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[End Page 30]
I took a carrot. No one was watching me. Nobody in the kitchen that afternoon. I simply opened a bin in the refrigerator and it was there, wrinkled, like an old finger, gone crooked. Carrot like a sunburned finger that belonged on a field worker, its outer skin wearing dirt in its folds. It pointed at me and I lifted it out, in part because my body longed for it, in part because it was what I allowed. Cake was in there. Slivers of cold meat on a dish. And cheese. Some fruit. But I could never . . .
You were in a black leather recliner in the den, exactly where Mom had placed you hours before, in a chair made for fathers—official and large. You would have sat all day if we let you, staring out into a world you no longer knew and could not readily see. The television held your attention when it was on, except you became part of the plot. You, for hours inside whatever scene. It was always like that. Sometimes it was a baseball game and you thought yourself to be one of the players. Other times you were a spectator in the crowded stadium yelling, yo! yo! yo! Or a character in the thick of a soap opera. There were programs we learned not to have you watch because of the dark content that became you, because it might take awhile to get you back to where you were a person sitting in a chair, or some semblance of the father I once knew and loved.
When I took this carrot, I did not peel it. After lifting it out of the cold bin, I carried it to the sink and washed it using hot water from the faucet. It turned bright and warm. I was not sure where Mom was at that moment, whether she was ironing in the basement or outside the house, on a quick errand perhaps. But I am sure of the craving I gave into, how I snatched it with the urge of a thief, a rush of fear coursing through—like I was doing something that wasn't allowed when, in fact, there was talk of forcing me to eat, of my food being monitored. After washing the unlawful thing, I hid this carrot in my bulky sweater and then snuck past you quickly up to the attic bedroom where I stood with it out, in my hand, directly above your strangeness below. I ate like somebody given in to hunger, suddenly ravenous—then huddled against the heater mounted to the wall, in this low room that was my very own, up under the eaves of our little Cape Cod. As no one saw me, no one caught my worriment after. How my body contorted into regret as if betrayal could buckle into a shameful shape. How my mouth locked up. How my lips formed a tight line, having turned themselves in.
I was fourteen then. Agile, tall, my limbs lithe. You had come home from the hospital with brain damage after heart surgery and not long after, in early autumn, thoughts came to starve myself. They came with such force the landscape of my body was being altered by my mind. It was an awful state that arose of its own accord but was certainly linked to losing you. By December, the seventh month into your dementia, I had lost all clear-seeing of my actual self.
That day of eating a carrot, I took off my sweater and pants. A ray of winter sun had come in through the window at an afternoon angle. It touched my frail form. A wooden door divided the attic into two sections—one being my bedroom and the other we made into a library. It had built-in bookcases, beautiful, of varnished wood that was knotty pine. On the back of the door you had attached a full...