Date of publication: January 3, 1999
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"Editors want everything to fall into a neat little box, and your stuff doesn't do that. You don't write merely about technology, you write about what technology means to us and how it has changed us. I like it." -- John Boxmeyer, St. Paul
A cold wind blew through my holidays.
My mother came to visit from Ohio, despite being in low-level heart failure and various other ailments. The first few days were fine, but on the fifth night, her blood sugar plummeted to 12, and she fell out of bed, breaking perhaps three vertebrae. This triggered a health meltdown - for a couple of days nothing inside her seemed to work -- requiring hospitalization in what was for her a strange place, far from home.
My mom is pretty old-fashioned. Though equipped this past year with a computer for genealogy and email, she remained one of those who wrote everything in beautiful longhand, who preferred reading a book to watching the tube. She would forget little things in the present; but her memory of things she read or experienced in the past was canonical. It occurs to me that she lived in the books she was always reading. And maybe that is why I became a writer.
As a toddler I was Freudianly, Oedipally in thrall to her. I can remember us bathing, way, way back, when I was three. I remember … Ivory Soap.
I burned to marry her the moment I was old enough, and we would drive off on our honeymoon in her 1956 red and white two-tone Chevy Bel Aire, the pretty young woman from Michigan and her five year old swain. Maybe we could stop on the way out of town and buy me a pretzel rod from the see-though Dan-Dee canister at Nickles' Grocery.
Now I'm sitting beside her in the intensive care ward, wondering. How did she get so old?
It is odd that this traditional woman became a medical miracle. She has so many things wrong with her, mostly caused by 30-plus years of Type 1 diabetes - heart failure, blood clots, kidney failure, eye and ear problems and neuropathies here, there, and everywhere -- that in the eras that she loves reading about she would surely be dead.
Medicines and machines, and the meticulous application of them by her doctors, have stretched a classical life into the realm of science fiction.
I tried to be a good son and visit her often at the hospital. On the third day of her hospitalization, however, I had a medical date of my own. I had to have my brain scanned, for the third time, to see if a tumor that was detected last winter, and that caused me to experience a fair-sized stroke, had grown.
And it was at about this time that the winter of 1999, which had been bland and snowless and warm up to that point, began to snarl. I remember as I dressed for the radiology exam that I couldn't wear anything metallic - no zippers, snaps, or belt buckles. So I slipped into sweat clothes, fleecy pants and top that feel like pajamas, and headed out into the cold.
In the past I tried all sorts of visualization and meditation schemes, to keep the tumor from growing. But lately, I was just too busy and preoccupied to do all that self-talk. So now, as I entered the MRI tube head-first and ears-plugged for the fourth time, I fretted that I had dropped the ball on my own health. Bad luck, I was thinking. I thought of my children, and the news they wanted to hear. Bad luck all around.
I slept through the banging and sounding, and dreamed about my mom and stepfather Dick visiting. Dick was in great form, laughing till tears formed, and regaling us with tales of the Coho Group, a mystery cult of northern Ohio that worships a kind of lake salmon. It was very funny, and very convincing, and very odd, because Dick had died in 1991 - of a brain tumor. I looked at Rachel in my dream and mouthed my confusion to her. Isn't Dick dead? I asked. She shrugged. I woke.
I stopped off at the hospital and sat with my mom a few more minutes. The doctors had turned everything around somehow. She was sitting up and poking at a plate of macaroni. Her back hurt but she still made a little joke.
I drove home over packed snow, to rescue my dog Beau from a day of internment. He flew into the back seat and we drove, tires crunching, to Newell Park, where I released him to gallop across the fresh tundra. He ran in frantic circles, snow spraying behind him like a speedboat's wake.
And when that was not enough, he began to attack me. Leap after leap, he threw his 64 pounds against my parka, pounding me with his paws, frantically nipping and pulling with his long white teeth.
Those teeth, they were the same color as the moon hanging high above us, a bright smirk commenting on the night.
God it was cold. I was still wearing fleeces. My toes ached. But I let Beau tear into me for another five minutes before heading back to the car. My scan was going to come back OK, and I had to fix up a bedroom for my mom.
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