22 November, 2006

Gut Strings

...one foot on the platform/and one foot on the train/ I'm going back to New Orleans...

In some moments, she is any old person, sucking on the stumps of her worn-away teeth. At others, in her arched eyebrow or the imperious wave of her hand, when she laughs out loud and kisses me, I catch a glimpse of my grandmother.

The Suzuki kids have come here to rehearse for their holiday show. It is An Event. Like schul this morning, where one unfortunate collapsed, and the rest were wheeled into the hall to await their turn to be pushed back to the ward; wheelchairs of docile elderly flesh, lined in a row against a wall, an effective but slow-motion evacuation. Where was I? Ah, the children. The elderly long for glimpses of rounded cheeks and silky hair. Chairs are brought to the atrium, and patients are wheeled in and parked. Grandmother refuses to be associated with this infirm, and sits in a chair that is (clearly- to me, anyway) onstage. This affords her a close view of the little darlings, and a tolerant nine-year old permits a strange old lady to smooth a strand of her hair behind her ear. This is my grandmother's gesture, the one she practiced on me countless times when I was young. I envy the nine-year old, briefly consider cutting my hair back to the length it was when I was a child. My slippery locks must have been strange to her, as both her daughters were curly-headed. I wonder if somewhere in her mind, remnants of the little girl I was echo faintly.

The music is pleasant, if occasionally wrenching. (Four-year-olds sawing away at violas and violins with low degrees of accuracy beats badly-tuned bagpipes for audible excruciation, to my ear at least.) Grandmother takes it into her head to move from her chair. Daisy and I chase her, me last with Grandmother's wheelchair, trying to dodge the parade of youngsters as they walk around the immobile and incoherant.

Now she leans on an arched window opening, watching the children put their instruments away. She says one of her nonsense sentences, and I respond by leaning against her and saying, I love you.

She says, "I love you too." A moment later, like Dorothy, she says, "I know YOU."

"See, she know you," says Daisy, unfolding the wheelchair. "And I know YOU!" says Grandmother to Daisy. And we all laugh. Has seeing these children somehow created a resonance with my grandmother that allows her to connect with me? For a moment, she knows me.

Maybe. Maybe it is enough that she loves me. Maybe it is enough that I love her.

Here in New Orleans, time is measured not before the war and after, or before nine-eleven and after, but Before the Blow and Since the Blow. That blow destroyed homes and businesses with water, wind and ransacking. But the move from New Orleans to Houston- eleven hours by bus- and Houston to somewhere else- eight more hours- a prolognded stay in unfamiliar surroundings, a hip-breaking fall, and subsequent pneumonia, destroyed my grandmother.

She cannot be rebuilt.

(House of the Rising Sun; The Doors)


pyllgrum said...

These slices of your visit to New Orleans read as well as anything I have read in New Yorker magazine.

Just sayin'

Inanna said...

What Pyllgrum said.

Michael said...

Hope you're okay, Cybele, haven't seen you around in a while.

Cybele said...

Thanks for missing me, Michael. My real life is so packed, I've had no time for my virtual life.