It all began when my father drove to Ithaca to see an old friend. On the way back, in Troy, New York, on the hottest day of the year, his car stalled at an intersection. Friendly people helped him. A woman guided him to the shade of a tree, called AAA, directed traffic around his stalled Volvo, and stayed with him for two hours. A man brought them iced coffee. When the tow truck came, he got up from the ground where he'd been sitting, and his legs buckled under him. He fell against the tree trunk, gashed his head, bruised his ribs and scraped his arms. A week later he started having sharp pains in the upper right side of his abdomen. Two days after that he was in the hospital. A gallstone, possibly knocked out of place by the fall, had blocked a bile duct, and his gallbladder had gone septic. Hallucinating, confused, in pain, he was unable to follow what the doctors were telling him. Normally they would have taken his gallbladder out, but he has a heart condition, and they didn't dare risk general anesthesia while he was so sick. Alternatives were being discussed, and we weren't fully in the loop. I got on a plane.
My mother's room, the "master" bedroom, is like a studio apartment, with areas for sleeping and desk work, and a wide loft with shelves for books. With the help of my chosen sister, Freda, and now my brother Ricardo, I am stripping it of the aura of sickness, the residue of her dying. When it is cleared and cleansed, it will become my home for the next year. My job is not to nurse my father or keep house for him. I'm unable to do those things for myself, let alone someone else. Other people will help him regain his strength by climbing up and down the stairs. Others will make his bed, wash his dishes, cook most of his meals. He has a wonderful new doctor with a holistic eye who makes house calls. My brother Alejandro handles his finances. I have a different task.
Like any plant whose boughs have been struck by lightening or wrenched by wind, half its mass torn away, my father is simultaneously fine and in shock. My job is to help him make the passage from the living half of a stricken ecosystem, struggling for equilibrium, to a balanced, rooted, state of singleness. The Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar. There is no road. You make it by walking. I don't have a road map for this journey. Not even a topo map. But I know how to accompany, how to ask questions, how to face unthinkable change. I'm still a citizen of the cities by the bay, still anchored to the edge of that great ocean and the eucalyptus scented air, fingers still intertwined with those of beloved friends at the Western edge of the North American plate, but for now I'm going to be living with deciduous leaves that will soon begin to fall, exploring the possibilities inherent in a landscape turned upside down.