Another year had flown by leaving the last three days before my flight to feel like an eternity. On Easter morning, the Sunday before my flight from Portland to Los Angeles, I was awoken by a text message from my uncle who also lives here Portland. I was expecting the message to tell me what the plan was for Easter Sunday, but the message I read was far more seriously than a casual Easter Sunday brunch. The message said that my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, had suffered a severe stroke and was unresponsive. I recieved another text from him hours later updating me on the situation, he had caught the earliest flight to LA before it was too late.
Three whole days I waited for my flight to Los Angeles, a flight I had booked months in advance in preparation for my photography for the Coachella Valley Art Scene at the Coachella Music Festival. These three agonizing days I kept to myself. The news I received from family members who were at my grandmother’s side were driving me deeper into my solitude. I stayed optimistic even though the news I was receiving was not. I did not tell anyone of this news yet for I was unable to know how to deal with this news myself. Talking about it proved to be very difficult. I had to prepare myself because I knew seeing her in that bed would be even more difficult.
I landed in the drought stricken land of Southern California on tuesday evening, oddly enough it was raining. I immediately went to the hospital to visit my grandmother for the night. My cousin, my sister and her husband were already at the hospital when I arrived. We were then joined by my uncle from Portland who was flying out the next morning. The doctors tried their best to control our expectations of the situation by letting us know that her left side had been paralyzed and that they couldn't do an MRI to find the blood clot because of the metal in her head from a brain aneurysm she had back in 1986. At this point there was nothing they could do for her if her motor skills couldn't even allow her to drink water on her own. We sat there talking to her and taking turns holding her right hand. Although she was unresponsive she could still open her eyes a little so I took out my laptop so we could watch her favorite show together, Jeopardy. I sat there talking to her like I normally do when I visit California. I told her I was going to Coachella again to take photos and that I was going to make her proud. I told her I would see her when I got back.
This year I had planned well in advance to do absolutely nothing during the days between the two Coachella weekends. The sleepless nights are easy to bare when you are surrounded by the excitement of the festival, but once you are out of that environment it is a hard crash. Monday morning I jumped in my car and made my way back to Los Angeles to rest my head. A good Portland friend of mine, Taylor, who lives in a palace nestled on a hill in Silver Lake. It reminds me most of Portland and is the least depressing. Well there is that and the fact that the girls that live here are great people to be around. They had a blow up mattress waiting for me when I crash landed back into LA.
Coincidentally, by the time I had got back from Coachella, they had moved my grandmother into a rehab center. The major coincidence is that out of everywhere in the world they could of moved her… they moved her two blocks away from where I was staying in Silver Lake. I spent the next three days waking up, grabbing a cup of coffee at the cafe down the street and then would walk to go visit my grandmother at the rehab center perched up on the hill. From it’s back patio I could see off into the not so far off distance the Scientology building. The week before my trip I had watched the HBO documentary with my roommates called “Going Clear” and remember asking myself “Where is that Scientology building?”
In the middle of the week while I was relaxing at the Silver Lake Palace, old friends of mine who I shared a pretty intense situation with (mad to live), sent me a text asking if I wanted to meet up for coffee. I asked them where they were, sure enough they were about five blocks away. I briefly got to hang out with them. They were also on a the Coachella recovery plan as well and were just in the neighborhood. The day before that, my old roommate from Portland who now lives in LA sent me a text asking if I wanted to grab lunch with him and his friend. The place they wanted to meet... a block away. Rarely did I have to leave the neighborhood. The times I did have to drive were spent stuck in LA traffic listening to NPR stories being aired around the clock of the water crisis in California. Repeatedly pointing out how a green lawn was a clear sign of wealth and how aquiring water has become part of the socioeconomic gap issue in our nation. If it wasn't a story on the water crisis, it was on the civil rights movement taking place in part of Police brutality. Both issues run deep in Southern California and everyone in LA was talking about it.
Just when I thought I was starting to feel comfortable, Thursday arrived and I had to head back out into the desert for the final push. Weekend two of Coachella is a lot different from weekend one. The year wait for Coachella sends the energy of weekend one surging threw the metaphorical roof. It’s very much a see and be seen event with celebrities everywhere going every which way and people getting way too turnt up on the first night. Come Saturday morning everyone is haggard. Weekend two consist of what I like to call “the normal folk.” This is all largely in part because the people who have more access to resources such as money have the privilege of snagging a week one ticket before they sell out. Weekend two seems to be more for people who just want to see good music and have a good time in the process. That and everyone who works in production is damn near exhausted to care anymore. The weekends had their trade off’s this year. The grass that once was green when I first arrived on a comfortably warm weekend one was now nothing but dirt getting kicked up in the hot desert scorching air. Enter stage left, “The Coachella Black Lung,” most commonly known as Hay Fever. A lot of us got it.
Two weeks in and I could not wait to get back to the rain washed clean air of Portland where I could sleep in my bed for days. It had been two weeks already and it was now time to catch my flight back to Portland. But, at the same time I wasn't ready to leave my family. I had to visit my grandmother one last time.
Every visit prior my grandmother seemed to be doing a lot better than the messages I had got during the week from family members. There had been a lot of back and forth on good and bad news and even talks of preparing for the worst. Whatever the case may be, I was leaving back to Portland and I all I wanted to do was spend some quality time with Nernie before I left. Her real name is Gwen but legend has it that her first son, my uncle, couldn’t pronounce his M’s as a baby and would say Nonny instead of Mommy. Ever since then, "Nernie" just stuck.
The first time I visited her two weeks ago, she could barely open her eyes to stay awake. Now, she was opening her eyes, moving her body more and trying to say words here and there. I was seeing progress in her recovery over the course of the two weeks. On this last visit, she was chatting it up with me, something about cooking recipes. It was hard to make it out but she was pretty much having a conversation with me as I sat there at her bedside holding her right hand. I told her I was leaving back to Portland and that the next time I would see her would be back at her house. We talked a bit more as my father stood at my back and my brother’s wife on the other side of the bed. I made silly jokes with her and continued tell her of my trip in order to keep her awake and stimulated. From time to time she would let go of my hand and try to reach for the feeding tube that was going up her nose and down into her stomach. I heard stories of her trying to pull it out before and telling everyone that it bothered her but I was told that it was necessary that it stayed in. There was no other way for her to eat or drink. I reminded her of this on her last attempt to reach for the tube right before I left. Then, as I was saying my goodbyes and asking for my hug, sitting there with nothing but the ambient sound of the daytime television and nurses moving outside the door, her mouth made a gulping motion. A rush of happiness rushed through my body. My father, who was still behind me asks, “Did you just swallow?” He got up and grabbed a cup of water with a small sponge on a stick in it and handed it to my brother’s wife. She puts the sponge in my grandmother’s mouth and she begins to drink, one small sip at a time.