Excerpts > Summer 2004

In the IHOP in Vestal, NY
Maria Mazziotti Gillan

In the IHOP, the song coming over the loudspeaker
is ďItís too Late, Baby,Ē the last thing I feel like hearing

this morning when worry about you gnaws at me
and I donít want to think about you as you are now.

A father, mean-spirited and angry, stops
in the parking lot to berate his son, who stands

there shocked, his mouth half open, the fatherís face
is ugly with rage, this father taking his son out

for a Sunday morning breakfast and how will they
speak to each other now, the son about to cry,

the father striding ahead? How ugly we can be under
the smooth surface when we think no one is watching.

ďItís too late babyĒ pours over us and I think of you
telling me you fell again and that you had another

accident yesterday and it took you nearly an hour
to get the wet clothes off and clean ones on.

Remember, I want to say, when we were in our
twenties, our children one and three, living in that

married student apartment we lived in on Rutgerís
campus? Youíd go off during the day to study

and teach and at night after dinner and after
the children were in bed, weíd sit together talking

in lamplight, your face turned to mine, your arm
around my shoulders. How safe the world seemed

then, and now, danger everywhere we turn. I want us
back the way we were, not like this, our son so distant

he could be a person I never knew, our daughter not
recovering the way Iíd hoped from her divorce,

and you, when I take you to our friends loft in NY city
for brunch and I decide to try the lighter wheelchair

because the others are too heavy to lift and I discover
when I push it, that the wheels want to move

to the right no matter how hard I push, and I have to
make you stand up, though you canít walk so I can

push the chair over the doorjamb. When I finally get
you into their loft and seated in your chair at the table

I see on our friendsí faces that they are horrified at
how your face moves involuntarily, your arms and

hands unable to be still, your neck moving left, right,
in a circle and they try not to stare, try not to avert

their eyes, but I see the pity in their faces. Later they
help me get you outside and my friend, she is six feet

tall and very strong, says sheíll push the chair, but the
chair veers to the left and you tip forward and I nearly

donít catch you. We help you into the car, stow the
chair in the trunk, and my friend hugs me extra hard.

Iím sorry, she says, Iím so sorry, and I nearly lean
against her and start to cry, but pat her back instead

Next time weíll come to see you, she says.

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