Sunday, May 24, 2009

Roads Taken

Full of ice cream, mango and a break-a-leg bon voyage from a good friend, my son and I redstered into the sunset, on our way at last to play music in the Big City, may show at the Bitter End. Happily, traffic on this holiday weekend was not flowing our way, so we cruised along in an easy gear with reggae soaring.

A road trip feels like one of our best activities together. We wander with purpose, redefining adventure, relaxed in our rhythm, banter bouncing between us, comfortable in our shared quiet and exuberance. Currently we have our favorite tunes, live sets of two rousing bands with vocals that compel us both to join in with full harmonies at the top of our lungs.

It astounds me to realize on our next trip, he will be able to help me with the actual driving, his grown hands on the wheel. Even more so, his voice has found the confidence that, if he wanted, he would be welcomed on stage to sing with me.

Through the late night darkness, we covered the miles with bits of conversations about romance and relationship, parents and children, the dreams that have been celebrated or dashed. The final hour he slept and I faught to stay awake, intoxicated with joy and dread for what lies ahead.

Having made it by the middle of the night, we stumbled into his apartment with laughter that we don’t need to be very quiet since my dad sleeps without his hearing aide, but we whispered anyway, exhausted adrenalin painting it all surreal. I poked around my father’s little apartment, identifying all of the precious pieces that once defined our anchoring home, but seem only transient here.

In the morning, I recognized my little show-and-tell self in my father as he represented his simple life to me in the tiny details of a fragile man nearly blind and deaf trying to keep his way. Simple tasks like unpackaging a new mouse for his computer, or changing a light bulb, are piled up and waiting for help when his children come to visit. The cabinet is empty, but he has what he eats exactly where he can find it, and carefully scribbles what is missing on the list for his weekly travel to the store.

His age, his weary aspect, his frailty are the constant subject at hand, yet a new sculpture of an old couple resting on their bench sits modestly in process. An alabaster whale has revealed itself on the cushioned (against a fall) coffee table and another larger block of stone awaits his definition on the terrace outside. He regularly checks his email and asks questions about posting messages to his facebook account. A man who talks so readily about impending death, praying it will take him swiftly, still living vitally.

My mother has lived in the ether of Alzheimer’s for some time now, having long lost her ability to pray for anything at all, sitting in silence or delighted by some shadow we cannot see. The pain of witnessing such a vacuum in someone once so robust with wisdom is daunting. Were I to live nearby like my sisters, I could understand my visits might be fewer and fewer, but living far away, I packed several into a small day like my suitcase over-flowing.

She sits in her wheel chair, propped with a pillow, surrounded by others in their chairs, oases of souls in a wilderness of lost minds. In her own room, I brought out my guitar to her wondering eyes, but the pluck of first strings opened them wide with amazement and she shivered with remembrance of things she cannot articulate.

At first, shy and tentative to play for my estranged mother, respectful of the institution where she now lies, I played quietly, fingered notes too deep for words. No matter the shell, however, I soon realized this is my mother, the woman who always listened with rapture and critiqued with honesty, celebrating my achievements and guiding disasters into learning opportunities, consoling my broken hearts. Given the burst of creativity that ignites my living these days, I owed her no less than the true story of my being, whether she could hear me or not.

Tears enveloping my words, I sang to her of perpetual motion and dances in the rain, broken mirrors and the commitment to this new life of passion that I knew she had always wanted for me. Voice scratched with emotion, I told her of the stories I am writing, the tale I tell in this blog, and the project for peace that would, if she could understand me, make her so proud. None of this would be happening without steadfast encouragement she gave me through all of those many years before.

A glimmer of her soul came to the surface as the music unfolded, the heart-splitiing gnashing of her teeth sub-sided slightly as her lips tried to form the words to the folk songs she had taught us on camping trips and in long lines to an artful event, or around the marble table on mornings of waffles and posing for my dad’s portraits.

For an instant, her eyes shimmered and danced, her body shivered with a delight so beautiful. Our tears mingled in an embrace, even as she just as quickly slipped away into that darkness again, leaving her only son alone, but OK.
Please share with your friends


Laurie said...


Anonymous said...

Kip how wondeful you can share your talent with your mother and brighten her day.

My father died from Alzheimer's several years ago now. What a tragic disease. Take comfort you can do this for her. Very touching and wonderful.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing that music can be a bridge, a connection, between you even as she has lost part of herself. This is lovely.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post Kip