November 16, 2004



3:36 am.
She woke up for a cigarette. She was ready to be up, she said. "I got all my nap out, I guess," and lit a Winston.

I was the only one awake. Still up? Still working? She asks. Yes. Deadline tomorrow.

I could not write while she is awake. Reviews and turning clever phrases about middling artists made all the more menial by the fact that I am constantly wondering if every conversation I have with her is going to be the last.

I get the little machine from the coffee table."Arm please." She knows the drill. I roll up the sleeve on her night gown. "I don't think you are supposed to smoke while you do this," she laughs. I say "Well, lets just do it for fun then," and proceed to take her blood pressure anyway.

Yesterday this time, my sister and my mother and I arrived to central Florida in hopes that she had made it through the night. She being Zola, my nana, age 86 - she being my mother's mother. That morning, my mother woke me with a call. It is very bad. Her blood pressure was above 300. Her body was failing. We have to go today.

Today she is fine, she is "fine". This morning, she was up and about at 6 or 7. I woke up on the couch to her scoot-scooting past with her new walker, her house shoes barely lifting off the floor. My mom was up already, and helped Nana into her remote-control lift chair. My mom sits at her feet, and holds her hand. "We thought you weren't gonna make it, Mom." "Well, I'm a tough old broad, you know," she laughs.

I got up to hug her. Even standing, she is so small, I feel like I could hurt her by hugging her. She is about 4 and half feet tall, lately she only comes up to my sternum. Her back fractured on it's own this summer. Osteoporosis. She rolled over in bed wrong. Anything could hurt her now. In the chair, she feebly tugs at her blanket. I put it over her, and she pulls her knees up to her chest. She does this and I think she looks like a baby. Or a walnut.

Later, we had some cookies my mom baked, then laid down for a nap. Getting into the bed is tricky. Very slow. She wrapped her arms as tight as she could around my neck, and I lowered her down, my arms under her. Lower and scoot and rearrange. She winces with pain. Scoot, lower.I get her down into place, and she does not let go, she pulls me tighter, my head on her shoulder. She begins to cry. She is so happy to see us she says. I feel her pulse against my ear.

She lets me up and I work on the jenga-like arrangement of pillows she needs. It is not working right. I bring her my pillow that I brought from home. It's down. She tells me she has never had a feather pillow. I think this is about the most unjust thing I have ever heard. I tell her she can keep it if she likes. I lay down next to her and hold her hand. She moves to put her arm under my head. Sly, like we are on a date. She cries again. I cry too. My mom comes in. Mom cries too. Nana apologizes for making us all cry. She says it's only because she is happy.
I am crying because my heart is breaking.
I tell her a dumb joke I overheard a little kid tell at the airport last night. I told her that that made me cry when I heard it. Everything makes me cry. Really, everything. So no need to apologize. We all laugh at our pitiful crying.

She takes her pain medicine from my hand, one pill at a time, her thin fingers fumbling them out of the folds of my palm. My mom angles a cup and adjusts the bendy straw for her and lifts it to her mother's mouth. It was the single most tender thing I have ever witnessed.


Today, she is better. I was not around much today. I was off doing selfish things to tether me back to my silly young life. I felt more than a little ashamed for this. I am not this kind of brave. I have only faked out mean kid courage that I can muscle up, easily summoned for telling people off or breaking up fights. That is not the courage I need to manufacture to be able to accept the sickness, or the inevitability. Of. It.

Most everyone I know who has died courted their death, paid for it in cash, even. Even my other grandma's husband. He bought his death in a lifetime of Dorals and highballs at an Elks Club bar, they said "you will die" and he chose to keep going. Others, they were just kids bent by adult weights, and they got on with needles and shotguns. Some accidental. Some with specific intent.

All of those, you see it coming. Maybe you witness with hope, maybe you give up on them and turn them loose to the flames licking at them. But that is a different kind of acceptance, a different shade of "seeing it coming" than illness and where old age takes you -- especially when it is running on a track of shared DNA. The big lens of mortality, illuminating all the spots you missed, all the filthy corners, all the best ideas you've been pawning off in lieu of safe bets.

And so, today, all day I was angry. For all this creeping up on me like that.


There is so much of today that I would not like to rebroadcast, but can be summarized as: 7.5 hours and 211 miles later, I have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt... there is no wireless access, or even DSL plug-ins anywhere in central Florida. I have never gone to such extremes to make a deadline.
An employee at the Barnes and Noble in Lakeland, (120 miles round trip) seemed genuinely sorry for their bad information they gave me. Meanwhile, I was ready to kick over the big holiday display of Anne Geddes books to punish them for their misdeeds. I wound up purchasing a dial-up account. It took an hour and forty minutes to download my email. Peace and respect to the packmules of technology, there for us when all else shits the bed.

Discoveries from the fantastic voyage were numerous.

The main real estate agent in my Nana's town has the best-worst name ever Chip "C.D." Boring. "Chip Boring" is bazonkers by itself. " CD Boring" is like, Discharge-album cover painted in white-out on the back of your leather jacket awesome-stupid.

The hurricane chewed through the grove town of Frostproof. The lids on the mobile homes got halfway peeled up. They look like open caskets. Great piles of end tables and wet couches and stuff that used to matter sits at the end of the drive awaiting the arrival of whomever comes to fetch wet couches.

A woman said to me "No. No internet. All we got is orange trees and cows around here," and shrugged. I laughed, she did not.

After eight consecutive listens to Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, I have sworn off any albums not made my a divorced woman. Everyone else is just going to bullshit me with bedsheet ghosts. The lyrics are too unfuckwithably real, I can hardly stand it at all. I almost had to pull over and barf in a municipal drainage ditch it was so intense.

Posted by Jessica at November 16, 2004 02:57 AM | TrackBack