Wednesday, April 10, 2013

richochet, II

there is an apartment building in chelsea in NYC with a glass front (well, there are thousands), but a few years ago, the new york times magazine featured it in a photograph, which i can't find now. but in each backlit apartment in that small world, simultaneous living played out before the viewer's eyes. dancers practicing their steps. mothers feeding supper to anxious toddlers. a cellist leaning into her instrument. a lone woman watching tv. floor after floor, side-by-side, people lived out their lives unbeknownst to voyeurs, or to those who shared their walls.

i have been thinking about this for weeks, now, how on any given day at the same time of day, my children are doing one thing and i am doing another, far away from them, the walls between us never melting away. how when my son makes a phone call to a client in raleigh, my daughter walks the dog to doggie daycare on the upper west side in manhattan on her way to work, as my husband checks the drudge report for the morning headlines and i wipe up the kitchen before heading out to work.

parallel lives, it feels like. for this family who used to share the same space, once upon a time. now when we do, it's for usually for a few hours — on a church pew, around the kitchen table, opening presents on Christmas morning. a few hours. not nearly enough.

i will confess that until recently, i have not thought too much about the parallel life i had been living with my parents. every few nights i'd call home and find out about their days, and though i worried sometimes about them driving to and from the doctors office, or not having enough to do, i didn't picture them living life out in a lighted box next to my own lighted box.

in the past two months since daddy has been hospitalized, we have developed a new routine for our lives, all of us in our little lighted boxes. my brother works, my mother drives back and forth, my sister calls, comes home when she can. we have shared the lighted box at times, all of us converging in whatever glass-fronted room holds my father at that moment.

those back-lit boxes came back to me the other night, as i thought back to my wednesday, a week ago. how at lunch time, my husband came to my office to share a hot lunch of beef stew and green beans with me, while my mother sat in my father's hospital room talking to him, watching him breathe in and out. how my brother, at the same time, walked the corridors of the hospital to see patients as sick as my dad. how my sister, back in iowa was going through her day.

at 2 p.m., if you could hold up the glass box and look at our parallel lives, here is what you'd see: my brother talking on the phone with my mother. me sitting at my desk, sending emails, making lists for the rest of my day and another of what was in my father's doctor's bag years ago. my sister likely texting her daughter, who was on her third day back at work after the baby. we all stood in our separate boxes, miles apart. 

the moment i learned mama had fallen, i felt the walls fade away and suddenly we all stood in the same room again. this family who once-upon-a-time sat at the kitchen table and shared fondu on saturday nights. who themselves shared the church pew on Sundays, who warmed the seats as my brother played basketball in the old high school gym, who once rode all the way to newport, rhode island in a tiny ford torino, just to see where my parents had once lived. 

sharing the box these past weeks with my birth family has been something powerful, even in the middle of this very hard thing. in the box together, we make jokes, we pray, we look at old pictures, we cry. we laugh at the absurdity of what we face together, what my parents face.

this week, we have sort of retreated to our boxes again. my mother lies in a hospital room down long hallways and up elevators from my father. i'm back at work, as is my brother, and my sister moves between our parents, having her turn at trying to keep up with both of them, though neither is moving very far.

my sister-in-law told me the other day that i had to finish richochet, because it didn't end as most of my stories do. i have thought about that, too. but how to end a story that just doesn't have one yet? i wish i could invent something, but anything i dream up means i am just fooling myself.

and so i will just keep going in my own little lighted box, watching as the walls fade away every now and then when my family gathers. and i'll keep writing the un-endable story, until the words finally push me through.


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