Through the uneven plastic slats in the window, pallid rays of light spill on to the floor, on to her arm. Blue veins, ridged and painful, create mountain tracks on thirsty skin. It’s stretched thin over birdlike arm bone: wallpaper thin, peppered with brown spots.
Her remaining teeth are sore, the fake ones feel like plastic chiclets in her mouth, foreign. The food is always cold, boiled eggs. There are cutbacks on hot food: groceries are too expensive now.
There is a picture on the desk, beside her bed, next to the hospital sheets: her family. Three children and 8 grandchildren, countless great grandchildren but she remembers every birthday, and sends cards and a twenty and sometimes she’ll get a thank you note back. She keeps every picture, rehearses every conversation over in her head. Each one of those lives is interwoven inexorably with hers. The TV is on with no sound, her hands, blue and dotted, are sitting on her lap. The nurse, making her rounds, silently drops off some tepid coffee. Life breathes outside, beats, continues. Legacy.
“Mom!,” says Nolan, suddenly, urgently, a propos of nothing ” What happens when I die? I won’t ever see you again?” Tears sprout behind his eyelashes and I tell him that when he dies it will be like the time before he was born, a time he doesn’t remember, but one that must have been nice because he cried so hard when he came into this world. He’d been reluctant to leave that place where he was. It had been safe there.
There’s Syria, and people gassing children, and cancerous tumours that erupt out of what should have been a mosquito bite. There’s discord in the economy and uncertainty about the future, and every year someone predicts that this is the end. Nostradumus said. There are too many people, dictators with bombs, salmon swimming in the ocean with Fukushima radiation coursing through their bodies. There’s fear: pulsating always against the fragile shell we keep wrapped around ourselves to mask the fear: laughter, routine, coffee in the morning. We’re getting old, all of us, and there’s nothing to look forward to but boiled eggs, relegation to a quiet room.
Our friends have a newborn baby and I hold her in my arms and there it is in her eyes: that inexplicable newborn wisdom, that ability to stare into your soul and see all the jadedness in there: the decency buried below. My own baby runs sideways in my line of vision, toddler belly protruding, arms outstretched. My older son helps him get the ball into the basket and claps his hands, and my eyeballs slap against wet.
The baby stares at me in that indescribable fleeting newborn way and I look at her, and I tell her she is beautiful. I hand her to my husband and he cradles her and she is so tiny in his arms.
I stare at him staring at her.
That morning on the dyke in 1988 when the rain pounded and my Dad rode behind me on a wobbly 10 speed as I raced toward a dream.
That weekend in 1997 when my brother was drafted to the Canucks, all blond thick hair and giant arms and gratitude for the bright light of the future.
The morning a boy first told me he loved me.
That summer night in Bangkok with the gum and the tiny girl with the dirty dress and glow-watt smile. Her hug.
Watching one of my best friends quit her job to save the whales; realizing the magnitude of difference of a single person to alter the course of the earth.
Nolan, tiny arms, first seconds, that engulfing, indescribable love.
In the filthy Jeep, when I’d given up hope, Corey with his sleeveless shirt and green eyes, leaning toward me.
Our wedding on a silent winter beach, perfect.
Jude, unexpected, the completion of him being born.
Shared stories, courage, banding together.
Life’s snippets of hope and joy crush the uncertainty and scariness of Old Age, World War III, unemployment, illness. I think, anyway, perhaps because I’m sitting naively in the best portion of my life.
This is what makes it worth it. I don’t understand why.