Monday, August 28, 2006

What He Means

The neuroradiologist explained to the jury the baby’s brain injury, detailing the gray matter, the white matter, the valleys, the hills. Atrophy makes the hills smaller and the valleys bigger, and the white matter, the stuff that runs the communication routes, thins.

My mind began to wander through northern Indiana, the land of the unending valley, the big, flat plain. Am I living in the land of atrophied brains? Probably not. Well, maybe. I see signs of hills everywhere. It’s just that the glaciers scraped so much stuff away.

Brains weigh heavy on my mind. I spend a lot of time fussing about body things, but brains are always hovering in the background, whispering in my ear. My California brother is constantly fighting with his brain. A stroke shuffled all his files around. All the information is still there, but the retrieval system, in his words, sucks. “Sucks” stays on the top of his word pile. It’s essential.

In the days after my brother’s stroke, I found out exactly where I was filed in his brain. He introduced me to his doctors as mother and wife. I was thankful to be elevated above the family pet box. Now, most of his words have found their way into a retrieval system. We still play word charades (It’s like clear glass, but it doesn’t break. Plexiglas? Yeah, Plexiglas.) I still hear “Happy Birthday” when I call on Christmas.

My poet friends go to their word closets and dress up their ideas in audacious clothes. When they can’t find the outfit they want, they sew something new. My brother just wants to find something to cover his ass. His ideas are presented without subtlety or nuance. When he’s able to locate the words, he says exactly what he means. He has no edit function left to soften his blows. What happened to you, he asks me. You used to be good.

So I’m exercising more now, trying to get back in shape. It’s not really that I want to look good again, I just want to protect my brain. If I stroke out I might start telling people exactly what I mean.

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