Thursday, November 15, 2012


Now it is my habit to drive to Palo Alto from San Francisco every Saturday to visit Nai Nai. I usually give her a massage. Only recently did  I realize that loving touch might be something she hasn't experienced in decades, my grandfather having died thirty years ago and having been who he was for the forty years before that, and the rest of my family being very loving but not physically demonstrative with her, and that the experience of it might bring her happiness and comfort.

So I start by opening her waist brace and putting my hands on her lower back. Then her hip flexors and IT bands, her knees, and the rest of her lower body. More often than not when I get to her feet, she giggles and says, "I'm ticklish!" or "Your hands are cold!" and I tug on her toes until both my hands and her toes have warmed. I'm always surprised at how little muscle tone she has and how the skin on her body is still mostly smooth and elastic, though she is 90. Then it's onto the rest of her back, her arms, her neck, and finally her head and face. I get in there: scalp, ears, forehead, eyebrows, maxilla, sinuses, jaw. We end with me cradling her face in both hands and rolling circles into her cheeks with my thumbs.

Each time my hands touch her flesh I imagine our skin glowing orange as if illuminated from within. I may not say the word "reiki" even in my mind but what I envision are billions of neurotransmitters called love jumping the gap between my body and hers and transforming into white blood cells that attack the sources of her pain with bayonets and bludgeons.

It has not been a good few months. Desire alone makes the hands of the clock turn no slower. Days go, and bodies age. And they get dizzy up top and frail and pained everywhere else. There was talk of moving Nai Nai to an old folks home so that she could have access to 24-hour care, but the logistics were difficult. "Will we move my hot water kettle?" I heard her ask my uncle. I stopped listening after this question because the details bothered me so much.

Once after the massage I lay down in bed next to her because my back hurt from being bent over for an hour. We stared up at the ceiling and played with our hands. I showed her the trick where you pretend to disconnect your finger. She couldn't do it herself, but she was totally delighted to watch me do it.

I fell asleep and woke up half an hour later to find her sitting in a folding chair next to the bed, nodding off.

I saw the word "awesome" written in English on an envelope in her kitchen, along with some other English words. From the context, I gathered that she had been reading an article and had written down unfamiliar English words. She'd written translations in Chinese alongside the English, but even without recognizing the Chinese words next to "awesome," I assumed the translation was wrong. So I took a minute to explain it to her. The moment at 1:07, when she realizes what "awesome" means, then points at me and says, in English, "Hey! YOU are awesome" is one of my happiest. I'm so glad I was recording on my phone:

I write this as a reminder to myself and to anyone who knows any part of me based on what they have seen on this blog: this is what matters to me.

Apropos of everything else, C. said to me tonight, "Congratulations on getting the most American prize: freedom."

No comments: