Thursday, March 15, 2007

Spadina Station, facing the truth

Caucasian woman, early 30s, with short, wavy brown hair, wearing an open spring trench coat and headphones.

Race Against Time, Stephen Lewis (House of Anansi Press)

Near the end:

I've often given messages so mixed that listeners must wonder, wherein lies the truth? But the truth is that truth inhabits both ends of the spectrum. At the level of the grand design--more money, more drugs, more prevention, more care--hope is instinctive. On the ground, where people live and die, where the grand design has yet to be felt, the pandemic is hell on earth.

He described the fistulas. His sister, my aunt, bathed around them, wearing gloves in the event that one erupted. I'd only known her as every hair in place, make-up ready, floors spotless and windows squeaking. I imagined her face straining, her mask soaked with tears and snot, hidden, while her baby brother, her best friend, everyone's favourite everything, lay open to inspection. There were two sets of tubes, running good and bad stuff in and out as he explained in this phone call, our first and last.

She was in the room. Following, but not following. Gentle strokes against skin that ached. She couldn't have imagined a time she would bathe her baby brother again. He couldn't have imagined a time he'd forbid his lover from visiting. Together, they couldn't have imagined a time "not like this."

Pressed to, she could imagine him in the next room, needing help to and from the bathroom, because he was 87, his legs unsure, his vision even more so, not 36 and thriving and, goddamit, conscious of everything, every reaction, every gross kindness, every absence of affection.

Pressed to, he could imagine her visiting him in the adult complex, naked in the backyard, his bronzed lover, 52 and belly down on a lounger, working on their tans, because he *was* 87 and in desperate need of someone to keep him in stock of his favourite hand butter and cuticle cream.

Step to the side of this lifetime and she was the first to go, fast and quick, riding high off the ascent of a snowmobile at 2:30 am, three flutes of Happy New Year down the chute. That's what they'd decided as children. His turn, he refused to play. He simply couldn't imagine a world in which he didn't exist.

I put the receiver to my chest. He'd become tired, hanging up the phone, forgetting to say goodbye. I wasn't ready for him to go, not like this.

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