Friday, July 5, 2013

Pin Prick

The vertigo, if that's what happens when you leave your body, used to occur only when I drove my mother to her doctor's office on Tuesday mornings. At the precise moment I recall the name of her blood test, usually as I turn right onto Terhune Road, it starts. It's no use trying to avoid it. Even when I don’t think about it, or when I take a different route, my mother always asks me.

          "Charlotte, I can never remember, what's this blood test called again?"

          I tell her the three letters and she frowns.

          "That's right, INR. Just like the Latin inscription on the cross. Why can't I ever remember it? Your father would have remembered."

           I can hear her talking to me—my hearing is normal—but the trees on either side of the road blur. The sensation of driving a car, which up till then I had taken for granted, is an alien experience, how I might have imagined it would feel to be jettisoned through the chute of a galactic green wormhole without actually moving at all.

          After this happens two or three times, I find myself anticipating the shift, and I begin to notice more. I will try to describe what is so extraordinary about the experience but, because it's visceral rather than intellectual, it's difficult to recapture in words.

          The trees are still trees; in my rear-view mirror I recognize the row of immense black trunks jammed into the earth, with their vast green canopies branching out above and interlacing like a tunnel. But I'm also aware of the intricate root system holding each tree in place, spreading in all directions beneath the surface of what we see, delicate and necessary, almost unbearably detailed and private.

          Possibly because of this mirrored perception, there is a pause. I'm a still object in a moving vehicle; I am in the moving car, while the tree is in the spinning earth, and now a line connects us. For a fraction of infinity there is only this line.

          Everyone probably experiences something like it on a daily basis, only we don't dwell on it. It must be wrong to acknowledge it because people so rarely do. But why? Because it's indescribable or unmanageable, or because it makes us feel incongruent with familiar concepts of time and space, or because we experience a congress that may at last be impossible to sunder? Anyway, we try not to notice.

I try not to notice at first, but I’m afraid. All too often, fear is no real match for curiosity.

"Are you cold? Should I close the windows?" The voice, mine, sounds false, raised over the din of wind rushing past the bullet of our moving car.

          I see goosebumps rising on my mother’s arm, little hairs bristle.

          "No, I like it," she says and turns away, toward the unasked-for pleasure, the open window. I hear her flat shame, at having had to speak of it, inflected with stubbornness. Her white hair that hangs almost to her shoulders is swept up in the gale and my mother closes her eyelids.

          Something of the moment will sustain us long afterwards, like a finger holding down a piano key.

The lot is full so I decide to let my mother out at the curb and continue to circle the office complex till I find a parking space. Before pulling away, I watch my mother reach for the railing where a flight of steps leads to the entrance. My mother’s hands float out slightly, as if she is weightless, or poised on a tightrope. She is dwarfed by the floppy canvas handbag that dangles from her arm, and a tuft of her white hair remains uplifted, like a periscope.

          I scan the parking lot filled with cars and drive slowly, imagining how I’ll smooth my mother’s hair in the waiting room. Maybe I’ll suggest a haircut. As I pull into a parking space, I launch into the future.

          Soon, my mother will sit on the high chair in the lab, where her feet dangle above the floor. The image will amuse me, even though it is an image of submission, and I will take a picture with my cell phone, so I can try to pinpoint the source of my unease, I'll tell myself, when I have time later. During the click of the camera, I will feel the independent arrangement of my surroundings holding still, as if captured. It is a false impression, of course, and I imagine this is how power might feel, if such a thing exists.

          Mechanically, my mother will extend her hand; it’s small and light brown, and surprisingly smooth. She will probably ask the nurse.

          “What’s this called? A finger prick?”

          “Finger stick.

Inevitability. It means everything that will happen has happened already. Backwards and forwards in every direction, that line that connects is also cancelling. It's just a dot from our usual perspective, a pin prick, so easy to overlook. But with a slight shift, everything is connected and there is only black.

          I recall the gust of wind, without apprehending its beginning or end, imagining it is just another line in which we barely notice the subtle convergence of all points. The feeling of this is different from the thought. How can I show you?

          I was wrong; my anxiety during these moments isn't really about leaving my body. It’s a woozy apprehension of what it means to be eternal, a ceaseless, concurrent process of being and negation.

          The nurse will squeeze the tip of my mother’s middle finger and prick it with a blade, catching a drop of her blood on a paper swab before it wells up. My mother flinches but continues to watch her open hand. I can’t look.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lady's Choice

                                              Still she stays with a love of some kind
                                              It's the lady's choice
                                              The hissing of summer lawns
                                                                             -Joni Mitchell
My backyardsee bust on right, to scale
It seems like a metaphor for something else, but it's true: if you walked down my street last Monday, you would have seen me sitting on a stool on my front lawn, sweating in the sun with a pair of scissors. Cutting the grass. Or you might not have seen me from the street because, when I was sitting on a stool, the grass was over my head.

           You might have seen an elderly woman with big, owlish eyes dressed in a nightgown, calling out to me from behind the screen door, "I think you're very foolish."

         You would have heard me yelling back, "Well, the feeling's mutual," before I realized I was agreeing with her. 

This was after I had kvetched to my neighbor, a family friend, who lent me her old-fashioned push-lawn-mower. The rusty blades twisted and swirled like a DNA double helix, inspiring confidence in its elemental form and function.

          "I've had this for 40 years," she said. "It never lets me down." 

          I broke it after making just two passes—just like my mother said I would. Before I could offer to pay her for a new mower, she squinted at my backyard and said, "I'll bring a shovel."

Even the Crazy Cat Lady who lives across the street, who has a kitchen sink, an old car, and a baby stroller displayed on her front lawn, she mows her grass.  Superman's mother, who lives down the street in a split-level and never smiles, mows her lawn. Like my mother, these women are both in their 80s. But unlike my mother, they live alone, their children long gone. Other people cut their grass.
         My mother forbids me to mow the lawn. 

          "Why?" you ask. "Why?" I ask her.

          "Because you'll run over the electric cord and electrocute yourself."

          "No, I won't."

          "Well, it's too difficult. The grass is too high and you'll break the machine--and I simply can't afford a new one."

          "Okay, let's just hire someone to cut the grass."

          My mother looks at me like I've asked her to commit suicide. "I know how to do it," she says. "I'll cut it myself."

          She's 86 and frail (when she's not mad) and we both know I would never let her mow the lawn. Still, I hear myself whining, "But when?"

Would I feel any less like a petulant child if I just gave up? What, I ask myself over and over, would the Dalai Lama do? Actually, he giggles and speaks Yiddish.

          Cut the grass, don't cut the grass, just be nice to your mother.

          So, it's settled. I'm the most UNspiritual person ever in the whole fucking history of the human race. 

My ex drops off our daughter, who is 14, and his son BB, who is four years old. My beautiful, sulky daughter sits on the front steps and reads. BB has big, adoring brown eyes and, because he is not a teenager, he still loves me. I find him another pair of scissors and he helps me cut the grass. 

          My daughter sighs dramatically. "Mother, you are so weird," she says. 

          "You think I'm weird—look at your grandmother."

          "She drives you crazy, doesn't she? Just like you drive me crazy." Ouch.

My mother gives me a shopping list:

10 bags garden soil @ $6.99 each
1 bag dessicated cow manure
2 4x4 frames for raised beds

          I'm sure there are telepathic beams shooting out of my eyes telling her she's out of her fucking mind, and I'm pretty sure her owl eyes are reflecting them back at me because before I know what I'm doing, I'm driving us to the nursery. 

White peony growing under the weeds