My father once threatened to beat Danny to a pulp, but at eighty-two he suffers from tremors. The tremors are getting worse. Last time I visited, his shoulders moved from side to side. His girth is still wide and his legs are still muscular, but his arms have become thinner from lack of use. He used to lift a couch by himself. Now I lift his plate.
Diabetes has ravaged my father’s body for four decades. His chest bears the scars of by-pass surgery. But he has survived both, like the Warsaw ghetto and the work camps in Germany and France. With the Parkinson’s, my father tells me that he will “harm himself” if he ever has to be “pushed.” He means kill himself if he has to be pushed in a wheelchair.
But I think he wants to live until God takes him.
My mother adopted a child because she wanted to save a life. My sister, born in Korea, stepped off the plane holding an escort’s hand when she was five years old. Forty-three years later she learned that her birth father, an American soldier, lived with her mother for two years.
He left when she was pregnant. Probably a military transfer.
My sister didn’t make it through college; maybe it was too much to be torn from her adopted parents after first being torn from her birth mother. She moved back home, completed a secretarial course, and was working in the credit department of a local corporation when she started dating Danny. It wasn’t until after they moved in together that she discovered the cocaine. He caught her flushing it down the toilet, and that’s when he beat her up.
My sister showed up at my parents’ door with two black eyes. They immediately pulled her into the house. Danny called. Danny cried. Danny said he was sorry. But my father threatened his life and my sister stayed put. A security guard accompanied my parents to the apartment so they could retrieve my sister’s things. Danny hid in a closet. My father pounded his fists on the closet door, but the security guard restrained him. Eventually my parents left.
My sister pressed charges, but all Danny got was probation. He went to prison a couple of years later for shooting a deer in a state park.
Fran is eighty-two, like my father. She was the best friend of my husband’s mother, who has passed. Fran remembers singing opera on the stage. She remembers teaching music and writing the dissertation that is credited to the man she loved. They never married, and he died long ago.
Fran doesn’t remember falling in her home. She doesn’t remember lying helpless on the floor or crying out when the cable guy knocked on the door. She doesn’t understand how she ended up here, in a nursing home a mile from her house.
Fran’s only living relative is a niece who lives eighteen hundred miles away. The niece will inherit Fran’s estate. She flew in for a day and then left.
Fran lives in a plain rectangular room with two other nursing home residents. The room smells like ammonia, with a faint trace of urine. Curtains on rails separate the three beds. Fran stores clothes and a few books in a small, simple dresser next to her bed. She tells us that she can’t sleep at night. When she does, she dreams about never going home.
“I don’t want to die,” she says while we sit at her bedside.
The abandoned feral cat who lives in our back yard is almost pure white. She has two light gray patches between her ears. Sometimes she sleeps in a small bed that I placed inside a doghouse that we found on the curb on garbage day. Sometimes she sleeps in the hollow of a dead tree, fifteen feet above the ground. I imagine she feels safer there. When she hears me filling the food dish in the mornings she climbs down, branch to branch. I stand near the tree and wait. When our eyes meet it is like looking into a well filled with emeralds. The cat won’t let me near her, so I retreat into the house and watch from the kitchen window until she jumps down and eats.
You say that I need to know about God, but I think God needs to know more about me. What will I do to change the world?
Because God knows, it needs to be changed.
Faye Rapoport DesPres holds an MFA from the Solstice Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College. Her essays, fiction, poetry, and interviews have appeared in Ascent, Hamilton Stone Review, Platte Valley Review, Superstition Review, In the Arts, Fourth Genre, The Whistling Fire, the Writer’s Chronicle, and other journals. Website: www.fayerapoportdespres.com.