This past Saturday, Princess and Kingdad found themselves in the park. Poor, tired wife stayed behind to tidy up the palace.
We take turns doing this chore by the way- I take a few Tuesdays, she takes a few Saturdays.
We stopped at a friends yard sale, mopped up on Hello Kitty and moved on.
It was a perfect winter day. The air was cold. The sky vast and cloudless, the sun a far off window, open and glowing. We were the only people in the park, running after each other, tilting our heads back, closing our eyes and swinging higher and higher. We laughed from the top of the slide to the bottom. We chased our shadows, looked for "bunny houses" in the endless drifts of leaves that swelled across the faded green lake of winter grass.
We squinted and spoke in warm clouds, into the thin, chill breeze of a golden December morning.
While we walked beside each other, almost drunk from happiness, not so far away my Mother tried to speak. She tried to tell my Father that she was afraid. That something was happening.
She was stretched across his lap, her face twitching into the nap of his old, blue sweater vest. He sat idly, his hands cold and his heart beating just a little too fast. In his mind he tried to make it find a rhythm, one he could break off and share with my mother.
His arm draped across her back, just like always.
She tried to squeeze his hand but couldn't. Her fingers just curled into the deepness of her palm. She tried to sit up, but her body just couldn't seem to remember how.
My Father was scared now. He picked up the dingy beige telephone with the huge numbers. He struggled to think of the numbers, of which ones to press. He poured through the little book on the table next to the phone, the one that is so full of my Mother's handwriting, her personality, the keepings of her soul. So many numbers, most of which have no names to shepherd them.
He took another deep breath and dialed. He called everyone he knew to call when things just didn't seem right.
He called my aunt, my sister.
He didn't call 911 though. To do this would be to admit that something was indeed terribly wrong. Something that would change their fading lives forever. It would be like calling the truth.
He didn't call me at work either. He didn't want to bother me.
My family rushed to the worn shell, the home of my elderly parents. The little square house- a pale stone sunk into a scrubby lot, a small, unmarked gravestone cowering under the sky and the weeds, bent away from the sun and the noisy life of the road that lies just beyond the living room window.
While blood tried it's best to push it's way past the clot in my Mother's brain, while oxygen did it's best to circulate in the storm that is her, my family just sat there. Still and dumb like a cave drawing.
While the Princess and Kingdad picked up acorns and pinecones, my Mother's tongue stopped tossing words past her crooked dentures. Her face, already a ravage of valium, bulimia and the heaviness of her very being just slackened and let go.
My mother slid beneath the dark, oily waters of the sea. She drifted down into the shimmering, open mouth of her stroke. Numb and tired.
Since she cannot talk now, she writes what she wants to say in a book that my ever-thoughtful and perfectly present sister has provided. One page -staggering blue lines looped together at odd junctions, falling in a loose cursive roll, says-
I love You
I'm glad you are here
This was written earlier today. I don't know who she was talking to. She grunts for the pen while I am holding her lifeless left hand. For me she writes-
I love you
I miss my girl (meaning my daughter)
I love you
I'm glad you came
I can't talk
Take this home (she points at something only she can see, and then closes her eyes)
As I sit next to her, TV blaring, visiting hours long over, the hospital ebbing into cool, green lights and muted pages, I listen to the fluid moving in the deep of her lungs.
I try to imagine how many times I have been comforted by the sound of my Mother's breath. How many times it scared me, or angered me.
What gravity she imposes over me.
Every good thing I know came from her voice, from the warmth of her fleshy arms.
And every fear I have, every bad habit is rooted in my relationship with her. Every nuance of the shade and the radiance of love leaks from the hulking wreck of my Mother. It beeps and bubbles away, wrapped in bone white sheets, draped in drip tubes, bloody gauze and sweat. It writes-
I am afraid
I love you
How many times have I whispered this into the mass of my Mother?
How many times has a child whispered this into it's Mother's breast? Into the hushed uncertainty of the darkened room?
My child. My Mother's child.
I am afraid
I love you
From where I sit with the laptop I see through about a third of our dining room into our circus-trailer sized kitchen.
Kitchens are the holy of holies for me. The only place you get more intimate is the bedroom.
I am 37. I am married and share the magic and frustration of parenting a 2 1/2 year old fire brand with my wife. With this in mind it should be no surprise that I spend more time cooking in the kitchen than I do in the boudoir.
Sometimes when it's late and I have had just a little too much wine, my kitchen is a portal into a strange paradise. It calls to me like a siren, like a wanton, half-drunk Julia Child or a lustful young Donna Reed.
Jadeite green walls and Nantucket white cabinets with weathered chrome handles, old biscuit tins, Atlas glass spice, salt and pepper shakers lining window sills, German knives in a worn oak block, yellow ware bowls, vintage fiesta stacked a little too high, the tea towels of a thousand unknown old ladies folded smartly in the tall white hutch, a black and white tiled floor worn by endless steps from the counter to the 1923 buttercream yellow Roper range, and from there to the bone white double welled sink.
A few turmeric stains tell the tales of many hot culinary indiscretions.
There is an old, low diner stool for my favorite little sous-chef to stand on and whip up her pretend "cupcake scrambled eggs" and not far from her perch is the old cherry high chair. Above us all the ceiling fan hovers like an angel, and will give you a flat top if you stretch too far in between batches of Christmas cookies.
At night while I wrestle with my two sleepmates for a few inches of warmth I can hear the gentle, aged refrigerator cough and sigh as it tries to coolly conceal my excessive purchases.
As I swim against the torrent of uncertainty of my middle years, wondering where my self has wondered off to, my kitchen stands by my side waiting to testify. Waiting to show me the way back.
Of all the rooms in any house that I have ever lived in, the kitchen has always been the guardian of my heart and soul. Mercifully dispensing coffee and pancakes when I just couldn't go on and helping me to unlock the secret pathways into countless others, both past and present who have made my existence so much more than tolerable. The kitchen exudes the warm and wonderful aroma of life.
Guten nacht and guten apetit my dear kitchen.