Sunday, April 28, 2013


I've been dreaming of oceans lately - ocean waves crashing. I wake because the sounds of the waves are so loud, so turbulent.

It makes me think of the first and only time I took my dog to the beach. It was the week before I'd be going to the States, and it was the last chance to take her. We had been putting it off for over a year. The beach was a 2 hour drive each way, and we would have to get a permit to take the car into the park. We drove the two hours, it had been sunny the whole way, but by the time we got there we could see the storm clouds approaching the shore.

I wasn't sure how my dog would feel about seeing the ocean, she was the type to be scared of things: her own shadow, water from the shower, leaves falling too quickly from trees, the sound her leash makes on the ground if I forgot to take it off in time. When she was alone in the apartment in the evening, I realized she would just huddle silently on the couch, pretending to be invisible. "when is someone coming home??? it's dark." I started to leave a nightlight on. I had given up on the idea of a hero dog a long time ago, if ever there was someone to attack me, I knew exactly what would happen. No last minute heroism or Lassie style bravery, my dog would be desperately trying to crawl up my legs to hide underneath my shirt.

But once we reached the ocean, with the wide sand bar and the mountains and the forests - she seemed unafraid. The beach was almost isolated, there were a few sailboats, some kayaks, a few people snorkeling. My dog sprinted across the sand, sinking in it, sprinting across the water. She stared at the horizon, and I wondered if even to her it looked endless.

I was feeling meditative about it, when I turned to see her happily lapping up ocean water. She kept lapping up as much ocean water as she could, dodging me whenever I shouted at her to stop. "It's SALT!" Each time she drank, her expression was of curiosity and fascination.

We had only been on the beach for a few minutes, when I realized the storm clouds were coming closer, it was really like they were rolling in, fading out the sun. The air was getting cold and there was a sudden wind. I could hear thunder, and see the faint light of summer lightning. People were leaving the beach, dragging in kayaks and sail boats, trying to race against the rain. My dog was oblivious, the wind and the clouds only made her more excited, and she sprinted the whole of the beach, kicking up sand gleefully. She ran so fast, it looked like she was being carried by the wind. A wild animal set free. For a moment I felt terror, I thought she would run for the mountains and run away. The clouds were casting a long shadow, ready to take over the last beats of sunlight. I was shouting for my dog, but by then the wind had made it too loud to hear. I tried running after her, but it only made her run faster, and I started to panic when I realized she was running into deep pools of water.

She sank for a moment into one. And as I ran in after her, she popped back up, joyfully swimming and lapping water. She finally swam towards me, and let me pick her up, my shirt was soaked, and she kept patting her paws around my neck, leaving tracks of sand. The rain had come, dark and gray, and the wind was pushing us off the beach. She was shivering in my arms, her head turned and resting on my shoulder to look at what we were leaving behind.

When I think of it now - I feel so much regret. I wonder why I hadn't taken her to the ocean before. Why hadn't we gotten there earlier - before the storm. To make such a long drive, only for a few moments of sunlight and sand. I wonder why, when there was the possibility to bring her such joy, why we hadn't tried harder to make it last.


I was asked to go in on a Saturday
because the Korean woman had been having a hard time. It was because of the doll.
She has a doll that the nursing home bought her, an ugly plastic doll without hair and with mismatched eyes that never close.
She carries it like a child, wrapped in a blanket that she'd knitted. It was her child she'd say. It was her responsibility.
My daughter is sleeping, she told me once, pointing at the doll on her bed - but then she laughed and whispered, "i know it's crazy."
Last week they took it without telling her. They washed it, took off the blanket she'd wrapped around it, and gave it new clothes,
and when they gave it back to her she was frantic. She wouldn't stop sobbing and asked them why? why to her baby?
Then she punched another resident.

When I went, I didn't know what to expect. I thought she'd be upset, or perhaps she wouldn't recognize me.
But she did. She clapped her hands and scolded me for not coming sooner.
She even recognized that I'd had my hair cut -
and she wouldn't let go of my hand even when it was time for dinner.
She told me that she'd been having a hard time
but when I asked why,
she said not to worry about it.

She laughed as one of the residents started dancing around us between the dining tables- twirling and shuffling in a semi jig.

When I had to leave, she walked me to the elevator,
hand clasped in mine. When the doors opened, I was worried that she'd try to come down with me,
but she only gave me a hug, and pushed my hair from my face
She pointed at her ankle bracelet - they need me to stay here, she said. I'm supposed to stay here.
She's the only resident on the floor who seems to know where she is, the only one who never asks when she's going home.
It always makes me think that she knows more than everyone realizes.

I wondered if she suspected what was about to happen
that they would take the doll while she slept.
"She'll forget about it in a few days," they told me.

I hope that is true.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

tennessee waltz.

On some Sundays, I play the violin for Alzheimer's patients who live a few miles away.
They sit politely, listen to the simple songs,
electronic bracelets around their ankles.
Sometimes they clap, other times they forget to.
This is selfish, but I do it because usually, it makes me feel happy.

This past Sunday I visited at dinnertime.
Some of the women touch my hair, one asks me to spin in my dress while she claps and pronounces the outfit perfect.
They ask me where my father is.
They all tell me they're going home today.

Everyone ignores the woman who pushes around her walker and screams for help.

I play somewhere over the rainbow 3 times
and Tennessee Waltz twice.
One woman who loves to sing sits by my elbow.
She sings at each song, even the ones without words.
She weeps during Danny Boy.

After I play
I usually talk with a Korean lady, but today she doesn't know who I am
Or I suppose she doesn't want to pretend.
She brushes my arm away when I try to give her a hug.
I sit next to her as she resolutely looks away.
She claps along to the singalong tape of nursery rhymes, wheels on a bus,
She reminds me of the way Korean schoolchildren dance, hands straight, bent wrists, and her head swaying
She won't look at me when I try to say goodbye.

I sit with the Colonel, he speaks in a whisper and his hands always shake.
He tells me it's the 10th time he's heard the wheels on a bus tape today
And that he doesn't know why they keep playing that song.
I say it must be a favorite.
And he laughs giddily.
He asks me where my home is, and I consider a long time
before I say that it's Kentucky.
Kentucky is the horse capital of the world he says.
He tells me about his farm of beef cattle and
he talks about the day his son played football at a high school game and how he loved to watch it.
When I say bye, he manages to take my hand and he gives me a wink as though we have just shared a secret.

My taxi is late, so I wait downstairs in the lobby
with the residents who are only beginning to lose their memories.
They are watching a cartoon, Despicable Me.
I don't think anyone is enjoying it.

One of the men is asking when he can go home.
You're on vacation the nurses say. They smile, wide eyed.
Enjoy it. I wish I could be on vacation! One says. They laugh hysterically and wink at me.
The man calls them over one at a time with the same question,
As though it were a conspiracy and he wants to be sure the answers match up.
Are you sure I'm on vacation?
Yes they say.
Your daughter paid all the bills.
But how does she know how much to pay he asks.
They laugh again. Don't worry. She took care of it. She paid for everything already.
Enjoy it!
He keeps asking. He finally asks to call his daughter.
They say no, she's out of town.
He says he doesn't believe them.
Their patience is wearing out. Watch tv. Enjoy your vacation! they snap and again with a wide smile.
They ignore him when he starts to cry.

I sit next to a woman who asks me if I'm there to entertain them.
I say that no, I'm sorry I can't interrupt the movie...
She nods and sighs.
Wake up, sit in a chair all day, and then sleep
It's no way to live.
I'm used to going going going - she says.
She's shaking her head, and I can tell that she's about to cry.
She's trying not to, but her eyes shine.
She has multiple layers of jewelry on, earrings, several necklaces, a ring on each finger.
Don't be sad I say.
I know, she says. I shouldn't be.
When I leave she smiles so hard her tears spill over.