Dad and I are on a carnival ride in earnest now; at the very least we're in the car a lot. His radiation treatments have begun and every night I whisk him away to OHSU Waterfront where he gets on the Sky Tram, has a beautiful view for about five minutes, and then steps into the building where he's going to get zapped. I wait for him below, not quite knowing what to do with myself. The iPhone stands in for what used to be the ancient stack of magazines lying in the lobbies of medical centers the world over. It's a better waste of time, but still a waste. Dad takes the tram back down, and into the car we go. He has treatment #3 this evening. There's little to it; now that the radiologists have dotted the i's and crossed the t's, it's simply a matter of making their incoming blast of radiation line up with his dots. Dad put it best: they're smart bombing the bastard. At least we hope so; it would suck for them to be strafing.
My family has been, of course, completely understanding. Lars is accommodating to our always-shifting schedule, even if it directly factors in to clients breathing down his neck for something. And my son and I bond over video games, which is another complete waste of time, but one in which there are very few emotional demands on me. And Lars, a gourmand but not a gourmet, is even learning to cook. My absence in the kitchen has finally become pronounced enough that he is branching out from the breakfast ghetto and reaching into the intimidating but ultimately simple "dinner menu." I've always told him his palette was such that he should be the chef in the family; maybe it will come to pass, the truth of unintended consequences.
The video game that my son and I are bonding over is a beautiful one; Okami is based on Japanese folk tales, and the style, rather than the harsh 3-D world so many games embrace, is instead rendered to look like sumi-e ink paintings. And while the goal of the game is obvious enough: you are the protagonist fighting evil, it's a more pleasurable experience when the evil takes the form of mythological Japanese characters whose weapons include a giant Taiko drum and monkey imps who insultingly smack their butts at you.
Perhaps the most therapeutic part of the game, other than knowing that evil and good are easily identified and any ambivalence will quickly be resolved, is that your character, a white wolf Amaterasu, is the form Mother Earth takes as she's trying to bring Nippon back to life. And in a stroke of genius on the designers parts, much of the game is partaking in this meditative action. Amaterasu wanders the length of Nippon bringing trees back to life, digging up dry springs to water the land again, dusting off shrines, feeding birds and beasts. So much of the game is made up of these benevolent gestures that my son, a gentle soul, avoids all the conflicts with the demons and simply goes around feeding birds and reviving plants. He relies upon me to slay the imps, which is symbolic of something, I'm sure.
• • •
Dad is playing a difficult game balancing his need for pain relief and the desire to keep a clear head. If he goes light on the oxycodone, the pain peeks through and I can see him struggling with certain movements. But after the Great Easter Pageant played out with all the dramedy of Chekov, he wants to keep his wits about him a little bit more.
There's the issue of his guts, too. Not to put a fine point on it or anything, but "opiates" equals "constipation." He hasn't said it overtly, but his greatest struggle seems to be intestinal right now. Prune juice was purchased after his radiation last night, and he mentioned "voiding" this morning, an unusually quaint metaphor for him to employ. I think he's embracing the quaintness for me, not him, which is touching, and also illustrates how personal it's becoming between us.
When Dad and I walked to the car last night after his treatment, he told me, "If there's anything you want to know, anything at all, now is the time to ask it."
I wasn't sure what kind of "anything" he was referring to and said as much.
"Anything," he said. "About your childhood, about my childhood, about our family history. Anything. You should ask now before I won't be able to answer."
I suppose I should, but I don't know what to ask, which is depressing.
"I let my membership for MoMA lapse," he mused, gazing out the car window at another turbulent April sky. "I thought, 'Well, I've certainly supported them loyally.' But I'm probably not going to be making it back to New York again."
This from a man who, no matter what his finances, no matter when he was going to get back to New York City, always supported his favorite museums through thick and thin; this admission that his membership has lapsed is akin to a man removing a pinky because he just wasn't using it much anymore. It indicates, as he described last summer on his porch, his horizons diminishing.
"I just want to stay close to family now, putter in my studio. Sit on my porch in the sun. I don't think I'll be making too many trips from here on out. And that's okay. I've seen New York, I've done it."
This was the greatest blow I've taken in while. Being steeped in the realities of his medical condition by merit of constant visits to doctors' offices is not enough to make one accept the realities of finality. But it is impossible to avoid finality if the person who is looking toward the finish line is summing it up by letting go of the possibilities of a different future. He might not have made any more trips after this point, but he hadn't voiced it. Now it's out there, and I must face the finish line as well. The MoMA is not in it, nor the Metropolitan, nor the Guggenheim.
They are a part of his past now, not his future.
• • •
As we pulled up to his house, I mentioned that he seemed to be feeling the constraints of time much more. He admitted that he was. He's mentally winding things up, nesting a bit, fluffing the pillows and making arrangements for smaller events: a nice nap in the sun, organizing that last pile of art in the studio, sifting through the archives of his life for any stories his kids should know before those archives are lost forever.
I didn't mention any of this when I got home, but I had a ripping headache, so we went to bed early. "Do you want to talk about it?" my husband asked.
I truthfully didn't know what to say or how to say it. "We can talk about it in the day time, which makes it less depressing, somehow." He agreed; being prone to nighttime fits of sleeplessness anyway, we don't want to encourage it by inviting in the imps before the lights go out.
"We only have one thing in common on this earth, that we're all going to die, and none of us knows how to handle it," I said. "It's so strange."
The imps came in anyway, and last night I was too weak to fend them off.