I’ve been thinking this all day, and then, by accident, I read this:
One day, the past arrives out of the future, and Jacob enters:
Oh. And what the hell is that supposed to mean?
But, sadly, the unseen majority of me understands. It’s just my head, the vocal minority, that isn’t grasping the picture.
I haven’t phoned or written Hy Dang, and with each passing moment I increase the tragedy of having not done so by some exponential factor. Ma and Hy were supposed to meet on the 14th, three weeks after they had previously met, to execute another manicure. Hy’s manicures were compassionate, gentle, soothing things that took into account the paralysis that curled the fingers of Ma’s left hand. Ma had her own contribution: beautiful, strong, dark red nails, all natural, that made you double-take at their proportion and elegance. They were friends for years.
I honestly don’t think I was supposed to be there during their communion: the moisturizing, the massage, the small talk. But as time went by, I was bringing the straw of diet pepsi to Ma’s mouth by sitting adjacent to the manicure stand, or supporting her left side with my aching forearm, denying it was aching, knowing hers was aching more. They shared, accepting my presence with courtesy, I think. They would always be more graceful than I would be about it. I kept thinking.
Sometimes: the transfer back into the car would cause her to grip and smear the polish. I’d never know whether to tell her the truth about the matter, because getting the manicure was our signal flare that things were normal about our lives, and that she could retain some dignity about her appearance, well-deserved, at a time when she had ceded most of her control over her body.
Face waxed, too. She looked like a million bucks. I started taking her to the Red Lobster restaurant after these sessions, and we’d order complete lunches: from the celery-stabbed bloody mary openers to final wedges of cheesecake and coffee. I was almost completely unaware, or I prayed one day I would finally be unaware, of the image we presented to other diners and staff. The word I wanted to describe us is still not with me:
Nothing comes to mind. I was trying to enjoy every second with her, while trying to be nonchalent that we had plenty of seconds coming, which we may or may not have had, who could know? So it was a pleasure to have a long mother-daughter lunch, indulgent if it weren’t for the fact they were fairly routine: as if having a good time doing nothing in particular had become a priority for us, and we weren’t going to dig too deeply into the reasons why.
At least openly. My self-consciousness, wrapped up as it was in wanting to teach other people how to relate to old people in wheelchairs, never abated. I might have been more honest standing up in the restaurant and asking everyone to bring my mother back to me: whole, eagle-eyed, nimble, capable, and in control, please. I’m still terrified these really great lunches were nothing but an attempt to prove by example that I could deal with her half-life, darkened irises, ears whistling, hand-curling, wrist-pronated, open mouthed uncertainty and soul shedding regret. But I was there, a triumph in itself over my fear of my aging parent, and I couldn’t very well break down in front of the popcorn shrimp. Not with that kick ass manicure glinting. Not when we were so close to overcoming our limitations.
Hy Dang. Hy Dang. Hy Dang. I was the right one and the wrong one to take all this care. My heart appears big enough for it, wouldn’t we all agree, but it seems to lack some essential enzyme that might keep it from breaking every time. It’s the breaking that’s really getting me down.