63. A Letter from a Refugee
The good news is my application for residence in the United Kingdom is successful. It involves steps that unfold over several years, but the first step has been granted. I have a visa permitting me to return to the United Kingdom, a “Leave to Enter”. Inside my passport is a visa sticker that is valid for thirty days, beginning Christmas and concluding 24th January. For this I can feel jubilant, because I have grown homesick for Wales. An apartment overlooking the Hayes in Cardiff has been empty of people these last two months, though my books and pens are there.
But it isn’t all good news. Ms Keogh, my cherished companion and native-born British citizen, who returned with me to the USA, to wait with me while the UKVI considered my application, found herself unable to breathe on a Saturday night in November. I called an ambulance to rush her to the hospital. Given her several medical issues, I feared it was something worse, but on this occasion it was pneumonia. She would recover from it with remarkable speed.
The same night, twenty miles away, my 95-year-old mother had just finished using the loo, was trying to stand at the sink, but the pain in her leg had become too great. For a week, she had been unknowingly enduring a broken tibia; she had a doctor’s appointment for the very next Monday. Unable to remain standing, she sat back down on the toilet, holding the toilet tank for support. The tank had a crack that continually leaked on the floor. My mother had been complaining to the management for weeks, yet with notorious negligence they did nothing. This night, the tank disintegrated under my mother’s arm as she sat. She suffered superficial scratches, but her parchment skin bled readily. Water flooded out of the bathroom, across the bedroom and into the living room. Unable to stand on her bad leg, she could do nothing but press the alarm she wears on her wrist. That night, she also entered the hospital.
After visiting my mother at Saint Mary Medical Center, I called my sister while driving back to the Doylestown Hospital to be with Ms Keogh. I wanted to update my sister as to our mother’s status as well as my wife’s status. The Toyota has a hands-free connection for cell phones. My sister whined with syrupy concern as to how I was holding up. It is hard enough to lift the spirits of people with real medical issues – impossible with my mother. It is sweet to be the recipient of attention and my sister only wanted to help me, wondered if she should fly across country to comfort me. To hear her worried tone burdened me with further responsibility. Was my sister to be included on the list of people who needed their spirits to be uplifted? She added to my concern; how was I to stop her from increasing her problems by taking on mine. The typical approach is the courtesy of lying – oh, don’t worry about me, I’ve got everything under control, no problem. Instead I told her the truth; I didn’t want to think about myself because I feared to do so would lead me to wallow in self-pity. I asked her not to ask about me so I could remain focused on Ms Keogh. I did not wish to weaken my resolve, nor become obsessed with fearful outcomes.
After the phone call, the car radio came back on. I wouldn’t allow the news to air. President-Elect Trump was a terrifying prospect, a threat to the Constitution, a threat to my homeland, and a threat to the world. He was appointing people who would cripple science, put into place a Christian version of sharia law, and unleash hate groups that wanted me dead if not merely transported. I listened to music.
Following that phone call, I was on the verge of paralyzing self-pity when a piece of music came on the radio. I was listening to WWFM, the Classical Network out of Mercer Community College. It was Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, conducted by the master himself. When they reached the old Shaker melody, “Simple Gifts”, I began to cry happy tears. I was overjoyed about the existence of music. What a miracle! Nor is this the first and only time I felt this way about music. Who hasn’t? Not even the election of Trump or the appointment of Steve Bannon could deny the world of music. I was grateful for the technology that could intervene into my numb state and bring me music while driving in ugly traffic. Music can be a balm. How does it even exist?
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.