The Rocking Chair

She was leaning over the railing at the baggage claim. That was the first time I had seen my mother in over two years. I had my luggage in my hand and came around her from behind, surprised that she hadn’t seen me yet and wondering why she hadn’t seen me waiting for my bag by the conveyor belt. I came up and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Oh. I didn’t see you,” she said. “Did you already get your luggage?”

I hugged her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Mom. It’s so good to see you.”

“Did you get your luggage already?” she asked. “Dad is waiting outside.”

I carried my bag and walked next to her. The terminal doors swished open and the humidity stained the air. My father was waving to us. He was smiling but he looked sad to me. Something was different about my mother, too.

Maybe it was just me. This was the first time I had seen them since I kicked my heroin habit. After thirty-two years of shooting dope some things were bound to have changed.

I walked up to my father and hugged him. He hugged me back. Everything felt strange. Maybe it was me.

“When are Stella and Irv coming in from the cruise?” my mother asked.

“Tomorrow night,” my father said.

They had a brand new Buick. My father always liked Buicks. It seemed like a long ride to the condo from the airport. Everything looked different than I remembered it.

We made small talk as we rode, the kind of talking that you don’t remember later. I felt like smoking a cigarette. I needed to get to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I watched the Florida landscape slip by. A man with shabby clothing held a sign as he stood at the exit of the interstate.

The sign said, “Will work for food. Please help.”

I looked at all the cars around me, passing the man standing by the highway. The air-conditioning blew cool air on my face as we passed the man with the sign. The sweat was beaded on his face.

“When are Stella and Irv coming in from the cruise?” my mother asked.

“Tomorrow night,” my father said.

They took me to lunch at a kosher deli. There was more small talk about different relatives; who was sick, who wasn’t sick. How hardly anyone went to the pool anymore, how everyone at the condo was getting older. Or dying.

I had a corned beef sandwich with pickles. My mother had a salad. My father had liver and onions. He only ate a little bit of it. I remembered he never really liked liver and onions that much.

When we got back to the condo I called the NA helpline. I needed a meeting. I felt numb and couldn’t process anything.

My father and I went out to the pool. We were the only ones there for awhile. He had an old white sailor’s cap on. He wore it pulled down, making him look like a boy with gray hair and wrinkles. He smiled with sad eyes as we talked.

One other guy came out to the pool and talked with us for awhile as we floated in the water. He had been a stockbroker. He still played with stocks and my father talked with him about the market.

I looked around the pool. There were six metal tables, about 15 straight-back chairs, and about 25 chaise lounges on the patio by the pool. There were close to 80 condos in this section of the complex. It was 92 degrees. There were three of us at the pool. Fifteen years ago, when my parents had first retired here, the pool had always been full.

I’d heard that there had been some teenagers swimming at the pool a few days previously. Someone had called the police. They came and the teenagers left. On most days, the water is still.

My father and I went back to change. Mom was sitting on the back porch in a rocking chair. She called out to us.

“When are Stella and Irv coming in from the cruise?”

My father glanced at me.

“Tomorrow night,” he answered.

“Oh,” was what she said. And kept rocking.

I changed into dry clothes. My father went to lie down and take a nap in the living room. Other than when company came over, that was the only time anyone ever used the living room.

I looked around the den. I had moved in there after the first time I had gotten out of prison. My parents had gone out to a show the first night I was there. My dad had had an old prescription bottle filled with narcotics in the fridge, and I had eaten them all. I had then passed out with a cigarette in my hand and left a 2-inch burn in the den rug.

Now there was a new rug. It was ten years later.

That night, after supper, I went out to a meeting. No one showed up except for me. I read recovery literature and walked back to the condo. It was just me and my mind. The company couldn’t have been worse.

My parents were already in bed by the time I got home. I turned the light out and listened to the ceiling fan spin. It was right over the bed. I imagined what would happen if it were to fall on me while I slept, still spinning as it dropped. One’s imagination is limited when it comes to reality. Things get left out.

The morning light crept under the shade. I got up and went to the bathroom. Then I prayed and meditated. There was a meeting that I knew would happen but I was afraid to go, anyway. For me, the alternative to meetings was unacceptable.

My mother was sitting on the back porch rocking in the chair. They had closed in the golf course out back with new condominiums. I missed the vegetation that had surrounded the course.

My father walked into the room.

“She rocks all the time since the sickness. She asks the same questions over and over. I don’t know what to do so I just let her rock.”

There were tears in his eyes.

I walked out to the porch and asked her if she wanted to come in for breakfast.

“In a little while,” she said.

There were tears in her eyes.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m all right,” she said.

She didn’t look directly at me. She stared out at the golf course. There were so many tears in her eyes that I didn’t know what was keeping them from spilling down her cheeks.

I put my hand on her shoulder.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Let me rock,” was what my mother said.

I walked back into the den. My father was sitting there. There were tears behind my sunglasses that he couldn’t see. I felt an impulse to keep them from running down my cheek. My father was crying.

“Let her rock,” was all he said.

So we did.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which operates SPARE CHANGE NEWS.

– Marc D. Goldfinger

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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