The universe of her skin
“Come on, wash my hair,” says my mother after we’ve gotten the water temperature just right. And I lather up her thinning locks so that she can spray her scalp with the hand-held showerhead.
“Wash my back,” she says. And I rub soapy circles over her increasingly rounded back. That’s when I notice that she has a small spray of rod-shaped moles arcing out from under her left shoulder blade, a trail of brown specks heading south and west in such a way that if they were really traveling, they’d eventually make their way around to the general vicinity of her heart.
While nuclear meltdowns in Japan touch off fears of radiation poisoning even here in the U.S., I dry my mother off, run a towel from the top of her head down to her toes. The journalist in me longs to plug into CNN online, The New York Times, any organization that is monitoring the events in the wake of the massive earthquake and tsunami on that side of the world. And at night, after I’ve dried my mom’s hair and have her seated where she is snipping junk mail or filling in the outlines of shepherds or dancing chipmunks in a kid’s activity book, I do take a peek at the day’s news, until she needs her meds and it’s time for bed.
If only I could worry with the rest of the world, glue myself to computer screen or TV. In a way, that would be easier than what I am doing now. Worrying about the more distant World with a capital “W” rather than my mom’s intimate world, with its lowercase “w” would mean I am engaged with the rest of humanity. Halfway around the globe, people have died and continue to die, continue to be in danger. I feel I should be doing something to help. Instead I deal with Mom’s potty runs, disposable underwear changes when we don’t get there quite in time, wash her back and hair, walk her to the elementary school down the street for exercise. Such are the confines our collective life right now, with an occasional longer reach to visit a cousin or make a doctor’s appointment.
Reducing my life to these small moments, I am reminded that there are worlds within worlds, and universes within universes. How minuscule we are when we consider the larger canvasses against which we play out our small lives — like the moles on my mother’s back, a comet’s tail of brown pigments on the universe of her skin.
Text and photos (c) Beatriz Terrazas 2011