Sunday, December 14, 2008

Uncle Nestor

I actually DO have a story for the week 3 assignment I created, but I've found I need more time to work with it, because it's a bit lengthy, so in the meantime this is a piece I've also had time to reflect on in the passing week. Please note, "mahal kita" is filipino for "I love you."


My uncle is dying. Too much lung cancer. You’d think just having the cancer would be enough, but he’s got it in spades, there’s more infected tissue than healthy. Also he’s leaking fluid all over his body, fluid from the kidney, or maybe the liver, I don’t remember what the family says the doctors said to us. They didn’t say anything to me. I’m never around for these things when they happen. And these things, you know, they happen.

With his eyes closed, without his glasses on, I don’t recognize him as himself. This particular uncle, I know him by his glasses; I know him by his eyes magnified in lenses. Now he looks more like his younger brother Joe, with dark, glamorous eyelashes and a full, naked face. I would have walked right by him in the hospital, missed the room completely, if my aunts hadn’t been in there by his side.

His heart, it’s floating in his chest, pooled in the fluid from the kidney-and-or-liver. There are so many wires and tubes and cables that I can’t tell which one is supposed to be draining all that liquid from the cavity in his chest; I’d be more likely to pick out the catheter tube or the intravenous meds, or the oxygen. He’s not even breathing on his own now. The air moves into him and out from the machines, forceful and automated like perfectly scheduled clockwork. I watch him breath with cables in his mouth and tubes in his nose, not at all like himself, and his chest rises and falls in three repetitive steps: up, out, down. Again. Up, out, down. Perfect.

My parents leave me alone with him for a few minutes, because who knows how much I’ve got to say? Maybe it’s fifteen minutes, or twenty, or longer. Nurses and guests pass our room in the hallway, and I turn to greet every new step, expecting to see someone I recognize who might have more to tell him than I do. I look at him, and my mind won’t settle on anything. All I can say is “uncle na, uncle na,” like I’m talking to a child. I try to whisper “uncle na, mahal kita,” but it doesn’t sound right, like it’s done for show, so I stop and take his hand instead. He’s cold, and he doesn’t feel human at all. There’s a disconnect between me and our hands and my uncle. Still I stand next to him and I don’t let go. I have to warm his hand, as if that could be the secret to bringing him back to the family again. It’s all that I can do, the only thing I can give him, squeezing his cold hand and cooing “uncle na.”

The curtains in the room are pink, like a muted and dusky rose. The light cast on them comes in wide, vertical slats, angled from the setting sun and looking for all the world like an Edward Hopper scene, dusty and somber and soberly everyday. Set by the window is a gift from cousin Nora in a small, yellow bag. Wickedly attached, an aluminum balloon, labeled “Get Well!” Sitting at the forefront, a porcelain angel kneels in prayer, eternally vigilant, poignant. Precious.

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