Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Last Room

The Room
There was nothing particularly special about this room. In fact, what stood out most about it was its lack of outstanding features, defined, by default, by its utter ordinariness. 

Boxy, square, white walls, one wide window with white venetian blinds. Rented, transitory, stripped of all but the increasingly bare necessities:

Bed. Dresser. TV that is no longer turned on. Nightstand where books had once piled high, reading glasses at the ever handy, now filled with supplies: tissues, non-latex disposable gloves, chucks, Depends, Vaseline, bandages.

The room my father spent the last three months of his life in.

Home. But not really home. The assisted living facility my parents had moved to a scant nine months before.

My father, he who had traveled the world, danced in tavernas on Greek isles, hiked the terraced rice paddies of upland Bali, swam with dolphins in Caribbean waters, now lived, or rather existed, in about 150 square feet of white room.

When first home from the hospital, he would leave the room occasionally, shamble out to the living room to perch on the sofa, briefly.  Once or twice he made it into the second bedroom, the room filled floor to ceiling with his life’s work: his photographs.

Shelves overflowing with boxes of negatives, prints; once ordered, now haphazard and random as his brain. A worktable splayed with his astonishing black and white images, waiting in vain for his hand to turn them once again, leaf through, arrange, plan books, shows, a future.

But in the last, his final month, there was no more walking. There were no more words. Up until the very end though, he would still, on occasion, stand.

It was impossible. He had no muscles left in his legs, no strength, no breath, hardly any blood coursed through his desiccating limbs.

Yet stand he would, and, for a handful of heartbeats, gaze out the window into the vast brightness.

From the 19th floor, looking west from the east, there were mostly rooftops, a glass and steel high-rise or two looming above, piercing the sky, proclaiming the cityness of this cityscape view.

Busses rumbled below. Pedestrians well bundled in their winter wraps. Dogs being walked, children being strolled.

But my father did not look down. He looked out. And up. Into gray wintering skies. I have no idea what he saw, what beckoned at his horizon.  

And then, at the very end, his domain shrank again. No longer inhabiting the room, he instead inhabited the bed. A rectangle, roughly six feet by five. Covered in the soft mauve comforter I had purchased for him when he came home from the hospital. 

My mother hated it then, wanted her old down comforter back, resisted the truth of the need for machine washability and fast drying. Now she loves it, runs her hand over it, thanks me for buying it. Not remembering why.

We would all take turns laying beside him, ever so gently stoking his back. Because only with the reassurance of touch would he rest, sleep deep.  Like a colicky baby that needs to be held and rocked 24/7, so too was my father at the end of his life.

After he died, and a little time had passed, my mother moved to a smaller apartment within the building.

It was my job to pack her, to move her, and then to slowly go through all of my father’s many things, to dismantle his workspace, parcel out his photographs, his life‘s work, for cataloging, storage, posterity.

At long last I was done. And as I left their apartment for the last time, I needed to stand in that bedroom once again. Empty this time, truly, but for faint ghosts.

I stood at the window, looked out, up.

The Window
A moment froze in time. I took a photograph. I cannot say what I saw, felt.

I then looked west, towards my home, towards the schoolbus that needed to be met, the dinner made, the homework supervised, the bustled life lived in our too full, overflowing rooms.

I left, closed this door for the last time.

I went down to my mother, waiting in her apartment, twelve stories below, to sit with her in her widow's lair and look out together on the city, a little bit closer to the earth.

This post is linked up with the memoir prompt over at The Red Dress Club.  To see the prompt, click here.  To go to the link-up and read other posts, click on the button below: 

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