Whatever You Love You Are, 2012. Mixed Media. Photomontage, Digital Painting, Acrylics & Watercolor. Liz Huston.
Turn down the thermostat, it’s ºhot here, my mother says.
She is sitting in a wheelchair near the window.
The thermostat is a white plastic box on the wall.
It has a small digital screen, two buttons the shape
of a triangle—plus and minus, a dial with tiny indentations,
and the on-off switch. It doesn’t work.
The nursing home has central heating,
but you cannot control it from the bedrooms.
Are you my son or my grandson? How old are you?
Are you my son, the one that lives far away,
in that faraway country?
Why don’t you want to have children? she asks me.
It has been snowing all morning. Just stopped.
Look at the snow, she says, so clean.
I am reading a brochure the doctor left earlier.
Brain cells lose their ability to communicate with one another.
Two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles
are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells.
Let’s go outside, my mother says.
The park across from her window is covered with fresh snow.
We cannot go outside, Mother, in this weather, I tell her.
At least open the window. I cannot breathe, she says.
Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called
beta-amyloid that build up in the spaces between nerve cells.
Tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau
that build up inside cells.
Take your children to the park. Play with them, she tells me.
Snow is wasted when you don’t have children.
Open the window, my mother says. I want to feel the cold.
I don’t think we can do that. You may get sick, I say.
Who cares if I die today or tomorrow? Open the window, she says.
Just for fifteen seconds, I say. Hope they don’t see us.
I take the bed’s comforter and swaddle my mother,
wheelchair and all, like a cocoon. Fifteen seconds, I say.
I open the window. The cool air enters the room,
like a giant, like an ice river. Fifteen seconds, I say.
And we count together, whispering, and I close the window.
ON A SILVER TRAY
The world has become heavy, I tell my doctor.
A door’s handle, a page in a book,
an empty glass.
I want you to see this, she says.
She points at the black and white image
on her computer screen.
She wears a wedding band but I don’t want to know
anything about her. I don’t want her to have a husband,
children, parents, siblings.
This is your spine, she says. From C-1 to L-5. Do you see these spots?
Yes, I say. What are they?
Sadness, she says.
Are you sure? I ask.
It’s a clear case, she says. The location,
the shape, the density.
Same patients present transparent sadness. We call it
Type Zero. Very difficult to diagnose, even using a dye for contrast.
Yours is translucent. Type 1.
And, it’s shaped like pellets. You see? Very common in Type 1.
Type 2, the opaque sadness, is shaped like filaments that run
alongside the muscle fibers.
Type 1 stays close to the spine. May cause weakness,
trembling, paresthesia, night sweats,
There is also Type 3. It’s web-shaped, settles around the neck.
Patients describe it as having a bridle around the throat.
Produces speech impediments, sometimes muteness.
The last identified sadness is called Inner Type, she says.
It generates in the amygdala. It looks like a rain
of electrical spores that can reach any part of the body.
Does the Type 1 explain my symptoms? I ask.
We can’t be sure, she says. We are still in the early stages
of research. But sadness explains many things.
What should I do? I ask.
Some patients try to rest more and calm down.
But sometimes they fall into hypersomnia, she says.
Balance is everything, she adds.
Some patients cry. Some play sports because of
dopamine release. Some listen to music. Bach, most of all.
I don’t like sports, I say. But I like Bach.
What do you do with your sadness, I ask.
I just keep plowing, she says.
Will I improve? I ask.
You will, she says. But there is no cure for sadness.
It stays with you, always.
What about the future sadness? I ask.
We will cross that bridge when we get there.
Do you pray, meditate? she asks.
Not really, I say.
How can the body function with all this sadness? I ask.
Nobody knows, she says.
But some scientists theorize that the body wouldn´t
be able to function without sadness.
Just a hypothesis.
Do you think we could survive
a lifelong load of sadness delivered in a single day? I ask.
She plays with her wedding band.
Imagine all your sadness, at once on a silver tray, I say.
All at once, on a silver tray, she says,
like the head of John the Baptist.