My mother has always used diet to treat her health problems, so much so that diet, for me, connotes a way to ease headaches and gastrointestinal distress even more than it means ‘Let’s get skinny.’ As she ages, she gets more serious about her diet books, and they get more serious about her. Alkalize or Die is a favorite. How Not to Die is another. She keeps them on a bookshelf that is the first thing I see when I leave my parents’ guest room in the morning, shelved next to books my brother and I abandoned over the years and a couple books I wrote myself.
On the one hand, I admire the directness and revolutionary zeal of the titles. Besides ‘How to Sit Still’ and ‘How to Go to Sleep When Sleep Reminds You of Dying’, isn’t How Not to Die the primary lesson we give our children when we nag them about bike helmets and looking both ways and no candy from strangers?
I don’t know if Mom’s legumes and cruciferous greens and turmeric shakes are going to help her live longer than she would have. I guess it’s not about living longer. ‘She’s the healthiest sick person I know,’ my brother says. ‘I’m feeling better every day,’ Mom says.
When Sam’s in his seventh day of his first attack of gout, still walking with a cane, I call my mother, whose health advice I trust above all others’, even if I don’t follow or always believe it, and ask what he should do.
‘Stay away from meat,’ she says. ‘It acidifies the body.’
‘Got it,’ I say, the way I say ‘Peace be with you’ in church and mumble ‘Namaste’ after yoga.
Doesn’t hurt to say the words, even if ‘acidifying the body’ sounds like an invented set of reasons to avoid the meat Sam should avoid anyway. Like putting crystals in my bra for protection.
Speaking of crystals, Sam had a urate crystal in his toe right then, built by genes and rich eating. Maybe Jane was right about quartz, about our being ‘made of this’.
Never once have I heard my father complain about hurting. Any kind of hurt. In any way. The face he wore during his father’s funeral is the same face he wore during my wedding ceremony – calm and composed, with wild emotion seeping out at the edges. Not tears, never tears, but the extra shine of his eyes.
My father’s medicines are different from my mother’s. As a child, when I had my ‘polar ice melt is going to drown us in our sleep’ dream, he did not say everything would be okay. He said, ‘We live on a hill, we’ll see the water coming.’ When something breaks, he fixes it. Arrives to each visit with his toolbox to tackle the list of projects I’ve made for him. Sometimes he asks for ‘blue beauties’ (acetaminophen), but he says it like they’re a treat, like Can I have some? I make sure there’s beer in the fridge and a sandwich at noon and we are good to go.
This is an excerpt from the essay ‘Xylitol’, taken from The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo.
Image © imagineerz