on a tuesday
i woke this morning with a call from j:
“i’m going to houston, i didn’t know if you wanted to come or if you are busy. we are leaving in an hour.”
“ah sorry, i have some meetings planned, i’m coming home this weekend for sure. thanks for asking though.”
i brushed my teeth, crossed my stupid life off the list, and i called her back
then the world paused
three hours later i found myself in a dark crowded room. grandma was sleeping on the couch and my aunts were speaking in hushed tones. somehow, i got pushed to his bed, and for the first time, held his hand; speckled from age, bruised from IVs, and cold from the passing hours of life. his eyes opened for 2 seconds and immediately my aunt’s high pitched baby talk cut through the still air, “daddy, look at who’s here. it’s jess! jess is here to see you! daddy, will you open your eyes? it’s jess…daddy..” so we held hands in silence. his eyes closed and mine translucent with tears. silence, aside from the raspy heavy breathing from his slightly open mouth.
silent words: i love you. be brave, you’re going home and jesus is waiting for you. i love you. go on.
then i ran to go wrap my arms around my grandma in her soft sweater. she had just woken up and was digging through a pile of hospital snacks to find something to offer. after i finally convinced her not to worry about me, we sat close in silence and gazed at her husband.
physical separation for the first time in 56 years. but he has to go alone.
“…are you ready? …are you worried? then it’s okay, don’t worry about me either.”
the consoling nature of a loving touch and being held.
i sat for the next hours and listened to my aunts talk about funeral preparations, scheduling, care taking, notifications, all this planning with the unspoken element of- when?
“the doctor said 7-10 days, but he hasn’t been eating or drinking anything, so we think it might be sooner.”
i sat and listened to my grandma call to cancel the 2 months supply of dietary supplements she had ordered for him.
“i don’t think he will need it. i can find someone to give the first box to.”
i sat and watched my uncle who flew in due to a text at 3am, whisper to grandma not to worry about the plane cost.
i sat and watched visitors come in and out, my aunt trying to get grandpa to open his eyes, who was tired and just wanted to sleep.
i sat and watched him struggle to cough up some blood in a crumpled tissue held to his face.
i sat and i tried to take it in.
and then the world played, but in a reduced speed and with a sepia tint of something else. something like
an awareness of family,
the fragility of life,
the value of time,
an understanding of sympathy
and what it means to grieve.
Two days ago: This is my grandpa being brave, eyes on the woman he married and loves so dearly. Here is my grandma, with her always cheerful and supportive smile, by his side and holding on with a reassuring grip. His children are in the peripherals of the picture, most of his grandchildren connected through text updates, the church through seasoned prayer, but Christ, He is in him, hasn’t left, and will never leave.
For awhile, I’ve been thinking about fear in death. the anticipation of it. the reality and the sadness of not seeing the people you love. however, my fears are cancelled when I think about Christ’s embrace on his frail body; finally free of oxygen tanks, IVs, blood transfusions, catheters, and pain. Just a welcoming hug. And really, there is nothing scary about that.
Mathilde Roussel - Echology (2012) - Dew, milk, sap, branches, bark and grass
Maira Kalman, my muse.
spring and summer every other day. that’s all i want.
Sunday afternoon spent w my favorite grammar book, daydreaming of summertime while stirring strawberries in sugar
the moment of now
i looked at myself in the mirror this morning. not bad at all. thank god for cosmetics. the only evidence of my all nighter were the zombie eyes. eyes can be so telling. i blink consecutively for 30 seconds then smile. my mouth turns but my eyes remain lifeless. oh well. when you stare at a computer screen for more than 24 hours straight, it happens.
outside, the streets are bustling but my mind is fully engrossed in formulating some way to present a method to what ultimately is madness. how do you justify an extravagant hanging ceiling element to a client with a limited budget? his eyes stop me. rusty, yet clear at the same time. big, brown, and hopeful. they approach me. his mouth opens into a broken smile of missing teeth. can you buy me some ramen?
before the involuntary reflex of no-sleep-triggered-sarcasm spills out, those light filled eyes stop me again. it was as if a transaction occurred between his hopeful eyes and my own drained eyes. all in a split second, a photoshop magic wand kind of moment. i’m sorry, i don’t have money right now, but i promise i will buy you ramen the next time i see you. i promise.
okay. well, thank you for being nice to me.
play the sympathy card with me and you’ll always win.
10 minutes into the project review, which ironically is on a homeless resource center, my heart is restless and all i can think about is the man across the street. mid 30s, a dirty burnt orange tee covering a beer belly, our typical bum on guadalupe st. large numbers of students walk past his blue plastic cup everyday, but i’ve only given him my guilty gaze about 5 times. the other times were just routine surveillance: turn the corner, light is green, bum, bus stop, street, campus. he stopped me today and all i could give him was my word.
he’s just hungry.
and as if the aching in my heart was connected to the rumbling in his belly, i press pause on the anticipated moment of truth, get up, leave the class, scramble through my desk for a chocolate bar and some cash, and quickly cross the road to meet him.
this time, my newly hope filled eyes approach his.
hi there, i’m back. here, it’s for you.
he gives me that broken smile again. and asks for a hug.
paco, my name is paco.
and i’m jessica. we’re friends now.
my signature pitiful side hug is intercepted with his full, but marshmallow light, embrace. the light turns red, and i walk back to the review in the same state as i had left it, but with a deeper understanding of what it means to love aggressively.
part of it means listening to that compelling voice. taking a pause in your own day to brighten someone else’s. it means seeing others as as equals to yourself, even if they are in the street and you are in school. it means pouring out yourself without restraint, having endless gratitude to share, without counting the cost.
saving it for later, well, that would be passive.
feeling the weight of this one word right now.
subject: unaware little fellow location: barce-alone-a date: may 2011
After taking this picture, I stood there, waiting to see if anyone would notice him and open the gate, waiting to see if he would try to enter in, waiting to see if his mother would come and pick him up. it ended up that my waiting only mimicked his, and soon i was off to guadi wonders. but a piece of my waiting heart was left snuggled next to the boy, and each time i see this moment, the startling reality of proximity pierces through it once more.
"Smell is the mute sense, the one without words.We see only when there is light enough, taste only when we put things into our mouths, touch only when we make contact with someone or something, hear only sounds that are loud enough. But we smell always and with every breath. Cover your eyes and you will stop seeing, cover your ears and you will stop hearing, but if you cover your nose and try to stop smelling, you will die."
Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses
Grandpa used to always blast opera around the house. It was the only type of music that was profound enough for the cynical artist. On occasions, he would run into my room and command me to stop whatever I was doing, just so we could watch the performance of the great Pavarotti on PBS. He would point at the TV and say, “Pafarahti”. I remember seeing the deep admiration in his eyes, their attentive fix, giving me the impression this heavily bearded man was Grandpa’s dear childhood friend. Now it’s impossible to disconnect the two.
Opera is my choice of catharsis.
Some days are perfect for soaking in Puccini’s selection of strong tenors. How about a Verdi bath? Just close your eyes and marvel, that’s all there is to it. Sit in the sounds until all your amassed crevices are smoothed down and the fragrance settles. Let the notes wash through each tightened membrane. Unwind and unwind and unwind.
Back in the old days, all it took was a hug from Grandpa and the world was better. Today, I listen to opera.