Grace. If we’ve learned at all, we’ve learned that popularity is nothing. That time rolls on; we all get gassy, make odd noises and then are betrayed by our bodies and often our minds. Shell is helpless as she watches Tosha’s dark plummet.
"Lord, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me."
It is Shell, again. A prayer murmured at the times she feels most winded. It always seemed to soothe her, but today she only continues to wonder: who did I think I was way back then, when everything had meaning? If posed with the question, the old Tosha would have answered: who do any of us think we are, then or now?
Now. This Tosha, this present-day Tosha, sits picking her fingers until they bleed, leaving scraps of nail and cuticle scattered on the couch. This Tosha, sitting before her, had only last night lunged at Sheila and insist she never again use lotion; that the scent of Vaseline Intensive Care made her feel hopeless. It wasn’t the first smell banned from their lives. It began with Shell’s favorite fabric softener, which at the time seemed like an odd but reasonable request. If the powdery aroma wafting from fresh laundry was disagreeable to Tosha --if in fact, the smell made her "angry enough to kick something," Shell had no problem buying another brand. Yet the issue grew, increasing in intensity until plug-ins were yanked out of the wall and even the most expensive perfumes tossed. Shell began to wonder what was her responsibility in all of this, and most specifically her responsibility to the woman she’d loved since she was eleven.
It started with a fever. After an unusually long hike on a cool drizzling afternoon, Tosha complained of a terrible ache in her lower back. Shell told her that she should have a warm bath, with salts. Two days later they sat, without insurance, in a crowded clinic, waiting for help. When a nurse finally took Tosha’s temperature the alarm on her face was clear, and Tosha was whisked off in an ambulance to the city Urgent Care Center. In the morning, Shell was told she could take Tosha home, but that she would have to be carefully watched. Shell had no idea what was wrong, and didn’t understand the explanation as to why Tosha was not speaking normally. Grateful to take her out of the hospital, Shell helped Tosha sign the required forms, and shoved the prescriptions in her pocket.
Those months that Tosha was ill and Shell cared for her was a time full of heat and shadows and sounds. Some days the fever would soar impossibly high, and Tosha would babble endlessly about the light bouncing off of the wall and ceiling, that the beams were vibrating and jutting over her like a bass-line. She told Shell that her heart throbbed in her fingertips and that she felt sure a tiny man named Ken was rapping on a snare drum inside her skull. Shell would carry Tosha back and forth between an ice bath and the bed, while Tosha whispered “hit the tin, Ken—hit the TIN!”
Shell watched her while she slept, and wondered how someone so dynamically present could seem to disappear. How it was possible that Tosha could be vanishing before her: her strong body and mind now fading. There is nothing to prepare us for this, thought Shell. Nothing.
The nights were dark and difficult, as any hint of music in the house could send Tosha peeling into despair. The theme song to Hill Street Blues, with the volume so low that Shell could barely hear it, would be picked up a room away by Tosha’s fever-tuned ears. The drama that followed would leave both women tear-soaked and exhausted.
It seemed to Shell that the tiny apartment she shared with her love was an intensely overbearing symphony that she could not escape.