Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ten Years of Therapy ~ 1998

“I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. I feel like I’ve lived twenty lives."
— K. E. Hansen

As we drive to pick you up,
my sister says that spending
an evening with you feels like getting ten years
of therapy.

When we ring your doorbell, you yell
for us to enter. “Sorry I’m running late,"

you call from your bedroom.
“Having trouble getting my legs
on. Be with you in a few.” Minutes later,
we hear a thud and a cry. “God damn it
to hell. I hate this bloody
life.” On your way to join us,

you have fallen, foot snagged
in a heap of laundry.

Standing and feeling your way to the kitchen,
moments later you’re dishing Gravy
Train, telling Danny, "It's girl's night.
You get a few hours off." Without your dog,
you take my arm, teasing me,

as you love to, about the time
years ago when I led you straight
into a pole while painstakingly
warning you about a step,

way up ahead.

You order a seven-inch pyramid
of vegetables from our favorite restaurant,
carrots, beets, sprouts, jicama, cucumber,
which glisten with sesame tahini dressing.
Chit-chat ceases in the presence
of salad as you touch the tomato peak,
face alight with joy.

You take only one small sip
of water as you eat your salad, saving
your fluid allowance for later
in the meal. You don’t qualify
for another kidney
transplant and you have passed
the five-year mark
on dialysis. Your doctors say
you will have a few more years,

You ask questions over entrees,
remembering details—my sister's boyfriend's
name, my mother's trip to Oregon, my new
job. When my sister steers
the conversation to you, you say, "I can’t
complain. Life is good." You never hesitate
to say this,
days when it’s true.

Sometimes when we’re out, we bring
your wheelchair and take an after-dinner
ride. On empty sidewalks, 

you like to see if we can break
the speed limit, my sister and I each taking
a handle and pushing and racing
until you grip the side of your chair,
eyes wide, hair streaming,
and we all laugh like kids

at recess.

But tonight, teetering

on your prostheses, you ask if we’re up
for Mr. Toots, a café nearby with live jazz.
We agree, though my sister hovers
behind, hands outstretched,
as you ascend the long steep
staircase, gripping me and the rail,
unsteady still. Aloud, you count

each step, keeping a tally for coming down.
You have fallen in the past, taking
stairs on your own, losing balance,
breaking bones, risking
your fragile hold
on life.

We sit close to the band inside.
Occasionally, I look over and see you
smiling slightly,
nodding your head and tapping

your fingertips, skin split
and needleprick scarred,
still keeping time
to the beat of the music.