The room beeped and compressed and pushed fluids and indicated things about the resident. Anecdotal bits of nothing, really. What it did of any measurable importance, was to prop the stage.
She would sneak sips from her Styrofoam cup, when she felt that no one could see her do it. They would never allow her to hold the cup on her own, since her ability to grip small objects had long been lost amongst what felt like a never-ending, dominoed loss of vitals. If she tried to bring the cup to her own mouth, it would undoubtedly be dropped into her lap. And then she would be cold. The ice would ensure that.
But when no one was looking, she was as swift as a spring swallow, diving onto her rolling tray and pulling that cup and straw up to her lips, then shooting it right back to the tray, like a yo-yo artist. Effortlessly smooth and fully capable. Her skills were undeniable. Undeniable to everyone but everyone who was in the room. Everyone on the planet. Every doctor with a license, frowning at the odd, ever-changing numbers on the screen above her bed.
No one believed anymore. They had all written it off as a chain of mal-formed events, summing up to an uncontrollable train wreck of the human body, incapable of continuing its journey, incapable of taking a sip of juice without aid. If she wasn’t stopped by her own body, then everyone else would step in and do the stopping instead. Her very physical form was making it difficult to drink, but it was everyone around her who made it impossible. And she would allow them to tell her as much, and she would willfully concur.
But I watched her sneak those sips. I watched her smile as she did it. She smiled a double smile, knowing she could still birth mischief, and knowing that it was all she wanted to have left. If she were to ever be in the situation she was in, she always wanted to still be able to pull it off. To break and bend her environment as she saw fit. Even if the only punk rock act available was to help herself to a drink after being told to stop. If that was all she had left, then that is all she would want to be left with. And so she continued to sneak drinks, and deny having done so whenever caught. Looking over at me, asking with a look of her best posed sincerity.
“I haven’t been trying to drink by myself, have I?”
Of course not. You’re still the rule-follower you’ve always been. Of course not.
The room continued its buzzes and beeps. The tubes moved liquids, and the machines got hostile whenever she readjusted herself or tried to untangle the multiple leads into various parts of her body. Like a paralyzed octopus, desperately trying to reconcile the dangling appendages which when not tangled up on something in the environment, would busy themselves by tangling together. It never felt right. It never made sense. She never belonged there, like that, to be in such a state.
Her person, her being, was never designed to function under such conditions. Such an impaired state of existence. Disgusted by her own limitations, she waited. She waited, and waited, and waited...
“I talked to the Pope this morning.”
“Oh really? What did he say?” I didn’t even think to ask her ‘which pope’ she was referring to.
“I don’t remember, really. He seemed like a nice man though.”
It was obvious that she believed, and disbelieved that her conversation with the highest of Catholic highs occurred. She admitted as much by saying that she was under one of her ‘spells’, which were the scattered moments she would experience after waking. She would wake, rather suddenly from one of her bi-hourly naps, with just enough lucidity to speak nonsense aloud. While my father was telling some story of OSHA regulations, she came-to and blurted out “a, a, a… NERVOUS WRECK,” as if answering a game-show question.
We all paused for a brief second, pulling laughter back down our throats. And then my father continued as if the breach in conversation protocol had never happened. She pretended it was a legitimate comment on the topic, and that was that.
Amidst the mid-afternoon sun, which blanketed everything in the room, pouring over all the clean surfaces like warm gravy, there happened into the room a most ironic creature.
She walked in, with the smile of newborn youth, the pure-soft skin of a puppy’s nose, and the smooth movements of a championship ice-skater. As if she were an angel of kidney repair. She posed a multitude of questions, dropped her left eyebrow whenever peering over at the beeping machines’ evil readouts, and then floated from the room. With the voice of comforting reason and sparkles of hope falling from the corners of her eyes and mouth, she pulled back the curtain and entered the hallway.
To tell the daughter that reason provided no grounds for hope anymore. That the end was drawing down. That all other options were mere phantoms for the unreasonable to desperately cling to. For the greedy to impose upon those who were deemed incapable of holding cups to their own faces to sip thickened liquids. For the self-centered to justify ‘just one more moment’ with the person whom reason had left no more room for. For the self-important who intended to deny the possibility that one’s last breath should be taken in the midst of familiarity, comfort, and dignity.
That it should occur with her favorite dog present. Her house plants. The ceiling she had painted with her own hands, years before. Amongst her own scents and surroundings. Where more than two friends were allowed to be with her at a time. Where she could have fresh flowers present without management complaining of potential microbial infestations. That it should occur at home. Her home. As she snatched the cup from atop the cart, pulled a long sip through her straw, peeked around the room to catch only my eyes, and then to practically throw the cup back atop the cart as the daughter returned from behind the curtain.
And then it happened. The most powerful conversation between two people which has ever occurred in my presence. A batting of so few words with the heaviest of weights as I have ever witnessed. It was a choreographed dance between two partners who had never before practiced with each other. Yet both knew their part with the precision of Swiss watch maker. The nimble words danced together, parted, promenaded and returned together for the most beautiful and horrific grand finale I have ever born witness too.
“Well, mom. There’s no options left.”
“No options left, eh?”
“No. No, mom. No options. Your kidneys have failed and you aren’t a candidate for dialysis, so…”
The daughter, while passing through such a treacherous canyon of unimaginable, explosive emotion, could easily have clipped a wing on any number of unforeseen outcroppings, lost her fuel pressure, and burnt to a crisp on impact with the wall of her own mental fortitude. But she faltered not, and kept the flight straight.
“So you have to choose now.”
“You said there were no more options.”
“Well, none for treatment. But you can still choose.”
“Okay. What are my new options then?”
The daughter shook just slightly, knowing the prescribed choreography for this dance was demanding a crescendo of performance. That the climax of their exchange was looming.
The climax of the exchange which began two minutes prior. But of much more importance, was the impending climax to the exchange which began fifty years prior. The collected experiences and intertwined histories of the these two agents in life, facing one another in an agreement to the looming final embrace. In an agreement to stay strong about such an emotionally dubious event. In an agreement to remain open to one-another, and to possibly open further if necessary. In an agreement that if they should meet again, they will both be pleased to do so. In mutual respect and understanding. After the setting of one of the most brilliant suns to have ever graced the wondrous dirts of the Earth.
And so it goes. The initial delicate sips always graduate to deeper ones. Then to careful swallows, and on to full-blown mouth-full gulps. But as sure as the tides must recede, as sure as the oak leaves’ stuttered descent after their glorious season, those gulps must return to sips. And the sips signify their intention by way of the soft-eyed request to “just be comfortable.” To just be comfortable again.