I look in the mirror before I start writing but I can’t hold my own gaze. My nose is red from crying, eyes small. My skin is blotchy, and I am critical of my hair. It seems to get pulled straight by its own weight. I want my curls back.
Dad tells me this morning that Onofre is on — and then Dad can’t find the words. I wait, I’m thinking “life support,” but I don’t want to say it. Surely he’s not on life support.
You know how it is with far-away aunts and uncles, you see them three, four years ago. The time Onofre’s kids drove him to the casino near Española and we drove up from Albuquerque to meet him. We all had casino buffet: deep-fried shrimp and chicken-fried steak, green beans from a can, with canned mushroom soup for sauce and bread crumbs on top. Casino buffet food that we all oohed and aahed over, even me. And then the next year we see Uncle Onofre at his house in Pueblo, and all his kids set out a feast for lunch, white bread and wheat, roast beef, turkey, ham, bologna, three kinds of cheese, mayonnaise in a small bowl, potato salad. Beer.
Hospice. Dad finally says it. He remembers the word, that sounds like “hostile” but means something totally different.
Dad hasn’t lost a sibling since Mabel, and she died young; it’s been years. I don’t even remember how long ago. Onofre is younger than Dad by two years, they called him “Cielito” when they were kids, Little Sky, for his wide, sunny disposition. He whistled and sang, smiled a toothless smile, we called him “Uncle Bear” because he had a barrel chest and even when I was a kid I remember the hair on his chest popping over the top of his shirt. He was in-the-moment, spontaneous, huggable, not as cerebral as his brothers, skinny arms compared to his big chest. I remember the first time we visited them in Pueblo, they had an outhouse for a toilet and after our visit was over, I wished we’d never go back.
Not anymore. Now they live in a regular house, small but nice couch, chairs, just like the rest of us. So how did we get from the casino lunch buffet to the sandwich smorgesborg to the hospice? Via outdoor plumbing and hairy chest and bear hugs. Just like that it’s almost over.
I’m not sure why I’m crying for Onofre. I think I might be crying for me, for not being able to hold on to the girl I once was. For not being able to hold on to Dad, his big hands full of tremor and fear. For having to take Mom to the doctor, to see what’s wrong with her back, to do a Stress Test, to fix the bloody noses. I gently suggest that doctors don’t have all the answers, that maybe she should go see my alternative doctor. Mom gently doesn’t hear what I have to say.
It’s windy again today. I’m agitated and this cup of black tea doesn’t help. I can’t stop the wind, can’t stop time, can’t take away any of the moments lived. Once I remember talking on the phone to Dad, long ago, when I was in my 20s and thought we all had forever left. He said something to me, I can’t even get a taste now of was it Politics or Work or Family? All I remember was my pure and complete response, FUCK YOU! I hung up and sat there, having just told my dad those words, I wasn’t even scared, just angry and relieved, the way you can sometimes get relief from certain actions.
This morning I ask Dad if he wants to go to Pueblo to see Onofre before he dies. No, he says, and he doesn’t offer why. If he dies in Spring, they’ll cremate him now but hold a memorial service this summer, when all the old people can be outside in Colorado.
That’s not the same as seeing him before he dies, I think. I don’t push it. I know it would be hard, but I am kind of surprised. I guess it’s the part of me who refuses to accept that my parents aren’t up for anything anytime.
-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER