A vase, a photo collage, a doll
Dec 18th, 2009 by alexfaye

Remodeling the house required me to pack everything into boxes, and in the process, to touch and consider (albeit briefly) each and every thing.  HOW did I acquire so many fucking THINGS?  It befuddles me.

I moved into my parents’ home after my mother’s death; I shared time and this space with my dad for the last ten years of his life.  I inherited their home which I have made into my own (living without a kitchen as I write, but I SHOULD be up and running by next week), but along with the roofed structure with two flush toilets and a mailbox,  I inherited their THINGS, many of which hold no meaning or value to me.  A service plaque.  A gigantic rosary.  A pair of matched table lamps.  A framed photo of my dad standing, smiling among strangers.

Some things found new homes in a couple of garage sales, and I’ve already forgotten exactly what those things were.

We land in this world, wet and naked, and we leave in roughly the same way.  The things we acquire, without the animating force of our narrative, become someone else’s problem.

A small, painted porcelin candy dish, a cast iron turtle, a small squishy penguin toy — these objects have a story and a meaning that I know, and that my sister knows.  But when we are gone, how will anyone understand why we saved these particular objects?

It is with this mindset that I consider my own things.

I will live 30-40 more years, IF I’m lucky, and then, Maddy will be somewhere between 50 and 60  (as I am now ), and she will have to sit with a melancholy heart to sift through a pile of mysterious material objects. I’m there, Darling Heart. I know the impulse to take a wide swipe and junk the whole mess, and the impulse to hold each thing, to turn it over and try to decipher its meaning.

So: the vase, the photo collage, the doll.

This vase standing on my desk is approximately 18 inches tall.  Who knows what it is made of?  Let’s say clay.  Porcelin clay?  Very girly in shape.  Tight waist, big ass.  It must have caught my mother’s eye in the medina, a Moroccan market, and she bought it.  Did she haggle?  Did she pay with francs?  (Now that Europe has gone to the Euro, has Morocco cast off the currency of the colonizer — the French franc? Suddenly I recall currency with Arabic characters on it.)  The vase, painted in geometric shapes in rose, yellow, green and navy blue, is older than most of my friends.  This vase is at least 40 years old.  On the bottom, it says “SAFI.”  Is that the creator?  Who was SAFI, and is she alive? I doubt it.  The vase has been from Kenitra, to San Diego, back to Spain, back to Los Alamitos: in case you’re counting, that’s 24000 miles, or roughly the circumference of the Earth.

We lived in Morocco from 1966 through 1968.  Robert Kennedy was assassinated; so was Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. It was in Morocco that my mother received the news of her mother’s death.  Those were the years that my father’s drinking really caught fire.  I rode horses, and had a spectaculr bike accident.  We lived just 100 yards from the Chief’s Club, and five hundred miles above the Sahara Desert.  The heat was crushing.  We lay on the floor, on the Navy housing linoleum, in the air produced by a oscillating fan positioned behind a block of ice that my dad brought home from work.  Our couch was naugahyde — fake leather — and I remember sticking to it.

More writing I found recently
Dec 12th, 2009 by alexfaye

This must have been in 2005 or 2006.  Dad’s first surgery was in September of 2006.

He recently switched from a cane to a walker, thank God.  In the years of his terrifying virility, he stood 6 feet 5 inches — long arms, long legs, and hands as big as plates.  Even now, stooped, frail, and failing — the muscles of his once powerful arms and legs stringy and loose — his falls are spectacular:  two hundred and thirty pounds falling in five directions.  The world is momentarily displaced; I hear the dull thud of bone and flesh even in my sleep, and run to find him.

Always, the ribs crack.  Recently, I stood studying his bright white pelvis, bigger than my head and floating nonsensically in a field of black, partially obscured by mysterious grey clouds (arthritis, scar tissue), while a white coat traced a hairline crack with a perfectly manicured finger, dispassionately reeling out his careful analysis:  nothing we can do. Age is degenerative, unstoppaple, inevitable. Thank you, Dr. Science.

Once, to save himself from falling, he slapped his huge hand down on the coiled red burner of the stove.  The blister covered his entire palm; it rose up slowly like the Houston Astrodome — a big bubble of skin, a leather balloon.

After the last fall — a catastrophic one that required a midnight ambulance, hospitalization, convalescent care, and appointments with physical therapists — I outfitted our house with supportive acceessories, reflecting on how much we take our mobility for granted.  I appreciated anew the horror of the bathroom: a nightmare combination of precarious balance, tile and water and soap — and gazed darkly into the future.  When I stand perfectly still, I can hear the crack of bone on walls, the shattering of safety glass.

So when I came home last week and saw the walker, I struggled with relief and sadness.  Without it, his gait is startlingly familiar, evoking childhood: he staggers through the house like a drunk, catching himself on furniture, counters, door jams.  His size thirteen feet drag along as if he were wearing cement shoes.  He cannot feel them, he says.  They are blind, stupid appendages on the ends of his legs, laced into bright white athletic shoes.  He prefers the cane, thinks the walker is for sissies.  For him to have it out is an acknowledgment, a white flag of surrender. He needs to surrender, maybe.

Of course, I want his safety, but on another level, I need him to resist just a little bit longer.  I rode his shoulders through the helplessness of childhood.  I was suddenly 7 feet tall, and invincible.  He swung me in wild circles, holding just one hand and one foot.  And on the other days — Bad Daddy Days — I learned to avoid his bad smell, his sloppy affection, the slurred insults he hurled at my mother.  First I was a mouse; I grew into a liar. I found ways around the threat of him and his swinging, punishing hands. I resisted him; I subverted his agenda, threw secret obstacles his way.

Tonight, my champion and my foe grips his walker, and drags himself on a senseless round from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen to recliner.

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