Photographed by Stephen Mead.
He had not been home in precisely 87 days—almost three months, which amounted to so many weeks that I’d quit counting. The days of chicken salad sandwiches and chairs that hurt my tailbone were long past. So were the days of watching a familiar reality fade away. These days my mother and I had mastered a perfect illusion of sameness, masking the gap of before and after brain injury.
She winterized the boat, made time to throw sticks and tennis balls to Meagan, helped me with math homework. I thought her intelligence and perfectionist approach to things would be the trick to algebra, but we were both stumped, bored and frustrated. She cooked for us, mowed the grass and kept the garage clean. She went to my volleyball games and chorus concerts, and drove me to Speech tournaments in the wee morning hours on Saturdays. She lectured me about cars, constantly. About riding with my friends, and how to pay attention to who was a good driver, who was responsible.
It was as if my dad had been on a long vacation. He could walk in the door and slip right back into our lives. Except my mother kept referring to my father as “handicapped, both mentally and physically.” She had me prepared to babysit my father—meal times, bedtimes and do and don’ts and lists. I was a good babysitter, the kind that gave all the kids on my block secret snacks and extended bedtimes.
Ginger had long legs, jade-green eyes, and hair as red as autumn leaves. These days, at sixty-three, she had to henna her hair, and though it wasn’t as lustrous as it once had been, it was still thick and wavy and reached past her shoulders, a mane she could toss as she danced. The skin now sagged on her upper arms, and her thighs were a bit lumpy, but with sleeves and pants or a long enough skirt, nobody needed to know. She wore size 4, had no stiffness in her joints, and was always raring to go.
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Photographed by Eleanor Bennet.
I’m sitting next to my Spanish teacher in her dusty old Honda as she pulls into the town square and parks on the packed dirt near a stone wall. The square is crowded with people, mostly women and children in traditional Maya dress; the fragrant smoke of cooking fires floats above them. As I step out of the car I feel dazed, as if I were in a dream.
A young woman rushes toward me from across the plaza – a small, solid woman with shining dark eyes and a beautiful wide smile. “Hola, Juanita,” she calls. She wraps her arms around me and the warmth of her hug makes my eyes fill with tears. I know she must be Maria Francisco, the wife of my friend Elio. But how did she recognize me so instantly?
It was Thursday night and once again Gerald was packing them into the Old Town Pub. They came through the door in twos, the men stepping uncomfortably in slacks that had been purchased for them, the women attempting to appear grand in their pearls and summer dresses while they held their men close and claimed them. The couples at the tables settled in and agreed, ‘This is nice, we’re glad we did this,” while those who’d arrived late were forced to either balance on stools or lean against the walls. No one wanted to arrive too early, for the food went right through you, but there were certain sacrifices to be made for a big night out. It was Thursday and Gerald was playing, there was nowhere else to be.