By Kit-Bacon Gressitt / Excuse Me, I’m Writing
My mother’s knees have become her bane. They refuse to keep her legs straight. They do not hold a bend. They fail her when she has the will to rise. They pain her when she rumbles in fitful sleep.
She crosses the country to flee her knees in the northeast’s cold and damp. But the pain flees with her, lurking in Southern California’s gentler clime, hiding behind the orb weaver webs, skulking beneath hummingbird wings, filling the floral mouths of birds-of-paradise, setting upon her when she dozes in the palm fronds’ jagged shadows.
And when it does, she says, “Oh, shit.”
Long after the sun has spilled its vibrant hues over the mountains to the east, Mother shuffles from the guestroom and falls the last inch or two into the dining room chair, its needlepoint seat stitched half a century ago.
She reaches for the newspaper, the small print swirling before her eyes. She tries to rise but gives in to assistance.
“I hate to need help,” she says apologetically, accepts her glasses, resting the frames on her nose. She takes a tissue from the box that is now a fixture at the table, dabs with stiff fingers, shifts in her seat and winces.
“It’s nice to be able to help you. Revel in it, Mother, while we’re all still able and willing.”
“You’re so good to me,” she chuckles and peruses the front page, sips her coffee with cream because at her age, why suffer with low-fat milk?
She looks up and out the window, soaring with a Cooper’s hawk in search of something.
“I miss your father,” she says softly, takes a fresh tissue.
“I miss him, too.” Her hand, tissue pale, is cool and dry and fragile.
She eats her yogurt, which she never liked when she was young, tries but fails to clear her throat, skims another article.
“So what’s new in the world? Any stories in there that aren’t infuriating?”
“Nothing worth repeating,” she laughs, sips the tepid coffee and doesn’t complain. “What one thing would you change, if you could?”
“Where’d that come from?”
“I was just thinking. What one thing would you change — anything — if you could?”
“I’d make my daughter happy.”
“But you can’t do that; that comes from inside.” She scrapes out the last of the yogurt. “Isn’t she happy? She’s so dear. I want all my grandchilluns to be happy — and my chilluns. … But what would you change?”
“I’d change our last trip through airport security. I should have pulled a John Tyner.”
“What do you mean?” She shifts in her seat and winces.
“When the TSA officer patted you down in your wheelchair, she invaded your crotch and breasts before I had a chance to impale her with the wheelchair tool. All I managed to do was blather ‘Wow, that’s intrusive!’ and all she did was shrug off her obvious discomfort.”
“Why did she do that to me?” She removes her glasses and waits to be reminded.
“Good question. Since September 11, airport security has become a trip to Fascistville. I suppose the main reason is that we’re not willing to ask travelers where they’ve been and where they’re going and with whom, but we’ll readily invade their genitalia. That’s a weird spin on privacy and civil rights.”
“Well, with everything that’s been happening, I can understand.” She pushes away the paper, the yogurt cup.
“I understand that we won’t stop terrorists by patting up 84-year-old great-grandmothers’ private parts and peeping at full-body-scanned images.”
She laughs and finishes her coffee with cream because at her age, why not?
“What one thing would you change, Mother?”
She looks out the window again, dabs at her nose with stiff fingers, shifts in her seat and winces.
She does not say she would rather be with Father. She does not wish away the pain of her knees or the fear of terrorism.
She says, “I wouldn’t have any disappointments.”
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