 16, 18… military time.” He said, “I kept an eye out for…” He looked above my head, startled, and said, “Who’s there?” I asked who it was. But we’d moved on already.
I asked the staff for help to bring him out to the patio for the last square of sunlight remaining on the cement deck. After ten minutes, I began bringing him out myself, wheeling him over, pulling one heavy door open with my right hand, bracing it with my foot, opening the other door, holding it open, leaning over like a bridge, then trying to maneuver my dad’s chair out with my foot, beneath the arch my arms made.
The Japanese man who visits his mom often jumped up to help me. We recognize one another as kindred spirits of a sort. He’s there even more than I am, probably. We are equally shocked at how the vast majority of residents appear to have no one.
Once I got to the fast-diminishing sunshine square and had my dad positioned so the sun could warm but not blind him, I picked up the book we’re reading, or the one we were reading before I began Shogun yesterday, anyway. Shogun annoyed me a little. I collected Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated again and began Chapter Two. I couldn’t tell if my dad was listening, and I kind of assumed he was not. It wasn’t really his style after all, and there were lots of references to Jewish culture (such as “shtetl”) which I wasn’t sure he would even know. Then, we got to the part about the wife with the fantastic tits. The narrator repeated that again and again, “…and what fantastic tits she had!” and each time my dad laughed with what can only be described as abandon. Full understanding.
If I allow myself to absorb what this means, I don’t think I can bear it. The only way I can bear the notion that he sits like a lump in a rolling chair for untold, interminable hours per week without a visit or a word from anyone is to believe he’s totally out of it.
But he’s not.
After 90 minutes, close to 7, I gathered my things. I told my dad I’d bring him chicken soup tomorrow. I returned the book to his room and left him in the care of one of his Eritrean nurses — a new one, middle-aged, hard-faced, with a long braid down her back — I don’t know her yet. And the way she “re-positioned” my dad, making him cry out, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Most of his Eritrean and Ethiopian nurses are lovely. I’m not certain about this one.
I chose to take the elevator down today. Sometimes, I just book out of there, make a beeline for the staircase at the end of the hall. I hate to leave my dad there, I feel terrible about it, and I think today he said or tried to say, “Let’s go. Let’s go home. Let’s get going,” as he’s done in the past.
I pressed the button for the first floor and waited. I slipped in when the door opened. I wasn’t going to look back, but I couldn’t help myself. I saw my dad being wheeled out of the dining room, listing to one side, his eyes on the floor. I was glad he didn’t see me in the elevator.
The light was red and gold as I walked to the car, the early June air mild and soft. I’ve taken to parking a couple of miles away to force a little exercise. I enjoyed the walk toward the little forest path behind Piedmont Avenue, the path along the creek that’s only two blocks long, planted with mature California Buckeye and Black Oak and all manner of manzanita and madrone and other California natives. Before I got to the path, though, I got to walk on a quiet, pretty street that dead-ends into the little trailhead.
I passed a woman on her porch, her back to the street, her feet up, book in hand, and a glass of red wine on the table before her, the light of the setting sun slanting in and turning everything auburn. I envied her and thought, I want to mimic everything I see there when I get home. Every bit, down to the porch, the feet, the wine, and the book. Could I? I began to think about it.
A little further down, still before the trail, I noticed a figure on a bench on the sidewalk. She had a large paper bag from La Farine Bakery beside her. She wore a tight-fitting cap and seemed to have several layers on. Before long, it became clear she was a denizen of our ever-burgeoning homeless population.
I met her eyes and said hello. Her face was gaunt and haggard. She had an olive complexion, dark eyes, and vertical lines running down her face. Dark hair peeked from under the edge of her cap.
She said, “You gotta…”
I braced myself and did a mental scan of my purse, pockets, wallet, change. Did I have a quarter? Did I have a dollar? Did I want to stop? Did I want to break my stride? Connect further? Give her money? Would I?
That’s what she said. “You gotta great stride.”
I turned and said, “Thank you. That’s very kind,” and I trembled inside a little. I thought of my dad, who loved my walk and used to say so regularly. “I love the bounce in your step,” he’d say. He told me that several times in my life. I looked up at his building, which I could see rising above the homes around me.
When I was in elementary school and middle school, I was teased mercilessly about both my run. People mimicked it, jumping in to the air and flailing their limbs ridiculously. In seventh grade, Dave Skvarna and his friends called me “S.S.” at P.E., short, they said, for “Sex Symbol.” It utterly confused me.
But, my dad, well, my dad loves my walk.
No one else has ever mentioned my walk in my entire life, until today. Until this woman did.
“It means a lot to me,” I continued, somewhat lamely.
Then she suddenly said, “Oh, I don’t mean, I mean, I’m not like that. I just wanted you to know you have a great stride. Strong.”
I thanked her and went on, tears pricking my eyes.