SHAVING WITH CONNIE FRANCIS
God wanted us to know what love sounds like, so he gave us Connie Francis. "Please do not forget..." she soothes "...that our lips have met." She wraps her lips around us as we begin our day, Mike and I. Mike is Michele Bernardi, my wife's father, now in his 92nd and final year in this life. I need to update my own will so that when it's time for my morphine cocktails, someone needs to be in charge of playing Connie Francis all day and night. My brother-in-law brought over his collection of Mario Lanza, Dean Martin and Mussolini-era military marching bands, but I went to Amazon and found Connie Francis, the sixties pop star whose dozens of albums include a collection of Italian classics that The Boys and I love.
I am Mike's caregiver. His needs dovetailed nicely with an injury I suffered at work. While I alternately ice and stretch my ailing left foot, I take care of Mike and my wife's uncle, Jerry, who is 94. Adele signed Mike over to hospice care this week. Pain relief and comfort only. No more physical therapy. No more pills. Just apple sauce, fruit smoothies and pureed chicken noodle soup.
I squeezed juice from an orange this morning and pureed it with a half banana and an ice cube. I feed him with a turkey baster. No spills. He doesn't really need food. His body can't process the stuff anymore. The kidneys are failing. Nothing filters toxins out of the bloodstream. Feeding him will kill him and not feeding him will kill him. We give him just enough to wet the mouth and throat. He likes it. As for the poisonous toxins, well, I guess that's why God gave us morphine and Connie Francis.
I need to shave him and this is going to be a problem. Before I called 911 last week I shaved him twice a week. He was in the hospital for a few days before they told us what we already knew and sent him home. So it has been over a week and his bristles are fierce. They are like the bristles on the porcupine on my front step, the one I am supposed to skruff my shoes on before entering the house. I never do. I just trip over it and kick it into the bushes from whence it miraculously climbs back onto my front step the next day. Anyway, Mike's beard is like those bristles, but white, and he looks like hell. I am determined to clean him up.
He seems to like the warm, wet cloth on his face. I apply the cream and give it a minute as Connie croons "time alone will tell..." How apt! I stroke. Nothing comes off but shave cream. An electric razor is best when a beard is this long, but I never used one and neither did he, so we are left with a disposable razor which fills with porcupine quill after an eighth of an inch of stroke. I run cold water over the blades. The cold shrinks the metal and tightens the edge. This helps. But the space between the blades in packed with detritus. I grab a toothbrush an bristle away the bristle to reveal again two clean blades. I move the razor across a craggy cheek. It fills again, but I have cleared a two-inch patch of face. Progress. I move carefully. The skin surface I'm working on looks like those grainy photos of the Moon. A fat face would be easier to shave. Mike's cheeks are sucked in a little, but the skin still sags. I have to keep pulling back bunches of it with one hand in order to stroke with the other. We've got all morning.
Stroke, rinse blades, brush blades, rinse blades, repeat. Connie Francis is singing in Italian now.
"Al de la."
I don't know what it means. My head is cloudy. Like Mike, I have been sleeping in four-hour shifts.
"Al de la."
I feel warm. I can't translate. But I think if a woman ever sang those words to me something good would happen. This fuzzy feeling reminds me of Miss Baxter, my second grade teacher. She made me stay after school once. I was happy to oblige. I'm not sure what I thought would transpire, but I was sure it would be good. She made me rewrite my homework, which was sloppy. I turned in sloppy homework the rest of the year. None of the other guys got to be alone with Miss Baxter. Imagine Connie Francis, 50 years ago, asking you to stay after the show. Miss Baxter was like that.
We finish shaving. Mike looks good. I put the shaving stuff away and wonder what to do with the toothbrush. Mike no longer requires one. His dentures sit in a jar with a cap on it. But I may need to keep it to clean his razor. I wonder if I will need to shave him again. Best to stay in the now in this line of work. I toss it in with the shaving stuff.
I pull out a bottle of shampoo delivered by the hospice service. No water. How cool is that? I used to wash his wispy, white hair every week or two, as often as I could herd-carry-cajole him into the shower. Now I wash his hair daily. I fizz the stuff on his cranium, shoosh it around a bit, and towel dry. Done.
I hear a rustling from Jerry, who has been very low-maintenance. All he seems to care about is his soup. It must be homemade. It must be served promptly at noon and at 6 p.m. He wears a watch for this purpose alone. It isn't yet time for soup.
I splash some Old Spice on Mike and step a few feet away to where Jerry sits in his recliner. I bend over and lean in. Jerry speaks English, unlike Mike. But he has been hard to understand lately. I ask him to speak louder. With all his might he puffs his chest and squeaks.
"I can't breathe."