Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A Trip Halfway Across the Country - Part I (In No Particular Order)

The house sat on a lake in Kansas. Unlike Kansas, it was modern and glassy. Like Kansas, it sprawled. The place belonged to the daughter of my father's brother, and it was our first visit.

Uncle Sonny left Hartford for good in the 50s. He stopped in Topeka more than twenty years ago, setting up house in grand style. His daughter's place is grander still, built on the strength of her husband's endodontics practice in a town with lots of bad teeth and few practitioners with the two extra years of schooling necessary to root all those canals.

Not long after we arrived, my mother asked me if I'd seen the bathroom. "It has a window for a wall," she whispered. I raised an eyebrow at her. "A window," she repeated. "For a wall!"

Two Bud Light Lime's later, I saw it for myself. I closed the door behind me to find a toilet to my left, a sink like white art to my right, and an unobstructed view of the lake in front of me. The wall was floor-to-ceiling glass. A screen, which could be raised and lowered via a control panel next to the door, was in the descended position. I could see out, but nobody could see in. Not unless they really tried, anyway.

The grass rolled from patio to deck to beach. Two boats sat parallel on a slip. The Boss was a red, white and blue dart across it all. The Partner sat on an weather proof cushion under a tree as he pulled at a beer bottle while talking to the endodontist. I went about my business, more conscious than usual of my every shadowy move. I exited with my back to the door until the last moment, marveling.

After awhile, dusk fell. My northeastern nights are early; these were late and lazy. The sun was weightless in its last gold hold-off to night. The Partner suddenly nudged me from where we stood on the grass between the house and the lake. "Oh my God, I can see someone in the bathroom!"

I looked up one level and my eyes went buggy. The familiar stoop of shoulders like my father's, of a craggy face like Uncle Jack's, was centered in that clear square of glass. I looked away. "We've got to tell someone," I said, not waiting to lurch off toward the patio in search of my cousin, or the endodontist, or any of the family members in a position to do something (although I'm not sure what) about it.

Uncle Sonny is the oldest of my uncles. He's a sharp shooting joker with three children and a bevy of grands and greats. A year ago, or maybe two, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. There's medicine now to slow the progression, but his wife told me it's not working. The first night we arrived, he locked himself in his truck and couldn't get out. At a picnic on the fourth, he met an old acquaintance he no longer knew. My aunt says she can't get used to it, this evolution amidst the sameness of each new day.

"There's someone using the bathroom with the shade up!" I said to Andy, the first of my second cousins that I came upon.

"It's Uncle Sonny," The Partner added.

Andy turned back to the house and went in through the sliding doors. My duty done, I leaned against the deck railing. I thought of the shade's control panel right next to the light switch; I thought how the mistake could easily happen. I thought of the murkiness of the short-term against the clear view of a lake made to glisten by the tips of a fading sun. Below Uncle Sonny, his children and his brothers' children conversed, relaxed. Our own children played.

He looked over it all--caught inside that strange, contemporary enclosure of bodily functions--for all the world to see.


Lauren said...

I would've really tried to look in. And I also would've pointed, "Look, Binky is on the shitter!"

debra said...

Quite a compelling story. Sweet yet sad.