She is sitting in her rocking chair, in the corner of her room.
Are you ready? I ask her
She looks up at me, beneath heavy lids, and nods her head.
I walk towards her, help her up, hand her her cane.
She wants to walk hand in hand down the hallway, and so we do
Pick up your feet, I remind her. Don’t shuffle.
We walk into the bathroom and I turn on the water.
I help her undress, unbutton her shirt stained from lunch, ask her if she is okay.
I am okay, she says.
I guide her into the shower, onto her chair
and after making sure it’s not too hot
I let the water run
through my fingers
down her shoulders
and I begin to wash
and what is left of her.
I marvel at how soft her skin is
though it no longer fits her body
the way it should, the way it did
I wash her grey hair, and imagine the long braids she wore as a young girl
I wash her arms and shoulders, and imagine the strength they once posessed
I wash her hands and imagine all they have held, all they have created, all they have let go
I wash her breasts, her stomach, and imagine her pregnant with my mother, my aunt, my uncle
I imagine her nursing her babies, her young body able to do what God had intended
I wash her legs, and imagine the thousands of miles they have walked
from Poland to Germany during the war, as she fled from bloodshed and towards a chance at survival
then back home again,
her feet stepping over the dead bodies of fellow countrymen
as she made her way back towards the shattered remnants of her life
I imagine her walking down the aisle as she married my grandfather, a young bride, her heart full of hope
Then imagine what she must have felt, as she walked next to him and accompanied his casket to the cemetery
I imagine her stepping out of the airplane, her first flight, and walking onto American soil for the first time
and I briefly close my eyes as I remember when she used to walk me to ballet class, I in my pink tutu, she in her apron,
which she never took off
I wash her
and I worship her
and I try to honor her as I gently rinse the soap from her skin
She tells me I give the best showers
that with me she feels safe
I marvel at who she once was
mourn who she will never be
and in this tiny cramped shower
I feel life and death colliding
and I have to catch my breath
She looks up at me as I turn off the water
and cracks an inappropriate joke
as I dry her fragile body
bury myself in her softness
as I kiss her neck
She wants to walk hand in hand
back to her bedroom
Slow down, I tell her
though we are both walking
a little taller
a little faster
a little stronger
as we make our way down the hallway
the past the present the future
hand in hand