Fred wanted to take us to the Old Style Buffet to eat, so I drove through the West Side while my sister Laurel spoke of how she confuses the streets of Cleveland with those of the other places she’s lived. I don’t quite believe her. No one in my family could ever get lost here.
My Aunt Alice’s angioplasty was just a few hours old, but her color was already better, and the surgeon had carefully demonstrated how the stint would keep the passages in her heart free to carry blood once again. I thought of how he and I seek the same thing. I finesse others with my voice and hands while he dives a little deeper.
The buffet caters to an older clientele for the most part. I saw that if you’ve been married more than fifty years, they’ll give you a free meal on Valentines Day. There were two elderly women in babushka’s gossiping in Polish. I say they were gossiping because they suddenly grew quiet when I walked by.
Laurel tells me that the day before she’d been pouring some tea and had suddenly remembered how this act was combined with an incident in our childhood. It is something she still feels acutely nearly fifty years later.
I was just barely old enough to sit on the high stool in the kitchen, perched there watching her pour boiling water into the teapot. I suddenly fell forward toward the floor and Laurel remembers the choice that faced her. She could let me fall, or she could pour the hot water on my back as she reached to catch me.
Now, as Laurel and I sit quietly, surrounded by the smells of the buffet and the slow, soft gait of its patrons, we are as close as we were then, and once again I feel the deep nature of our connection.
I’ve spent many years contemplating the nature of my profession, a profession that is often regarded fearfully by the public. Our reputation as people who inflict pain in order to help others achieve greater range or strength is well deserved. This isn’t the kind of thing that I do, but that’s because I don’t choose to see patients who need that.
I have crafted a practice that almost always lets me play Mr. Nice Guy, someone from whom touch implies only acceptance and comfort. I don’t know that I could do what others find they must.
Laurel’s choice to save me from the fall was forced upon her, and she thinks about it still. That day at the buffet she spoke of it again, asking me whether she’d made the right one.
I told her that it most certainly was. The scar on my back is faded and I have no memory of the pain. The consequences of a head injury at that age is something I don’t even want to think about.
I chose to eat too much at the buffet, and then together the three of us made our way back to Aunt Alice’s bedside.
I watched as Laurel took her hand, felt her cheek and eased her discomfort.