Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page


In Life, Parkinson's on June 16, 2009 at 11:38 am

Papa SmallWe are in the bathroom. Daddy sits on a wooden chair in front of the sink. Barechested. Hollow. White underpants baggy, sized from another lifetime. I hold the shaving cream can over his cupped hands, squirting a small ball into his left palm. I watch amazed, as old muscle memory takes over. The blank mask of Parkinson’s has dulled expression, slowed reaction, but still he can put the shaving cream where it belongs. Slowly dip right fingers into the left palm. Daub right cheek, then left. Dip fingers. Upper lip, then neck, until his 2 days growth is covered in white.

I wet a blue washrag, wring it out and carefully wipe the excess from his hands. Together we find a razor; I wet it and hand it to him. I watch his reflection in the mirror, amazed that he can still bring razor to cheek, pull down, strip away the white, only smooth cheek left behind. He shaves himself without a nick. I wish I had a camera so that I could photograph him in black and white. He is dignified and capable in this moment. How diligently he works the right side of his face and his upper lip. I think about how long he’s been practicing this morning ritual. I wonder how long he will be able to continue.

When he’s half done he hands me the razor. Without shame or apology he asks me to do the rest. This is only the second time I’ve done it and I know I have to press harder than I want to in order to get a close shave. I’m afraid I’ll cut him, but I don’t. When I’m done I rinse out the washrag, warming and wringing, wiping his face. He has sleep in the corners of his eyes. I notice how dark his eyelashes are, how blue his eyes, and wonder if they’ve always been that way. I run the washrag over his scalp and hair, trying to restore some order as well I can. I notice his ears need cleaning, but he’s losing patience with the hard wooden seat. I run the washcloth over his upper body. His shoulders are small. Hunched. Shrunken. I remember being a little girl in the pool, standing on those shoulders while he was underwater, waiting for him to pop me up into the air. He was so big then. So broad. So capable.

I dress him. Help him to stand. Watch carefully as he maneuvers with his cane to his favorite chair and slowly, painfully eases to a seat. “Thank you,” he says. “You’re welcome,” I reply. “I’m happy to be here.”



Verana Part I

In Travel, vacation on June 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Just the name alone is enough to make me pause and exhale. Verana. Ah.

“Where do you want to go, Mom? What would feel good?”

After non-stop care of Dad she needs a break. She’s near the point of breaking down herself. She’s been his only nurse for much too long. She’s brittle and exhausted.

“A spa,” she says. “I want to go to that place in Mexico where you went before chemo.”

“Verana?” I ask.

“Yes, Verana.”

Arrangements are made. We have the Bungalow for 5 nights, all inclusive. Questions are asked: “Mom, are you okay with no walls?” “Why yes.” “A set menu?” “Sure.” “An outdoor shower?” “Sounds wonderful.” Questions are answered: “Did you pack bug spray?” “Yep.” “How about sunscreen?” “Check.” “Hiking shoes?”  “Okay, but… sure mom, we’ll hike.”

An uneventful airplane ride. Immigration in Puerto Vallarta is excruciatingly slow. Running the gauntlet of time share hacks is loud and annoying. Watching the clock and realizing the Verana boat is supposed to leave with us on it right now and we’re at least a half hour away by speeding, nail biting, Third World passing-on-a-curve taxi. Wondering if we should call someone. Text someone. What will we do if the boat is gone? Hire our own? Stay overnight somewhere? We decide not to think too much about the what-ifs and instead stare out the taxi windows. Hold our breath.

I hate Mexico. It’s a shit hole. So many abandoned buildings. Protruding re-bar. Trash on the side of the road. Dusty, ugly, messy poverty. Resort developments with huge entry arches leading to nothing. Build an elaborate gate and they will come apparently. But the sky is blue. The bougainvillea is in bloom. The water is sparkling, the air is warm and salty and we are free of all responsibilities for 5 glorious nights.

We finally make the turn down the hill into Boca de Tomatlan, the Verana boat departure point. Crap village. Cobblestones. Dark doorways. Cheap plastic toys hanging outside a shop. A young man comes out of nowhere, the taxi driver rolls down his window and stops. Grunts something about Verana.

“Boat to Verana?” I ask the man. “Has it left?”

“Oh no,” is the reply. “Driver will be back in 5 minutes.”  “Really?” “Really.” Exhale. Bags are removed from the cab and carried out onto the beach and set next to a table with an umbrella. “You want something to drink?”

Do we want something to drink? Well yes, we do. Ignoring the obvious, that this guy knows he can squeeze a more than a few bucks out of frazzled Verana-bound travelers, we happily buy a couple cold Mexican beers, and then a few more, and then 2 for the boat driver, who we are told has been waiting in the hot sun for such a long time…

I love Mexico. It’s so fucked up. But at least it’s predictable.

The boat ride is lovely. A balmy half hour zipping along the coast watching turquoise water crash upon gray rocks against a hillside of palms in the late afternoon light. Pelicans cruise the shoreline.  We watch for dolphins. We breathe. Eventually we come around a corner and I can see the orange umbrellas of Verana up on the hillside.

“There it is Mom. There’s Verana. Up there.”

We pull up to a dock. The water is rough but a lovely young man steps out, grabs the boat’s line and helps us out. Our luggage? Mom wonders if she’ll see it again as the boat rushes off. I know it’s being taken to a beach where mules will meet it to carry it up the hill, but she’s forgotten that’s how they do it here. Alex takes both our heavy backpacks, begins to chat, and leads us up through the new day spa, and on up the hill. The path is mostly concrete and big stones with steps. It goes up and up without pause. After 15 minutes Mom needs a break, and incredibly there’s a bench right where she needs it. The jungle birds are amazingly loud. It’s hot. We’ve been traveling all day. Just when we realize that Alex’s entire purpose, beyond guiding us, is to talk so much that we’re distracted from the climb, we arrive. There stands Sonia with a tray offering flower-bedecked washcloths. The cool white towels feel so good on our sweaty faces. Fresh squeezed limeade and handmade chips with dip are waiting on a nearby table. Heaven. We sink down onto the cushioned bench. We’ve arrived.

Welcome to your vacation Mom. Welcome to Verana.