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  Context Sensitivity  

he paramedics burst into the restaurant, their bright bulky uniforms creating instant chaos. I trail behind, wanting it all to go away. We are such a scene. I perceive sudden hushes in the conversation as people look up, starting up again with morbidly curious whispers when we pass.

I assume that he’ll still be unconscious (or worse) when we get back to the table. Instead, when we arrive, my Dad is sitting up, his face still a stomach-wrenching blue, eating saltimboca with a kind of fierce determination. He is 87, he’s out with his family, and dammit he’s going to enjoy himself.

He looks up at the paramedics, and then at me. He’s pissed as hell at all the intrusion. The paramedics say he should really go to the Emergency Room for further examination, but we all know that would entail a serious fight.

Appetites (except for Dad’s) have been seriously diminished. We watch him eat for a few minutes, then give up and tell him we’re going. We decide to nix going to the ER. As we leave, my five year old son, Chris, runs to hug the waitress whom he’s decided he wants to marry. She has tears in her eyes.

Driving home after dropping my dad off at his apartment, Chris is very quiet. This is the weirdest situation I think he’s ever been in. I am shaken to the core, painfully aware of the exquisitely tenuous connections between all of us. He falls asleep in the car; as I carry him in, I feel his sleepy, trusting weight and my heart breaks with the aching of it all.

I lay Chris down in his bed and pause to give two-year-old Jack a good-night kiss. In sleep, Jack is beatific, an angel. Awake, he is Dr. Freud’s poster child.

It’s all about control for Jack. Every day for the past few months there has been some kind of issue. Sometimes it’s diaper changing. Sometimes it’s getting into the car seat. Sometimes it’s food. Sometimes it’s whether or not he’s allowed to open the door himself.

Everything is an issue to this two-year-old. Everything is a symbol of the basic problem: he is smart enough to know what he wants to do, and yet his physical prowess is not able to keep up with his desires. Frustrated, violated by his own inept body, he howls at the universe, rages at the people trying to help him.

Just like my dad.

They are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and their lives are mirroring each other perfectly these days. Jack is on the ascendancy of the learning curve. He is gaining skills, figuring out tricks, implementing his knowledge more and more every day. As his mind quickens and assimilates, he tries to make his body keep up. The lags are frustrating, but his future will hold ever-greater competency and rewards.

My dad, sadly, is on the downhill side. His mind is failing at a slower rate than his body. He knows that both are no longer reliable, and his tirades at that injustice are full of fury and howling disbelief. He is losing his words as rapidly as Jack is gaining his. He is losing his balance as Jack learns to jump and coordinate.

Like Jack, he knows what he wants. Like Jack, he frequently fails at getting it. Like Jack, he feels that life is pitted against him. Like Jack, he is right.

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