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Lifted, Balanced

The colored glass in the ceiling barely glowed in the rain. A church social hall, its black-wrapped cross shoved to the side, was dotted with squared red crosses. It also accommodated blood drive tables like the one I laid upon. As the nurse wrapped my elbow in bright red, she recited her list of don’ts, including no heavy lifting. I shrugged that off as I nodded “I understand.”

My husband weighs at least 200 lbs. With balancing aid, he can carry his own weight once he’s lifted, but he has to be lifted. I am his lifter. I am his balancer.

If I could change one thing about his illness, I would give him back his power of thought. That’s what he misses most. But just as much, I miss his smile – really, all the movements his face once could make. For years, I took his expressiveness for granted – the joyous spring around his eyes and mouth when he saw me. The sly grin we shared when someone we couldn’t laugh at aloud said something funny. The rolled eyes. The faux innocence his smile winked when he held up bunny ears in group photos. His intense concentration when he was listening to a patient or reading. His uncontainable restlessness when he was bored. The wounded puppy look he assumed to fend off mutterings about housework or punctuality or spending. The in-pursuit look when he grasped at an idea and had to find all the relevant books and journals to verify and develop it while it was still fresh. That lost-in-the-beauty-of-the-idea face when he was explaining something, often to the sub-atomic level. The love that suffused his face when he saw our children. Or me.

While his illness burns his genius away, a cruel frost freezes his muscles, even his microexpressions, leaving a facescape as desolate as a forest after a fire. The death mask of Parkinson’s.

A thought while driving home: When I hear Botox commercials, I want to smack someone hard. Don’t want wrinkles? Don’t smoke. Moisturize. Wear a hat. But to freeze your face with a poison – to wantonly throw away what I grieve the loss of daily? I can’t think this way and drive right.

Why do I get these tsunamis of emotion over irrelevancies? My husband is dying of a rare manifestation of a rare disease that no one can do anything about, and the feeling I am most in touch with is irrational fury at the wrinklephobic. What is wrong with me? I pretend I’m in childbirth and take some deep, calming breaths. Gotta be balanced.

I take off my coat before I even open the door because I know, first thing, he’ll need a lift. As I pull him up, he suddenly reaches left over right to point at my red wrap, which nearly oversets us both. I struggle to keep him upright. Finally, we are balanced. After we both catch our breath, he asks, “Why?”

“I gave blood.”

“Good,” he whispers, understanding.

A faint glow through the rain.

The April 1 prompt is based on Robert Hass’s prose poem, “A Story About the Body.” Write a prose poem that is a story about the body. The poem should contain an encounter between two people, some spoken language, and at least one crisp visual image.

The image is an ancient Greek theatrical mask of Zeus, and is from the Wiki Media Commons.

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