Forecast: Peaceful Waters

Mom loses her voice under stress.

Which is fine, because she has her blackberry.

This also fine because it means that people can't call Mom and constantly ask for updates on Abuela's conditions.

Being a PR/Media specialist, Mom has found a way to manage this situation.

She's issuing written updates to my father whose job is then to stick to his script and disseminate the statements by phone.

And of course, there is a protocol.

First, dad calls Abuela's other children, Milly and Vincent.

Then he calls my brother Winn. A

fter that he should call me, then other cousins.

The noon update, today: "She continues to deteriorate."

This is a particularly meaningful and appropriate analogy for a family who resides in South Florida and New Orleans.

I imagine Hurricane Abuela, once a category 5 storm with a well defined eye and winds of over 200 miles per hour, downgraded to a category 1.

Then a tropical storm.

Then a disturbance.

Then peace.

About those Keys

So Sunday night I didn't answer the phone.

No surprise to anyone, really, because I didn't really talk to anyone all during Thanksgiving Break.

Maybe I was still dealing with Beth's suicide, maybe I was tired, who knows.

I just know I sat still in a shadow, unreachable.

I didn't answer the phone when my brother called.

He and I love each other alot. Very much.

We love each other in the "only need to talk once or twice a year" kind of way.

The last time we spoke on the phone was when my dad was in the hospital back in June.

I didn't answer the phone because I just knew it was something not so good.

Finally someone got through to me.

Abuela was in the hospital.

Cardiac ICU.

No, don't come down yet.

Just stay in Tallahassee, wait.

Great. So I did stay here.

And I made up my own rules.

If I couldn't go down there, then no one could call me with bad news.

Not until after 5pm, after teaching, after lecturing, after I was a grownup all day.

Then, of course, I'd be ready to handle it.

On Monday I threw on my lucky airport dress, and taught my AMH 2020 class then took a field trip to FSU to lecture on Teaching College History.

On my way home, I called my mom and talked to Abuela.

She sounded tired and distracted.

Of course, she's a celebrity in that hospital, probably getting foot rubs and extra morphine.

Lucky her.

I told her I loved her and that I'd see her when I drive down with the kids on December 18.

She laughed and told me I'd better bring down the keys, soon. She's ready to drive.

I think -- although I don't want to -- that I understood her, completely.


(Originally written June 2007)

My grandmother comes from a particular class and culture in Cuban history where women were not permitted much freedom.

Girls always took chaperones on dates, lived at home until married, knew how to embroider and play the piano.

Such a cultured and protected woman could expect a fine marriage with a Papi-style husband, one who works hard, cheats only when he's out of town, takes care of all the money, and -- of course! -- drives his wife wherever she needs to go.

After fleeing Cuba for New Orleans, Abuela had to take streetcars to work in a cafeteria where no one else spoke Spanish.

Later she carpooled to work with her married daughter to a job a downtown lab where she stained and read pap smear slides.

In all these years Abuela has never ever learned to drive.

Many times over the years she's gotten angry, gotten scared, gotten some backbone and threatened to go to driving school.

When Abuela was about 75, I offered to teach her to drive.

Heck, I taught my brother, I'm pretty relaxed, and hey -- this is Dad's car anyway -- why not?

Abuela said no.

Every time I came home for vacation, for holidays, for whatever, I'd shake car keys in front of Abuela.

"OK! Vamos!"

She would laugh and say "Ay! Si! Vamos!" but she wouldn't get up.

For years Abuela has continually refused the joy and privilege of learning to drive from me.

So about two years ago I started to threaten my Abuela.

Here is the story I told her.

I'll wait until she was completely deliriously old and frail, then I'll ask her to drive me somewhere.

If Abuela says she doesn't know how to drive, I'll make up some wonderfully accurate and descriptive stories about all the places in Cuba she's driven me.

Abuela will then feel a sudden burst of confidence, snatch the keys from me and we'll be off.

Of course, when she actually does drive she'll kill herself, but that would be *fine* because her brain was expiring anyway.

Abuela and waves her hand at me, "Psssssht. I'm not afraid to die. I think it will be fun."

So when I went home this past week, I made sure to wave keys at Abuela, reminding her how much I love her.....

French Fries and Spiderman's Daddy

We met in the parking lot of the Burger King.

Deb jumps into my car and for no good reason, we order huge amounts of french fries.

I eat mine one at a time, no ketchup.

She neatly fishes out groups of three fries, then paints a wiggly line of ketchup across them.

You know this is all about nothing. They just want one more picture of my breasts because they're so perfect. And because my health insurance is so great. That's all.

She nods, nibbling at her next bundle of fries.

We talk about almost nothing, passing time until heading to the radiology center.

She slips back into her car, I follow her.

The waiting room is unusually full.

We take seats in the way back corner, our backs to the wall, observing the room like we own it.

Two little boys dressed as unmasked Spidermen play under a table.

A teenage girl is doubled over in pain while her mother ignores her and makes small talk with a woman dressed in a horrible orange pumpkin-festooned sweater.

No one over the age of five should own anything with a pumpkin on it. Pumpkins are not fashion statements.

We agree.

Besides that, I can't talk.

I can't read.

I'm just smiling, waiting for it to be over.

Melissa Soldani?.... Melissa Soldani?

The radiology tech is not wearing pumpkin scrubs or pumpkin earrings or anything silly, which I take to be a good sign.

We're in Room #4.

She points at the door while holding a stack of xrays.

Take off your top, slip the robe on, let me know when you're ready.

I step out from behind the curtain.

She's holding up a film with pictures of my right breast, which is crazy because the whole reason I was referred was because of my left breast.

There is no small talk, no little questions about what I do or how many kids I have.

Slip your right arm out of your gown and hold on to this bar.

I follow directions, allowing her to plop my right breast onto a clear platter.

Before lowering the top of the machine, the radiology tech palpates my breast as though she were looking for either treasure or landmine.

Here it is. Feel it?

I reach over with my left arm.



I felt it, restraining my own surprise.

She takes an image, opens the machine and repositions it.

Before settling me in again, she steps back, holds the film up again, and again I can see a big white something that shouldn't be there.

She inserts an attachment that looks like a magnifying glass onto the mammogram machine, then compresses again.

This time I wince.

I know it hurts. That's because it isn't moving. Just hold your breath.

It's over. I get dressed.

The radiologist will be in touch with you within five days. If you don't get a call, you'll get a letter, OK sweetie?

I nod, slip out of my robe, back into my bra and shirt.

Deb is in the waiting room working on a grant.

I sit down in my same seat, sliding back so that my head is against the wall.

She can see I'm not about to talk. Or drive.

I saw something. There is something. I'm sure it's not a bad something, but it's a visible, palpable something. Wow. And I don't want to talk about it because I know it's nothing.

Deb organizes her stack of papers, looks at her watch.

I'm not ready for Halloween. I don't have candy or anything... What time do trick-or-treaters start?

I look at my watch. It's almost 5pm.

Oh, let's get OUT of here. You have to go buy candy. Sometimes they start coming at 6pm.

What are you going to be again?

Barb and I are going to wear cute outfits, drink wine and hit on the helpless and confused Daddies.

I angle my legs so that the muscles pop more defined, then twist a lock of hair in my fingers, pretending to talk to imaginary trick-or-treaters.....

Hi Spiderman's Daddy. Can I see what's in YOUR bag?...... Hello Snow White's Daddy, that's a really hot beer belly you've got going...... Whoo-hoo Ninja's Daddy, did he learn those moves from you?

She laughs.

We walk back to our cars.

After giving me a hug, Deb stands back and shouts I LOVE YOU!

I know she does, but I'm concentrating on something far more important.... remembering to throw away the Burger King bag before I get home.