It Me, Presently

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(Musical Inspiration, Maná, Te Llore Un Río, I Cried You a River)

Setting                                    Someplace dark, OK, mostly dark and mostly quiet, but with an echo and mysterious lights acting as guides that come and go?

Characters

Past                             Narrator 1, ever curious for answers, always more answers. A reflective and persistent questioner. Sometimes feels ignored.

Present                       A font of answers, or at least a source of answers beyond the grasp of the past. Desired by the Past. Impatient, self-absorbed, naïve.

Future                        Narrator 2, already in possession of the answers, all the answers, infinite answers, perhaps even to answers that clarify still more answers? Its questions are mainly to be civil, as feigned politeness. Ambivalent, insolent, carefree, or is it perhaps careless?

(At Rise: A lone voice, illuminated somehow, perhaps by its memories of the past.)

Past

Ahhh, where were we anyway? Oh, I remember, you were talking about being naked in the Grand Canyon, high on the Tonto formation on the trail to Clear Creek alone on a shelf in the Hermit Shale looking over the upper canyon below the Palisades with a view of what seem teams of ants plodding their way down the South Rim, a mile away south as only the crow can fly, you made your way down to the Clear Creek trail fully clothed. Was it Super Bowl weekend? See I remember.

Some years later, naked again, at Cremation Creek on the South Rim, and you are celebrating walking the nearly 600 miles to arrive at that moment in sheer exhilaration. Beginning at Cortez National Monument, crossing the Catalinas, the Gila River, the Sonoran Desert, the Superstitions, the Salt River, the Mogollon Rim, the Kachina Peaks, your arrival at Cremation Creek, after a rare traverse of the Tonto Plateau from Grand View to the Kaibab trail, was occasion enough for celebration; or so you told yourself air-drying in the bright sun’s rays on that April day, perhaps the best day in your memory?

Fully dressed for success, you were fired a number of times. An ex-Marine told you not to come back to your job behind the grill when you called in sick with Valley Fever years ago. You were really sick. You really were. That Russian guy making high frequency radio transmitters did not appreciate your technical skills, and you were right not to question his judgment. More recently you found yourself on the wrong side of two venture capitalists aptly named Dick Boyce and Ken Chang. Did Dickens write this part of your resume? (I must make a note to check this out.) Perhaps it’s understandable to wish your most recent ignominy to be your last. Still lurking in your psyche, your dismissal from an organization a few years back which you helped found will eventually polish smooth down to a smooth schist, given time.

(As an aside.)

I’ll let you know as we make progress with that. But now I have questions? Oh so many questions. We could spend forever here. At least I could?

(A second light has emerged during the Past’s monologue, entranced at first, then becoming less comfortable, even fidgety, like in a hurry.)

Present

I do love a good story. Nostalgia. You can get lost in it though. Can we hurry it up?

Past

Ahh, there you are. At last. Well, of course. I have questions. I always have questions. Seems you have only answers, so here we are. It’s been a long while, a very long while. So just tell me about yourself? We’re curious?

 Present

What if I’d really rather not say? No, I can’t say, it’s nothing really. Besides, did you know nowadays they have job titles, they even have job codes to numerically assign us to different work categories. You can look it up, find out what I do, officially. Science I guess. Taxonomy, oh what a word, almost onomatopoeic?  Each and every one of us, can you believe it? Assimilating is all precisely defined today, conform or they round you to the nearest decimal? Do you really want to know what I do? Or what they would declare that I do. People seldom mean what they say, my experience.

Past

Sure. Your experience, exactly. What do you do now? There I asked. Simple question, I hope I’m not being too forward, intruding?

Present

I’d rather not say. I’m not sure that I even can say. It’s nothing really. It was just for a short while anyway. No, not that I mind your questions, I understand, we’re all curious. Nostalgia is nice.

Past

What’s nothing? Are we playing a game? I love nostalgia by the way.

Present

The present is a hierarchy, a mystery in the middle, and Lord only knows who is on top, but at the bottom are the Caregivers. Caregivers get no respect, mostly it’s because they are invisible. That’s what I am, a Caregiver. There I told you, I said it. My current job. I’m sure it has a title, and a code? It’s in the book I’m sure. You happy now? Is that what wanted to know? Feel better? Are we done?

Beat

Oh sure, the sympathy. The thoughts and prayers. That tender embarrassment, the feeling you’ve burdened someone, just in answering their question. The question you didn’t really want to answer. Didn’t need to answer. What’s the use?

Beat

Your question now, see what I’ve done? Fie, what you’ve done. Oh, it makes no difference, we’re already lost.

Past

No, it’s still fuzzy. I’m not clear at all. That is too bad though?

Present

What’s too bad? You’re the one supposed to be asking the questions.

Past

Well, it must be tough? It must be hard? What do you do? I mean I really want to know?

Present

See, I’ve triggered your feelings. I told you that would happen. Now you’ve triggered me – which I knew would happen too, it happens every time. Just leave me do my job, and we’ll get along fine. Now run along, don’t you have some other remembering to do? Someone else to interrogate?

Past

Come on, that’s not fair. We got this far. Plus, I’m truly interested. If you forget the past, you’re cursed to repeat it you know? You’ve heard that?

Present

I have. I don’t accept the premise. The past is what I remember. It’s what I am made of, what we all are made of. The past is where I come from, you too, hell it’s where you live, so you can call it a place of doom or peril, if you want? I don’t think so. Not at all. I’m proud of the past, our past, how can you not be? That’s where our people are from, for better or worse. We can only get better, that’s for sure.

Past

I’ll let that slight past. Still, the point, the point man. You really don’t want to tell me do you? Why are you so difficult? I just want to know what you’re up to. I’m curious. What’s this caregiver thing all about? Please tell me?

Present

Oh, OK, OK! You just won’t leave me be will ya? I’m a Caregiver. I didn’t plan it. I don’t even know how I got to be, honestly. Let alone if I’m any good at it? Nobody really tells you. It just happens. And it’s still happening I guess.

Beat

I’ve got two charges, I mean as a Caregiver. And to be clear, anything I say, it’s simply me answering for myself. Actually, oh my God, I am just a part of a team. I am a small part of a pretty big team. Katie is the boss. She’s a saint. A bona fide Saint. Yep, Katie is really the team. Else, we wouldn’t have a team. I don’t like to think about that.

Beat

We have a disabled child, an adult really, of course he’s 25 almost 26, he’ll be 26, December 13. He was born these years ago, profoundly disabled. They didn’t expect him to leave the hospital, seems forever ago, and look? Now he’s almost 26! He was born the twin of his still-born brother. He’s probably 6’ 3” now, weighs about 125 pounds. He’s almost impossible to measure, just a bag of bones really. I know for a fact. I lift him when he needs to get in his chair, or out of it, or into a shower chair, and there’s only one way out. Each time.

Beat

He was born starved of blood and oxygen, somehow it was compromised by his dead brother. Perhaps our boy, he was the generous type?  Even in the womb?  Perhaps he was a Caregiver? I never thought of it that way?

Beat

We can’t know what happened for certain. It’s the way of things. He has Cerebral Palsy and Microcephaly and he’s cortically blind. Later on we installed a feeding tube, had to because he lacks the swallow reflex. He would aspirate when Katie would feed him. “Aspirate” is a fancy word for pneumonia, just to be clear. Plus, scoliosis which required spinal fusion and titanium rods, and a 3-month hospitalization followed by a year of home rehabilitation, including a wound vacuum to clean out sepsis and MRSA. Daily seizures, too, like a plague. You never know when they’re going to come.

Beat

Yet he’s a happy, and, knock on wood, a healthy guy. He is totally bed and wheel-chair bound. He can’t communicate, oh he shrieks, at times; it’s wild, neither sentient-sounding, nor all that illuminating. In short, he is profoundly disabled. He couldn’t survive without a standard of care that’s 24/7 home-care, regular doctor visits, and specialists; a daily group home habitation for a few hours a day with a few dozen other disabled adults. Lotta caregivers there, praise the lord, praise every one, they’re great!

Beat

You know, there is a whole ‘nother culture out there of disableds. Not people who are just differently abled, or otherwise abled. No this ain’t no ableism thing. No those are just words for people who can take of themselves, but differently. Respect. For sure. That’s tough too.

Beat

But think about it. There are so many without even basic mobility or even the precious ability to self-care. My god what we take for granted? What is invisible to us? The car accidents. The work accidents. The birth defects, like our boy. So, so many. And how many shooting victims do we pretend are not even there, randomly condemned to a life like this? Pray for them. Pray for their caregivers. Pray for their families.

Beat

Sadly, there are so many, many people, totally disabled like this. Invisible as they are helpless but for the generosity and commitment of a handful of people, their caregivers. Without them, disabled people, without even the most basic in developmental or physical skills to survive, let alone cope in the world, would simply perish. They’d just die, they’d starve, strangled for lack of breath, nothing to nourish their needs, stroke their cramped muscles, or clean their soiled clothes.

Beat

 So, I am a Caregiver now. That’s what I do. God won’t do it, somebody’s got to step up.

Past

Oh, I’m sorry. That has to be hard, oh that’s too bad. You’re an angel, I’m sorry.

Present

No, no, it’s not too bad. And I’m no angel. For sure. But geez, don’t be sorry for life. Cuz that’s what it is, life. Life is like this, just like that gnarly knot on the oak tree. You might say it’s deformed, or ugly, or weird, or misshapen. But it’s life. And I think life might take issue with you, with most people really, who say that, things like “too bad”. What does that even mean? Now you’re probably embarrassed that you asked, looking for an escape from this convo? I’m sorry, I get this way. You’re the one who won’t stop asking the questions?

Beat

That’s ok, I mean it. It’s ok. We not supposed to dwell on things like this. It’s possible not to dwell and still to carry on, in a certain rhythm, marching to whatever cadence life gifts us. Oh, to be sure, it comes and goes, and sometimes it’s fraught, sometimes it’s just plain dark, black, pitch, murky, dark, choose your bleak.

Beat

But then there are times, you take in a play together, or a concert, and you see his expression rapt, his eyes go wide, it seems he is able to focus, he somehow feels the production, the energy, the emotion the rest of us are maybe only able to watch, to listen. But do we feel it, do we hear it, do we really feel it? Who knows?  To him, what we may take for granted can be enormous, a lifetime’s sensory splash. He can be overwhelmed, he’s happy. He finds a joy? Isn’t that life? Isn’t that living? Does that even make sense?

Beat

Maybe it’s just us? Maybe we just imagine, what we dream for him. If our joy can somehow be his? If we even can think he is happy, oh, what a feeling.

Past

What a feeling, I think I know what you mean? I think I remember.

Beat

How long have you been taking care? Of him? A caregiver, what else, your work? What did you do before? Your other kids?

Present

Ah yes, thank you. Good questions! Let’s prioritize here, lest we forget there are highlights. In life right now. I, we have a granddaughter too! Wow, talk about a life changer, talk about happiness. Her name is Olivia. She’s my daughter’s. My baby’s baby! She is a joy. 18 months now! Should have started with this? Should have started with Ollie, we call her Ollie now, that won’t last, she’s gorgeous. She’s gorgeous.

Past

Special, you sound excited. I’m happy. For you. That’s a big deal. I bet she’s spoiled?

Present

It’s huge, and she is. Spoiled I mean, in a good way of course. You can do a lot of things with just a little happiness. There’s more though, so much more.

Beat

Remember, it’s a team effort. Ok it’s, mostly Katie, for sure. But before, there was a before, you’re right.

Beat

I got divorced about 15 years ago. I came home one day, a few months after quitting a big job and looking forward to sliding into semi-retirement. It was not to be. I came home and my wife, my first wife told me she wanted a divorce! We worked on it for a while, but in the end she got her divorce. That sounded tacky. It’s ok. Now. We’re friends and still do family stuff on the reg.

Beat

I met Katie sometime in there. Around the same time, my step-Mom passed, and Dad was in a bad way. Not eating, drinking too much, no exercise. He wasn’t going to make it. I think I say that without exaggeration.

So we took Dad in, me and Katie did. It took some time but we got Dad through that.  He’s been down here with us for nearly 10 years. Woohoo! Wow, he’s had surgeries, one of which kept him in the hospital for a couple months! A bleeding ulcer, 3 surgeries! Whoa, we almost lost him. Of course, there was the “we took your car” experience, which is like a months-long bad dream all unto itself. Still, it’s been a positive. A blessing really.

He played, directed, sang for many years in a variety of groups out here. The winter/Christmas season used to require a calendar for us to keep track. He had a bit of a renaissance. But he is failing now. He moves slower. Doesn’t pick things up. What he does pick up is warped, and he can’t keep it. This Trump fella, makes him think he’s crazy even when it’s not him, but the world that’s turned upside down now? It’s hard to keep your balance nowadays, even harder for him.

Still, he’s got a bit of mental stenosis. Not Alzheimers or dementia. Nope, just my phrase for when one’s field of view and discernment begins to narrow, inevitably.

And now, he’s got glaucoma too, so we’ve got the regular eye drops regimen. And he’s started to have some skin cancers, he won’t wear a hat. Oh, and his teeth are a problem. We have spent a lot of time at the dentist. We joke that he complained about us “stealing his car”, and now we prep for the day when he accuses us of “stealing his teeth”. Haha, getting old. Not really sure if it beats the alternatives, like they like to say.

Beat

Yep, me and Katie got together at the beginning of this process with Dad. So I’ve got two charges, our boy and my Dad. It’s a life.  She’s been great, Katie I mean. We get by. Together we’ve accomplished a lot. It’s good to be on a team. It’s not easy, always, but it’s good.

In here somewhere we took her Mom in for several years too. She’s Hungarian, lived in Budapest. Katie was born and raised there, came here herself when she was in her 20’s. Her Mom is, was a sweet lady. No trouble at all. A life-long smoker, she used to enjoy sitting on our back patio just enjoying her smokes. She passed a few years ago, at 82 or 83? She was back in Hungary when she passed. It was special to have her here with us those years. Just to have a home and be able to take care of your parents is a blessing wrapped in a blessing. Special.

Past

Wow, you had both your Dad and Katie’s Mom living with you? Wow. That is special, right? A lot of work though, I’m sure?

Present

Oh, oh, yes it was entirely special.  Plenty of work, but what’s that? We forget, these things, right? We remember the good, that’s how we all do it? Right? Makes us human. And a prayer before dinner at night, every night is a special thing, you can almost hold on to it? Dad gives us that.

Beat

In there after Katie’s Mom passed, my own Mom passed, now three years ago. It happened suddenly, though she was sick for many months now as I understand more. We miss her, of course we do, but now she’s been gone already years? The worst of it is she missed our daughter getting married and the birth of her first Great Grandchild!

Beat

I’ve lost a few Mothers-in-law now, a Father-in-law, and step-Mom and now my own. The only family I have left are my Dad, and my step-Dad, Mom’s second husband. Those are the only two, ironic. One’s 88 and the other is 91.

Past

And their grand-kids? Right? From your first marriage?

Present

Oh yeah, of course. Proud of them, very proud. They all graduated high school and were into college, even beyond, when we got divorced.  Our oldest son is a musician. He plays guitar and bass and sax, teaches and plays gigs in clubs. He taught me guitar, for which I will ever be grateful. I resisted learning so many times over the years, but he got through to me! The way he, our son mastered the guitar and music theory and all things music, and teaching too!,  is beyond me. I have no idea what he is doing.

Our middle son is a software engineer for Amazon in Seattle. He is doing very well. Kind of a bigshot, though he would never say that. I have no idea what he is doing either.

Our daughter is in a PhD program in Neuroscience at ASU. She is the Principal Investigator on a National Institute of Health grant that is a big part of her course of study. I have no idea what she is doing. Either.

Beat

Past

Come on. What do you mean? Surely you must have an idea what they are doing?

Present

Not really, not really at all. I am the dumbest one in the room. Consistently. I guess it’s a part of aging and parenthood. Your time has passed, and now it’s their time.

Beat

Also, Katie is a math professor at ASU. She has a PhD in Mathematics from ASU. Sort of “I have no idea” for $1000? Right?

Beat

Katie has a daughter too. She’s a year younger than her brother. So, no doubt she’s had a time of it, dealing with a severely disabled sibling, only a year older. God only knows what she’s had to cope with, growing up through all that. It’s hard to know, let alone appreciate what someone else has had to suffer through? We’re all so full of ourselves. Growing up is hard enough. If we could only remember.

Beat

The good news is I’ve been saving the best, our youngest, for last. Our daughter, my step-daughter, is in Oklahoma now with her boyfriend. He’s a navy pilot doing secret stuff. I have no idea, right?

Her degree is in Childhood Development and that’s what she does in Oklahoma. Her Mom teaches math, so it seems she took a different academic path. She definitely excelled at curriculum planning, especially ‘final semesters’. She graduated this spring, with two courses still to take! So get a load of what her last two classes were? One was in Spain, a class on cultural psychology? In Seville, I am sure it was plenty cultural. Ha.

Beat

Her final class was a Beatles class, though. We helped her with her exams over the phone. I’m no Beatles expert, but what do you know? Finally, I had an idea.  Finally, a clue – a clue — about something one of our kids is doing. I definitely knew that song, what’s it called?

Past

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me?”

Present

“When I’m 64,” yep that’s the one. Finally, a rhetorical question, thanks for that.

Past

Who will take care of you?

Present

Maybe “Vera, Chuck and Dave?” You’re out of your element now, or is it me?  I’m out of my element with a question. You know the future. It’s the future, and only the future holds the answers, all the answers, an infinity of answers it would seem. Sure the questions are the same, mostly. But who can answer about the future? Surely not me.

Past

Just teasing if you remembered the song. Not being rhetorical, just biographical.  That’s where you and I first met, now we meet again. Life. It’s messy, we haven’t been able to spend much time together.  But like you said. Nostalgia. It’s nice.

Present

Are we done? I’m getting sleepy. All this talk of the past is exhausting. I’m sleepy. I’m going to rest now.

(Enters a happy-go-lucky light, the Future, seemingly weightless, and perhaps touched with insolence. Meets a sleeping Present.)

Future

Did I hear my name? Who’s there, disturbing my quiet? Tell me you didn’t wake me for nothing. Who’s there?  Coming to join me, are you? I’ve got lots of answers, all the answers there ever were and ever will be, to make you feel welcome. So get ready. All in time. There’s plenty of time.

Present

I’m so groggy. What happened? Where am I? I wake disoriented, with no clue where I am. How did this happen, and what is this thing? Seems I’m encapsulated in a space suit? What is this? My last memory bathing in Cremation Creek is just a vanishing image, gone evaporated before me as a fragile wisp of cirrus disappeared into the blue sky guarding the canyon where I am folded, entrapped somehow in this clunky exoskeleton without a clue how much time has passed. I test my range of movement, wrestle with this carapace designed by a superior creature, possibly even older still.  Clearly my vision is limited to 45 degrees, more or less, by this bulky helmet, through design or perhaps it’s cataracts? I feel nothing, imagining how it might have been, when I could touch, I never had the touch, but we all need to touch, indeed perhaps it was nothing? Memory is not feeling. I wonder if anyone can hear me. It seems as if I am shouting at times. The world before me is unmoved by my presence. Would that it were. Perhaps this is the future?  This is not what I was promised.

Future

You’ll get used to it. You’ll adapt. Remembering is forgetting. It’s a different world where all the answers live. All of my answers, are for you, and for anyone, really. All the answers that have ever been, and all the answers that will ever be. Take your time. Look around. Gather yourself. Gather your thoughts. I’ll save my questions for later. There will be plenty of time for you to think up some answers of your own. I’ve heard them all anyway. I’ll help you. But do tell. I’m fascinated by the past. Nostalgia gets me weepy. Forever.

Present

The past? What would I know of the past?

Future

Take your time. All in time, it will come to you. We have all the time in the world, you and me, the Future and the Past, it’s just us now. Just the two of us.

Beat

Oh, and please, you must be burning up, take off that helmet, get out of that suit into something more comfortable. Make yourself at home. We’re going to be here awhile. 

The End IMG_2284

 

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