22 December 2007

I apologize for the tardiness of this entry. There simply has not been time to sit and record what I have seen and experienced since my arrival in Amsterdam three days ago. We are always in transit, to or from the hospital, foraging, fetching and ferrying goods back and forth across the city: infinity-shaped toothbrushes for Todd, visual treats to counter the dull hospital ceiling he looks at most of the time, food to fuel our own bodies so can make yet another trip to somewhere.

I was nervous on the flight over. What state would Todd be in? What state is Alex in? How useful will I be? Those worries faded as the plane circled above Amsterdam. A thin layer of new snow covered the city, highlighting its edges and contours in the purple glow of daybreak. It looked like a Guy Madden film in 3-D. I knew everything would be fine.

The minute I walked into Todd’s room his eyes locked on mine. His mouth didn’t move, but those eyes radiated a huge smile to match the one I was wearing. I kissed him. I hugged him. I rattled off the names of people I’d seen recently? Barney, Don Day, David Williams, John Rogers, Penny and Penny, Henry Cole, North? His eyes really lit up when I described the interface show and the work his students had done for it, so I lingered on that for as long as possible, peppering it with as much visually critical detail as I could. He seemed hungry and eager for news of any kind so I kept going and he ate every word. At times, his gaze is so intent and so deeply focused I found it unnerving? such a heavily concentrated dose of information and enthusiasm and emotion pouring out of those twin beams. It was such a relief to find him so Todd-like in so many ways.

The nurse gave us permission to take Todd outside to see the snow. We had two exactly two minutes and no longer. We bundled him up, all of us giddy for Todd’s first trip outside the hospital. We found an opening in the bushes that surround the frozen canal and parked his chair there. “Do you like it, Todd?” He blinked once for yes. “Are you cold, Todd?” Two blinks for no. “Do you want to go inside?” An emphatic no. It was beautiful to watch him take in all the details of that frozen world and difficult to go back inside, but it was getting colder by the minute and Todd was getting tired.

When we left him that evening, he was sleeping soundly and, I like to imagine, replaying all the images of what he’d just seen.

23 December 2007

Davey leaves today tomorrow so the morning was spent packing and repacking his bags, most of which are filled with Todd and Alex’s stuff. Davey seems to be going through what Alex describes as the freak-out everyone has when they leave Amsterdam. He was perfectly functional, of course, but entering the first stages of Todd/Alex withdrawal. Todd must have suspected as much because he gave Davey a really special going-away present today.

Alex had gotten several pieces of really nice chocolate for the three of them to share in parting. Davey bit into his piece and scooped a dab of its soft center onto his pinkie. He offered it Todd, saying “Come on, buddy, open your mouth so I can put this on your tongue.” Todd struggled and struggled to open up. You could see how much he wanted that chocolate. Davey coaxed and pleaded. Todd worked and worked. Finally, those lips parted enough for Davey to share his chocolate. The room erupted in Super Bowl Sunday cheers as Todd swallowed and opened his mouth a little wider for more. Having seen the grey gruel milkshake he’s been eating, I can only imagine the pleasure Todd was feeling when that chocolate slid down his throat. Davey was beaming from ear to ear, so happy for that personalized gift from Todd. I think we all teared up a little bit.

That day also brought a pretty powerful exchange with the Surinamese family across the way. We ran into M.C., Tuti’s brother, at the elevator as we were taking Todd down to look at the hospital’s art collection. M.C., who is gregarious and jovial and always a pleasure to run into, looked at Todd, then at us and said, “You know what Tuti said about Todd?” According to M.C., Tuti is a shaman and sees things. Tuti saw Todd “go all the way up to the top” and talk to the people there. Todd told those people he wasn’t yet ready to go, it wasn’t his time and so came back down. Todd, Tuti says, is back and will be well one day. That’s quite a conversation to have at the coffee machine in a hospital hallway. I like that story because I believe it. Watching Tuti over the past few days, I have no doubt he sees things the rest of us can’t. Alex has told me about the bond Tuti and Todd have developed over the course of their stays here and how, in many ways, their respective conditions and progress have mirrored one another’s. We are trying to think of a nice way to thank them for all their support of Alex and Todd and a way to show support for Tuti and his healing. If anyone has ideas, keep in mind the family often extends to twenty or thirty people and they all love to eat. Tuti’s wife is making us Surinamese food and making a special trip to the hospital to deliver it because Tuti has gotten a holiday furlough and is going home for a few days. There is a great deal of love in that ward. People like Tuti and his family and the nurses make a drab and clinical place strangely beautiful and alive. I couldn’t have predicted I’d say this, but I am very happy to be here.

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