She stood at the crossroads of Pine and Herst, wind delicately fluttering two wisps of bleach hair, one wisp on each side of her face. Face a transparent mask through which everything could be viewed. The dancing flicks of hair, the protrusion of see-through nose made such by the cross-eyed vision. This was a moment to feel outside one’s physical form. There are two eyes that travel over physical images existing beyond the face, beyond the eyes. In the visions reside other perceptions, like smell of the blooms on the purple blossom tree, sound of the sore-throaty crows that croup out into the otherwise stillness. The eyes think themselves as having a history, a story and acquired knowledge, but what they have is the power to look at what is, or the power to glaze over what is, in favor of replaying past moments, or inventing future ones, or making assumptive conclusions about things that do not conclude. She saw herself two weeks ago:
“I held the ancient woman’s hand in mine. My eyes saw the form of a bony, ropey-veined hand, splattered with liver spots, bluish in color. This was neither right nor wrong. The hand was as it was. The lens cap of thought snapped over the observation and the seeing stopped. In place of seeing and acknowledging and accepting what was being held in my hand, there was this solid wall of a lens cap and the fiction began inside my mind which was busily fabricating:
‘This is horrible. Nobody alive should have a hand like this. The long bones of this hand are as prominently visible and palpable on the palm side as they are on the backside. The skin rolls around on the bones with no flesh between the two. The fingers wibble around as though disconnected from the rest. Like they are broken; worse -- glass bones and jelly. The skin is flaking off like pie crust. Very wrong to have this kind of living hand. It creeps me out touching a hand that is a skeleton. It’s wrong because it is totally like touching ‘death,’ holding ‘death,‘ and the living do not want to touch death, should not touch death. I wish I was not here.’
That was the last time I saw Charlotte Stanton in a form of being alive. In any form at all. She passed away last week while I was away on a trip. Now I remember her hand in mine and instead of the creepiness, I remember how it warmed from its coldness as I held it, applying skin cream as carefully as I would frosting a cake that keeps adhering to the icing knife. Kind of patting it on in excruciatingly-delicate brush strokes. I remember that her 85-year-old hand worked a long lifetime of fixing breakfasts for children, husbands, grandchildren, great grandchildren; it pressed the calculator keys one zillion trillion times working for the store a whole generation’s worth; it cleaned greasy dishes and scrubbed blood stains out of pant knees; smoothed the brows of sick ones, tightened the fresh sheets on many beds, folded paper into thirds and wrote addresses on envelopes with a fountain pen; it cracked eggs into cakes and pies and fry pans, dusted shelves laden with sentimentals needing carefully moved and returned , breakable and from someone specific; it laid at rest on the old marmalade cat belly, and fell asleep on the muzzle of the snoring pug next to her named Pudgie; it wiped away waterfalls of tears over the death of two husbands, the favorite one having been her 24-year-old groom for only three months before expiring from a ruptured aneurysm.
Not that these latter images made her hand beautiful. They did not. The images made her hand a story, a map, a thousand-year-old tree that has witnessed the changing of seasons, of cultures, of civility and the lack thereof; a tree that began from pollen and grew its legs into the earth a few miles in all directions, extracting the minerals of life and breathing out the lungs of life, broken by wind, but still standing, growing new parts, housing ecosystems, catching fire, living anyway in its state of char and survival. Her hand became a mural upon which the visage of human start-to-finish was painted, and signed by every person on earth. The hand I held was my own hand, long bones front and back, both the same, hers and mine, front and back. That is what made holding her hand so awful......it is how we depart in the end. New hand, used hand, old hand, glass bones and jelly. But the real Charlotte is not that hand. She is the butterfly of energy, landing on my keyboard in the form of experience transferring experience.
“Keep the lens cap off the camera of your soul,” she is saying “because thoughts about what you see stop you from seeing. My hand is like a tree; but then, why shouldn’t it be? “