Epiphany in the Memory Unit

Image of a profile of a person's face with light illuminating the cheeks and forehead, the face is shrouded by a round blurry object in the foreground.By Cameron Dezen Hammon.

The priest’s wife handed me her half full can of beer. It was Christmastime, and the beer she was offering was a Texas IPA, sweating seductively on the table between us. I brought the can to my lips and the slightly bitter taste of the half-warm beer filled me with relief.

I needed a drink. It was 7 p.m., and I’d arrived late. We would be heading out to sing carols at the Alzheimer’s unit of a local nursing home, a well-appointed facility near the neighborhood in Houston where I am a music minister and where the priest’s wife’s husband is rector.

The nursing home smelled faintly of Clorox and overcooked vegetables—as I suppose all nursing homes do—but I had been unprepared for the regret that hit me with that smell. [Read more…]

Hea i ka Haku

david-salafia-office-still-life-on-flickrBy Marlene Muller

On day two we fired the harpist.

“The music is really very lovely,” the nurse had explained, as if we’d never heard a harp before. My sister and I sat facing each other in plastic chairs on either side of a hospital bed. We watched the nurse smear Vaseline on our mother’s lips. Our mother’s eyes were closed, and she continued the loud, gurgled breathing that began after she lost consciousness from her second stroke one floor below us in the emergency room.

“She’s played for several patients and the families are always so grateful. I’ll give her a call and let you know when she’s available.”

We thanked the nurse. We watched her peel off her purple latex gloves, flip open the garbage pail with one foot, and drop the gloves in the can. “No problem,” she said, and left, pulling the door closed behind her.

I turned to my sister, “No harpist.”

“No harpist,” she agreed.

The first stroke hit my mom at home. My sister had stopped by to say hello to her and noticed the right side of her face drooping. And her language was strange, although not in the usual way, not funny, but garbled. [Read more…]

The Dragon and the Yahrzeit Candle: On Forgetting and Remembering, Part 2

12798592043_af6641e703_zContinued from yesterday. 

I dive into the pool. My body remembers water. My body remembers how to swim. My arm swings overhead, my arm follows through, my hand plunges into the water, pushing water, propelling my body forward down the lane.

It seems to happen naturally, automatically. I don’t need to think to swim. I don’t need to remember how to swim, what to do next with my arm, my legs, my breathing.

Even when I try, I can’t catch the intention, if there is an intention, that precedes stroke, stroke, flutter-kick. “I” don’t swim. I am swimming.

I think I learned to swim when I was around five. I don’t remember exactly when. I’m pretty sure I learned in Aunt Cis and Uncle Gene’s pool, luxury behind their home in Cheviot Hills, West L.A. I remember Cheviot Hills. I remember the pool. [Read more…]

Go Ahead and Have the Damn Children!

3724627479_62ac89a307_mI was working from home a few days ago, on a day when both of my children were sick, a day that teetered back and forth between writing memos and proposals at the dining room table and wielding the digital thermometer aloft as I re-tucked the covers around hot little bodies.

It was the end of the day and I had turned to random housecleaning when I happened to hear, on the public radio program Marketplace, the latest installment of the show’s series on “first jobs,” pegged to a new book out called First Jobs: True Tales of Bad Jobs, Quirky Coworkers, Big Breaks, and Small Paychecks. In it, a young man named Jesse Kovalcik talked about his first job as a gravedigger at the South Florida pet cemetery where his father was working.

Aside from the built-in oddity of the job he described, the story was compelling for the family portrait it provided: The reason the family was in South Florida in the first place was that the father had gone there to enter a rehab program, and the pet cemetery job was the position he was given on release. [Read more…]

My Rainbow Connection, Disconnected

By Chad Thomas Johnston

2067021449_5fea38708a_mIt was a Saturday night and my wife, Becki, wanted to stream the documentary, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, on Netflix. As a new father, I protested. Our seven-month-old daughter Evie carried with her the promise that Elmo would invade our house soon enough—but this was too soon.

I also protested because I lost much of my enthusiasm for puppets when Jim Henson died on May 16, 1990. When Henson’s silver cord was severed—a phrase the writer of Ecclesiastes uses to refer to death—the rainbow connection Henson sang about as Kermit the Frog was disconnected for me.

People said Henson’s death could have been prevented if only he had gone to the hospital earlier. In my eleven-year-old mind, I thought this meant he had given up on living, much as people give up on hobbies they no longer love. [Read more…]