After our road trip to Tampa to see what I’m referring to as New Places, because I cannot bring myself to say the words ‘Assisted Living Facility,’ the car is the last place I want to be, yesterday’s mind-numbing drive across Alligator Alley being what it is. Radiation is still at 10:15 five days a week, though, regardless of what I did over the weekend, and so I just accept that a café con leche (“Mediano o grande, señora?” “Grande, como no?”) at the hospital cafe is a part of the routine now. The radiation oncologist looks at Mom’s hair loss and prescribes a topical cream for the burns and a baking soda rinse for her mouth. Burn cream 2x/day with morning/evening pills, I write in my notebook. Baking soda rinse. Thanks to the new anti-nausea meds and my insistence on buttering all her food, she’s gained a couple pounds. Tomorrow she will be halfway done with this part of treatment. My sister arrives this weekend, to take over. I go back to Wellington in nine days.
Is it the right. Can I. Should I.
April in South Florida, too hot for closed-toe shoes, and the sky is as blue as it’s supposed to be, just a couple months before hurricane season (also known as ‘six months of the year’) starts again. Easter weekend in Wellington, according to Facebook, was just gorgeous, but chances are that by the time I roll up they’ll be in tights and woolly jumpers again. There seemed to be a lot of traffic on the Julia Tuttle on the way here so I take Alton Road through South Beach and onto the freeway heading south to the island. Randomly the guy at the car rental place let me have this jeep for the price of a compact sedan; probably this is the first and last time I will ever drive anything resembling a cool car.
Usually Mom listens to my ipod on her headphones but on the trip I wanted to listen to music too so we plugged in the jack and I tried to find things in my music collection I thought she would like. She doesn’t mind if I listen again today so I cue up a Wellington band that is the definition of ‘cruisy’—that hard-to-define Kiwi concept that we don’t totally have in America, although we do have being chilled out and relaxed, etc, so we basically understand. She reclines her seat all the way back. The new scarf on her head slips a little as she settles. I think about the first year in Wellington, walking down The Parade to the beach at Island Bay, listening to this album which was sort of new at the time. I’ve got the wandering eye, sings the singer as we go through the toll plaza. I think about the Mt. Vic lookout, the walk along Oriental Parade, about eating brunch at Maranui Café. It feels so far away. It is so far away.
What if she. What if I can’t. What if it’s too.
The album ends right as we crest the big bridge and get the full greetings-from-sunny-Florida postcard view of Biscayne Bay and what’s left of the mangroves by the marina. I decide that I am a voting adult and I will play Bob Marley if I want to, goddamn it; Mom shifts a little and says, out of nowhere, “Oh I like this song,” and taps her finger against her thin thin thigh, her eyes still closed.
Summer is here, I’m still waiting here, sings Uncle Bob. Winter is here, I’m still waiting here, as I grudgingly obey the speed limit past the big banyans on the road median near the city park. Soon it will be winter on the other side of the world, soon Mom will move to Tampa and not drive this way anymore. I will not come here again, after this, I decide, driving under the canopy of exotic trees on the final approach to the island. I will never come here again.
If it’s too long. If it’s too fast. If I can’t get here in time.
I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to wait in vain. She taps her fingers along to the music until the song ends and I manage to get us home.