At the end of life, the very old shrink into child-size imitations of the towering adults their children knew.
Not my parents, I would have thought as a child, if I’d ever imagined such a thing.
Not my parents. Those eagles who swooped me under wings mid-flight as I sputtered at the nest.
Here is my Mother: Forever 5 foot 7 to my 5 foot 6, though I claimed to be the taller one.
Here is my Mother: 35 years old, a shapely 130 pounds. Here am I, five years old, a gnome of an only child in her shadow.
Every day she teaches in high heels, rising to 5 foot 10 at the lectern. She evokes thunder and lightning and weird sisters, all in a bubbling cauldron to charm the most indolent jock at Forest Park High School. To them, she is Lady MacBeth.
After school, she directs plays – rehearsing again, and again and again. Too small to read the script in my lap, I memorize each line. Sunset fades to twilight, to dusk and to dark, before I notice the passing of time. Alone on the front row, I shrink into the wine velvet seat. Around, beside, behind and outside, is vast and dark as outer space.
The stage is all of life. Colors and costumes spin, dust hangs in the spotlight. “Project to the last row,” she says, her voice shooting fire, echoes into the empty cave. I am a minor moon orbiting her sun.
Here is my Mother: 43, a shapely 130 pounds, her dark hair “frosted” blonde. I am 13, an undiscovered planet. She and Dad chaperone proms. Wispy straps of turquoise never slip from her shoulders, so broad and tanned. Chiffon, like sea foam, flows around her legs. Dad is 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, at his largest. I teased that his stomach looked bigger than Elvis’s, but not in his tuxedo. They leave in our boat-sized Chevrolet Impala, the back seat now too small for me to lie flat, as I did on long trips in earlier cars. Always Chevrolets, a word I loved though didn’t understand. I thought our cars were invented in France by Maurice Chevalier.
In Stephen King’s novel – “Thinner,” a gypsy’s curse causes a man to lose weight until he vanishes.
Time, a universal trickster, waits at the threshold of old age to shrink us as trees shred into bare bones of winter.
Here is my mother – 88 years old and 90 pounds, 5 foot 2, if she could stand upright. Her red nails, meticulously maintained, are bright and too large on her fingers. Her bruised skin sags, translucent. I give her sparkling Christmas sweaters – Size Zero from Chico’s. But without flesh to fill them out, she is a walking coat hanger.
Yet, she goes out to dinner with me, holding my arm like a date escorted to the prom. I beg her to eat. She takes a few bites of hamburger, but only wants sweets – lemon pie, chocolate chip cookies, Vanilla Wafers.
Her flat white Easy Spirit walking shoes are silent on the linoleum. Velcro closures to prevent tripping over loose shoelaces. I guide her to step up on the doctor’s scales. The red needle crawls below 90.
On her 88th birthday, I perform for her – scenes from MacBeth. She sinks into my living room sofa, arms crossed, bemused and judging. I project to the last row, struck that an ancient queen is my audience. I fumble and improvise lines, but I never break character.
This birthday will be her last, though I don’t know it, not yet. I strut and fret my hour on the stage, all our yesterdays lighting fools the way to dusty death.
Here is my Mother. She is Lady MacBeth and I am, forever, her understudy.