Friday, March 26, 2010
She is rail thin.
A coffee-colored woman in her seventies.
She sits amidst scatterings of mail and newspapers, bottles of pills, and a few glucometers that are piled on her kitchen table. Her husband, the owner of the evidence of this illness, sits quietly, removed, unshaven, a shadow of himself. I did not know him when he worked 100 hours a week. Now she is the caregiver, and she slumps a bit in her chair, looking exhausted. Her grandchildren, quadruplets, will be arriving soon. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the mix of joy and apprehension that shows in her eyes. The television, bolted high up on the wall, drones with a dull background noise.
I’m not sure how I came to know the following information. My guess is that it was after an exchange like this:
“Are you married?” she may have asked.
“Yes, three. Two boys and a girl.”
How many do you have?”
“Ten. Nine now. My Jimmy died when he was eighteen.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“He was murdered, not far from here. Shot.”
“That’s so awful. How did you carry on after that?”
“Well,” she says matter-of-factly, “I had nine more at home. What was I going to do? I had to carry on.”
She opens up a little note book and shows me her findings - all her husband’s blood sugars, blood pressures, weights, and the amount of insulin he has received, all neatly recorded in an elegant script.
It is a terribly hot and humid day, an unmistakable urban closeness that makes everything stick.
Marcus is stretched out on the white sheets, uncovered. He looks polished, shining like a piece of highly worked ebony. He wears only crisp white boxer shorts. His skinny legs are withered. His arms are stick-like and contracted. His eyes are wide open, white discs staring awkwardly up and back at the wall behind him. Or at nothing. It is impossible to know.
Marcus is in is thirties now. Ten years ago he was in an accident. The type of accident is irrelevant here, really. What’s relevant is the pristine condition of this handsome young man’s skin, the place he occupies in the house’s dining room, the only room in the small house that could accommodate all the trappings of his fate. The neatness and orderliness of his surroundings all speak of an unyielding dedication and respect. This young man has been cared for so tenderly and meticulously that love and tenderness emanate from him like warmth from a fire.
His mother, a woman who long ago should have retired to enjoy the fruits of her lifetime of labor, walks around the bed calmly. She adjusts Marcus’s legs, the pillow between his knees, the lamb’s wool protectors on his heels.
“You know,” I say, “I have to tell you that I really admire what you are doing here.”
She looks at me with a little smile, one of appreciation and puzzlement at once.
“Well, he’s my boy isn’t he? Of course I am going to take care of him. What else could I do?”
It seems so simple to her.
But I know it is hardly that.