José texts me back a couple days later: Can I call you at 2pm?
Yeah, I text back, lying on my side with my toddler, asleep, hanging off my chest. Or I’ll call you.
Hey beautiful, he says on picking up, like a beguiling Beat-era Hollywood producer. How does it feel to be both beautiful AND a Bolshevik? B&B!
I could ask you the same question! For someone who loves to dish it out he embarrasses with surprising ease, so whenever he teases me I always like to tease him back. How you been?
Listen, it’s been intense. I’m in the thick of it. You remember Allison’s brother John—he just had a brain tumor removed.
Oh my God. The question perches on my tongue—benign or cancerous? But José is talking too fast, actually panting in between words, out of breath.
Yeah, and the family is freaking out—Allison is freaking out, John’s wife, all the brothers and sisters—and John doesn’t want to deal with any of them, says all of them just fall apart in a crisis. And he’s right! So guess who’s on their way for the next five days to New Mexico to deal with everything?
José, just handle it! One of Allison’s favorite exhortations that has stuck with me over the years. An encapsulation of their 50-year marriage but also some essential truth about the secret to successful living. Just handle it! José is a fixer, as am I, though my fixing is far more compulsive and dysphoric. His is optimistic, curious. Every new roadblock an opportunity to size up a situation and engineer a creative solution. Once we ate papa con chorizo tacos on the tailgate of his red truck and he told me: I always just assume that nothing’s gonna work, everything’s gonna fall apart. Whenever you’re able to accomplish anything, then, however ephemerally, it’s…amazing.
So we laugh, remembering Allison’s constant demand—and challenge. Just handle it!
So yeah, I gotta go deal with John, plus the insurance company—they live up in the mountains, you know, up this unpaved mountain road—and the insurance doesn’t want to cover a health care worker from the hospital because it’s too expensive to get up there. No one from the town wants to drive up. So—
Man, your life sounds like mine right now!
Oh yeah! Is it just you trying to assist Juanita and Enrique?
Oh no, there’s a few of us—five others—well, four others plus myself. A little team of us. It’s all I’ve been doing the past few days. But even before that there was all of Dave’s medical stuff, fighting to get appointments, fighting with the insurance—and then Elijah needs stuff too, and that’s not even getting to my own shit—
You know what, both of us need to just sit down at a table together and hold each other’s hand and tell each other we’re gonna get through. Do you still need someone for Enrique?
No, no. We realized quickly that what he needs is too—
Yeah, complex, too intense, for friends and family to really take it on in a good way.
Yeah, my brother was going to see if he could possibly help. But even he said—no, better not, even I’m getting to be too much of an old man! I remember how their own sister passed, from a rare progressive neurodegenerative condition none of us had ever heard of. She’d been a scientist, a brilliant woman. I remember the caregiving José and his siblings had organized, the funeral on the Westside in the cemetery where my own grandparents lay, his brother’s words: You’ve come home, back to the neighborhood.
A moment of silent reflection. Híjole.
Right. Hey, listen! Lemme call you back later! He’s panting again, but probably he’s just walking up the stairs—I remember that he has COPD. Do I also fucking remember Allison saying she thought one reason his lungs were so bad was because he used to swallow fire? I wouldn’t put it past him.
Yeah yeah yeah yeah. Call me back, I’m around all afternoon.
I know he won’t. But it’s okay. We’ve held hands across the table anyway.
Cool cool cool, lata lata lata! His Yogi Bear voice, his Hollywood sign-off as he dashes off to the next resplendent catastrophe.