I found my baby book while I was rooting through your old room, looking for things to throw away. Stapled to one of the pages was an envelope containing what remained of my first tooth–a tiny jagged rectangle surrounded by pearl dust. Somehow it seemed more of an indication of your failing body than mine.
You have kept every single piece of jewelry you ever bought, every piece of jewelry, now broken, that you were ever given. The rings that stamped your fingers green are here, a lifetime of plastic bracelets given to you by nieces and grandchildren in a lifetime of Christmases and birthdays. Your ears were never pierced and now the clip-on earrings glint up at me from a million boxes, many having lost their twins, amidst snakelike bunches of necklaces.
Beneath a pile of toys, your only daughter found the breast pump that helped you feed us when we were infants. One of my first memories is of an argument you had with your sister, defending your decision not to nurse, because after all, did you look like some farmyard heifer?
The volume of creams and lotions stashed in the bathroom cabinets is a testament to your helplessness in the face of an Avon lady’s pitch. Yet your skin was always wrinkled, dry. I remember pressing my clammy hand into the crepe paper dryness of your own on the Sunday morning walk to church and marveling at our different textures.
I just read the suggestive poem you wrote about vacationing with Dad before I was born. The act loosened whatever blockage had been preventing me from mourning the loss of your mind and I cried. The poem is done in an epic style and hints at the vastness of your love for the English language, of your life before kids. I remember now the feeling I had when I was very young of looking at the black and white wedding photo that stood on our mantle. In it, your frame and dad’s frame were thinned down and de-aged, and I remember the feeling of déjà-vu, like I had been there in that photo at that wedding too. Is this the sensation you get now when you look at the strangers who populate your family albums?
I know you’re in there by the brief flash in your eyes every now and again, that spark of wit from some still-protected depth beneath the layers of plaque. I know you’re still there inside your “otherwise health” (the doctors keep sighing for our benefit), from the way your gait will be sure for a moment and you’ll start walking fast instead of toddling, as if you’re trying to outrun the otherwise healthy body that keeps you here. As if you could outpace the pain in the faces of the grown children whose names hang heavy just below the reach of your tongue, as if your legs could take you anywhere other than as far as the nurse will let you venture along the grounds of your new home.
Maria Pinto’s work has appeared in ‘Broad! (a gentleperson’s magazine)’, ‘The Drunken Boat’, ‘Spirited Magazine’, and ‘Riot of Perfume’. She received a BA in Creative Writing from Brandeis University and was the 2009 Ivan Gold Fellow at the Writer’s Room of Boston. Her debut novel is currently under construction.