The next morning I wake up to a light drizzle against the tent. The sky lightens, and I roll around in my bag a while before getting up. I shuffle on my sandals and head over the stream and up the meadow path towards the big pine trees, my head full of thoughts, and a deer stands up ten feet in front of me. We both stop and stare at each other. It is a mule deer, all nose and no jaw, a dopey kind of face, giant paddle-like ears swirling crazily. It is chewing on something, and staring, and chewing. It swallows, and a little lump travels down its long neck. Its' tongue whips out and around both sides of muzzle. It stares some more, then rebegins its rumination. Another lump travels down. I walk carefully forward, staying low, deferring to the deer. She moves off slowly. I walk to the left towards the studio, and her fawn gets up and dashes upriver and into the trees.
We break our fast in the studio, buried halfway into the hill under a pile of golden hay. Dan comes in and eats a medley of cereals and half a banana. I have oatmeal, cooked by a stove on the floor. My mom comes in and we talk for a while, sipping tea, when Dans phone rings.
"And what does that mean?" I hear him say, after listening for a while. "Suz, you've gotta come outside." They both go out together and I am left alone with my tea. I hear my mom sob, and Dan repeating what he had heard. I sit and stare at my tea in silence. Then my mom comes back and says "Grandma has had a stroke."
We put everything back in the car, and drive out of the valley. As we go by the the river, I see it has turned brown from the rain, but the further we go on the clearer the water becomes. When it rains really hard, Dan says, the water will turn black from the burned areas in the mountains. It is a cleansing of the hills much larger than our own efforts; much larger than us altogether.
The road we drove just yesterday passes by again. We go through La Grande, Pendleton, The Dalles, Hood River, Portland, Lake Oswego, Salem, and finally Corvallis. We drive straight to the hospital. I understand that my mom has to know, and wants to be there if Grandma becomes unstable and nears death, but it doesn't make sense to me to travel so fast and urgently. Whatever may happen is beyond us. We arrive and I look at grandmas face. She can move her arm and foot and leg, but her left side is immobile. She cannot speak or open her eyes. Somehow her skin looks very smooth and relaxed. Her mouth is gaping open. Her heart rates goes from over 100 to 80. Mom speaks to her and she seems to wake up slightly. Suddenly she moves her left toes, and moments later her left leg jerks up.
I stand motionless, there is no where to sit. Mom takes care of her mom. It is hard to feel anything but edgy in this place, full of people who are dying or injured. Finally we decide to go outside and wait for my aunt and uncle. As we get ready to leave, I hear a sound like velcro being slowly ripped apart, coming through the curtain next to us. It continues for awhile. When it seems like all the velcro that could be ripped has been ripped, it starts again. It goes on and on. Then someone comes in the door, a family member of the other person. She goes around the curtain. "Are those bothering you?" I hear her ask. The answer comes as if through a bowl of jello, a soft "Yes".
We go outside into the sunlight. Being inside such a place puts a weight on my chest. Outside, I feel like I can breathe again. We walk along the edges of the parking lot, and I collect blackberries. Some are sour, some taste like candy. My Mom has a far away look in her eyes, and they dart around. We walk to the end of a culdesac and go down a trail towards some hills in the distance. As we walk, my Mom starts to cry. She says she feels guilty for not to coming back to Oregon sooner to be with her mom, and now that it might be too late. I nod and listen and hold her shoulders tight with my outstretched arm.
We get to the top of a hill, and then go down the other side. In the distance sheep are baa-ing. We round the corner to find twin golden domes of an Eastern Orthodox church glinting above the trees. There is a small clearing beside it with the sheep, and they make an incredible noise as we walk by, and follow us with their strange eyes and long black limbs.
We go back to the hospital. So far my aunt, uncle, cousin, and her husband have appeared. Everyone seems in various states of grief, but as has happened so many times in the past, I just feel detached and numb. In my mind there is the constant thought that my detachment should let me be more supportive of the others, but all I can do is stand motionless. I don't have anything to say, and I am the only one who does not touch grandma.
Everyone wanders around the tiny space trying to make her comfortable. They think that she's trying to say this or that, and they try to give her water, put balm on her dry lips, take the blanket off when she's too hot, and put it back on when she's too cold. I stand back and watch it all happen. I feel that there isn't anything to do at all.
The light outside the windows slowly fades to dark blue. The hospital shifts change. Suddenly everything becomes very quiet. I am left alone in the room with these two injured people. I look around the edge of the curtain at the velcro-ripping woman, and see a small face like Koopa Troopa relaxed in sleep. Grandmas face has not changed. The hospitalist says we will have a prognosis in 24 hours.
"Your disappearance as this particular organism is simply seasonal. You are just as much the dark space beyond death as you are the light interval called life. These are just two sides of you, because YOU is the total way. You see, we can't have half a way. Nobody ever saw waves that just had crests, and no troughs. So you can't have half a human being, who is born but doesn't die. Half a thing. That would be only half a thing."
- Alan Watts