Tuesday, April 23, 2013

It Is Not Contagious, You Know!

Father pulls his skin taught across his lips with left hand, takes the metal shaver in right and aims flawlessly for the moustache scrub. I watch in silence, admiring each gesture. The foam floats above the bowl of warm water, the sound of precise scraping focuses the act in daily sequence. I sit, grateful to be able to watch him today in this usual routine. I slip on my good socks and fine faux alligator loafers. I am twelve. The uptown apartment is clean. The stew is ready for supper.

He turns around and hardens his gaze upon my clothing, pleated 
plaid skirt, wrinkle-free, white cotton blouse, impeccable, navy cardigan, all buttons properly aligned. I smooth my hair, I feel him struggling to find any detail to chastise me about. “you know your mother will notice anything when you get there” his voice trembles over the last words, he averts my gaze.

As we turn toward the cathedral, I watch women pull their mantillas over their chignons and curls, each tapping their heels on the limestone walkways as a genteel army of the faithful. My throat so parched that I believe I would not be able to speak if asked, I step lightly behind his brown shoes, conscious not to waver. I have never been in a hospital.At the large iron door to St Josèphe Clinique, he stops and passes his hand over his pale cheeks, takes a deliberate deep breath, “she almost died you know! Don't bother her or ask anyth..” his voice falters.

A nun approaches us, father straightens his shoulders and asks for my mother's room number. We are taken to a ground floor waiting room, bronze statuettes of saints line the long space in discreet niches. I scrutinize each in order to keep my pulse from running away from me. I have never bothered to learn which is supposed to help whatever ails people, so I scatter a few begging thoughts across the hall. I touch one sleek be-robbed monkish figure and quickly withdraw my hand for fear of being spied upon by a rigid Supérieure or so. I don't want my father to find me weak.

When I finally am allowed in my mother's room, he loosens his jaw, “ I' ll be going to the café, don't wait up for me” he starts toward me, I open my arms slightly, he stares past me then turns abruptly, the heavy door creaks behind him. My breath is shallow, my eyes painful, I hear faint echoes of graceful nurses on duty. A doctor exits mother's single room, “ your mother will be fine, she will stay with us for another week, don't touch the bed, it may hurt her” he smiles directly at me.

Mother's face seems like a bloated ivory figurine floating above pristine sheets, I have never known her to be so filled and friendly. Who is this person so relaxed and amenable? She reaches for my hand, I hesitate. “ it' s not catching you know, I had appendicitis and it busted and caused peritonitis, very dangerous, very painful” I sit on the padded chair beside her iron bed, looking at all the medical implements around. A book on her table, next to a short glass of water with a straw in it. I wonder how she can sit there all day, she neither reads nor drinks water. She tells me of friends visiting her, I am surprised to hear she has friends, I am not allowed any..

Well, her seamstress and the jeweler she works for have been here, then she tells of a family acquaintance, but warns me against sharing this information, I forget immediately as usual. The doctor comes by and motions me to rise and depart, I lightly touch mother's hand and suppress an awkward grimace which is surging from my chest and threatens to turn me into a wailing child, “come back next week-end” she says, softly. The tears refuse to be contained, I pour out of the huge front door along with an unstoppable stream of tears and moans. Blind and deaf to traffic, I rush to the park across the street and hide by the reindeer enclosure, they know me well, I know them, they snort at me in consolation.
I wonder if the spotted deer are orphans, I don't have dry bread to give to them today. I don't have anything to give to anyone today.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Family Order

Family order
Like clay mud on boots, traditions have clung to the feet of my ancestors, and I scrape the worst of it to compost the past into fertile soil of our future. Unconscious habits grown out of necessity become the burden of abundance in the mass markets of the present. Faced with the consequences of our acquisitions, we shed futile morals and fertile powers; can we set aside the competitive values in anxious times?

A vague reference to one of my ancestors having come to the new continent three centuries ago, sent me to moon time, I suffered many a stab from the nuns’ bamboo stick during class as I was far away from subject at hand, “are you on the moon again?” I would bow my head in contrition and keep planning my escape to my own continents, Africa, Australia, or America? The constricting of family life was as powerful an urge as the moves of my vagabond forebears.

From the people of the Auroch to the invading hordes from the wild central plains of Europe, riding on horseback around mountains, nomads ran in search of food and wealth. My own tribes traveled westward through dense forests and settled before the Ocean where they found sustenance for all. This was the uncluttered family model; male, female, progeny and a few elders, when the term may have meant anyone exceeding 27 years old in a cave, a hut, with pond or creek as haven and conceptual heaven.

The ambitious Roman armies roared across the crude settlements and toughened the natives who then were forced to build ramparts and fortifications to secure their new holdings; this was the beginning of the social cluster. The nascent village became the extension of the local nucleus as protective measure. I occasionally long for the earnest goal of singular security, of familiarity.

Together they built regiments of their own, rebelled and scratched their way to ownership of land and cattle. Then they fought the Moorish invaders, they lost their sons to the territories, bones of rebellion, terroir of today. Once the crusades were over and they had become the invaders of others, they came home to fallow lands and forgotten women; a frenzy of growth began to climb out of medieval oblivion and was named renaissance.

Family took a turn to heredity, of goods, of lands, of ease and disease. Traditions which were imported from exhausting travels through the Middle-East found their way to the hearth and reasoning of simple folk. Ceremonies meant as release from arduous work, grew to important cementing purposes to keep the family together, the people tight and the animals close by. Togetherness secured the clans like ligatures and hobbles on the chattel.

Family order was maintained at the cost of individuality, the good of the whole or the drudge of the one. Long past feudal loyalties and ensured serfdom, the old order remains in the manners, the habits of immigrants who have morphed their psyche to adapt to previous invaders’ codes. Sons born to protect the estates, sons to maintain the status, daughters to propagate the ideals, gathered between wars to conjure better weapons and cures for restlessness.

In the hinterlands, sons kept the perimeters safe from other intruders, they rang the bells to warn of danger to castle or fortified farm, women and children ran to enclosures. They awoke to ravaged crops and raven girls left afield. How little man has changed since; bells and whistles now ring across airwaves and women are savaged in the ruins of what fields produce for the increasing multitudes. Whose family is protecting whom when there is nowhere left to run, no land to conquer? except for family order.