I’m alone in my parent’s house, painting the first floor bedrooms where my grandmother and parents usually sleep. It’s the first time I’ve been alone, day and night, in this house where I lived for eighteen years, the first time I’ve heard my breath echo in the halls, the first time I noticed so many handprints on the walls and trim, traces of a past I clean with mild soap and cover with pale yellow. My grandmother is in a temporary assisted living facility nearby. There is no poetry in those words. My mom and dad are in their own strange dream, a hospital three hours away, my dad recovering from a car accident, the impact of which was strong enough to bust every seam of his leather briefcase, launch letters and notes into the air to fall like dead birds.
There is something serene in the mix of silence and the shoosh shoosh of painting. All day the rhythm speaks to me, and I speak back. I decide it could be my new religion. I am faithful to it. For every brush stroke, a prayer, as if I can heal: I am sorry. I am sorry for dementia. I am sorry for broken bones and metal rods and promises no one kept. For the way I disappoint you. Sorry. Sorry. If I could give you words. If I could give you strong bones, your dream, my opportunities. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
I visit my grandmother each day. They do not put clothes on her. They do not put on her wig. She clutches her bright red purse in the gray halls against her dingy blue hospital gown. She is difficult, they tell me. And I am proud of her. I hold her hand. She grips me with the same strength my child will use twenty years later to grip my hand when I try to slip away from his bed after he falls asleep. There is a sudden panic in it, a desperation. I communicate without words, I will not leave you, by staying longer by her side. By staying longer by his side. Our bodies leaning against each other. Our bodies lying next to each other. The sky we cannot fathom spinning infinitely above us. Why not go to this image? It is the reason I stay.