The Great Plotnik

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Cigarette

The Cigarette


We flew down from San Francisco and my brother and sister-in-law drove in from Orange County and we met at Mom's house near Universal Studios. We are all watching her decline, but RBK lives closer to her than we do and sees her more often, so it is probably harder for him to see the big picture. He wanted us all to be together with our mother because he doesn't know how many more times we will have this chance.

I'm not so sure. Mom has a secret weapon. My wife Barbara thinks Mom's got at least five years left. Barb says that every five years and she hasn't been wrong yet.

Mom sleeps a lot, it's true. You can't judge her when she's tired. When she's tired, she can't see much or hear much or remember much. But there are other times when she's not tired, when she's not confused, when she remembers the way people swung their arms 75 years ago, and understands why family members behave in a certain way, and can tell me small things about her life with the man I never got to know, the mystery dad whom I must take after, if my son Danny takes after me and his son Desmond takes after him. This is the way it works, isn't it?

Just last week Barb and I were back in Brooklyn caring for little Desmond, cradling him in our arms when we couldn't get him back to sleep, like we'd done for his Dad and Auntie BZ only a few minutes before, at most, minutes that shot by and became decades. It was exhausting and transfusing. Your kids, and the kids of your kids, worm their way into how you think. I wanted Desi to sleep so bad, I sung to him, I walked with him, and when he did sink softly back onto his pillow in his crib I felt like I'd won an Emmy.

So yesterday, in L.A., while we watched Mom's long-time helper Santadora stroke Mom's arm and coo softly to her, her Rosita, her Carita, telling her she should just relax and try to sleep, to let the hands on the clock stop for awhile, when Mom's nameless anxiety had seemed to reach up and grab and upset her, I felt like I had glimpsed another little piece of the puzzle, the little boy and his great grandma, ninety nine years apart but sharing a similar world, of naps, of attention, of love.

Not to say that I am all happy happy zen zen about it, or that I don't realize how silly it must seem for a sixty-eight year old man to still be writing about his mother. But I have two kids and two grandkids and if it isn't silly to look into my grandson's eyes and get a thump in my heart when I see some echo of myself rattling around in there, then it isn't silly either to imagine I still make my Mom feel that way too. I'm sure she can still see her light in my eyes. It must bring her the same pleasure.

 She is feeling better, and I know it, because she only scored a five this morning. When she's really out of it she can hit ten or even a sixteen once, which is the record up to here. The numbers refer to how many times she says, during the fifteen minute drive from her house to Burbank Airport, "Oh, I hate this part" or "you have no idea how much I hate this part" or "have I told you how much I hate this part?" or "I know you have to go home...but I hate this part."

Mom rides shotgun and Barb and Santadora sit in the back seat, and every time Mom says it I count it out loud, in Spanish.

"Do you know how much I hate this part?"


A five is good. It means she was right there with us, in the car, paying attention, able to feel bad, like you're supposed to when your kids leave, but not completely tuned out so all she can do is repeat the same phrase over and over again, the litany she can grab onto and make us all crazy with repetition. Of course, it's not repetition to her. It's something she still knows how to do.

Today, she didn't hit "cinco" until we were already at the arrivals drop-off area. So I know she's sad, but I don't think she's dying. There was a traffic control officer standing near the curb waving his arms in all directions like a lawn sprinkler while all the Alfa Romeos and Lexus SUVs whizzed by him paying no attention.

"Why does he bother?" Mom, who is basically blind, remarked. How did she see him? See, you never know.

I also know the doctors will not believe me when I tell you how we all watched her revive before our very eyes last night, after she slept all day, after I took the chicken off the bbq on her back patio, and then we all sat down and she ate like it was her last meal, but it wasn't, and won't be as long as she stays that hungry, which is why I love to cook for her. I stuff the old girl, chicken, salmon, green salad, Waldorf salad, rice, bon bons, cookies. 

"Have some more, Mom?"

"Maybe just one little piece."

After that she wanted a cigarette, and we have stopped giving her cigarettes, because they make it hard for her to breathe, but you know we can't hardly say smoking is going to shorten her life any more, and she really wanted one, so we cut one in half and lit it for her, and as she sat in her prison chair, which is what we call the chair on the patio where we make her go when she wants to smoke, she inhaled, and put the cigarette first in one hand and then the other, and we all shook our heads in amazement as we watched the years fall off her face, there went 90, and then 80, and 70 too, and then there she was, just about our age, in total peace with her lot in life, smiling the big smile we all remember, and laughing, and maybe it was because we were all together but to tell you the God's honest truth I think her secret weapon is the tar and nicotine. Philip Morris ought to call her tomorrow and get the campaign going. They've got a good five years.


At 7:27 AM, Blogger Karen said...

What a storyteller you are. This is terrific.

At 12:36 PM, Blogger J and J said...

This is very well said! You have it well figured out!
J and J

At 11:02 PM, Blogger Linda Davick said...



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