Gaby and I walk the sidewalks of this suburban city, once a small town surrounded by farms, now a bedroom community of Chicago, bristling with strip malls, Starbucks, McMansions and a gigantic Lifetime Fitness. And yet, something remains of the rural landscape: large stands of mature oaks and maples, creeks that feed the DuPage River with its walkway and bike paths, large fields of grass we cut across, barefoot, to feel its softness.
He has been here nearly a month, going once a day to the gleaming silver and glass Proton Center, where he gets experimental radiation to prevent his recurring brain tumor from growing back. Last night he took me on a three-hour walk, but got us lost. There’s no denying the effects of four surgeries, chemo and harsh radiation before Naperville. His usually sharp sense of place and directions is eroding. He still treasures good tunes in Spanish and English; reads widely and voraciously; and dances a mean salsa and cumbia. With his glasses and black beret, he resembles a studious Che Guevara. But today, when we walk downtown, I memorize the streets and turns, just in case.
Spring has arrived late this year. Lilacs, hardy magnolias, crabapple trees all bloom at the same time. Dandelion fuzz floats through the air. I arrived on the train from St. Paul to spell his mother, brother and father, to accompany him, this man/boy, the closest thing I’ll ever have to a son. We refer to each other as godmother and godson, but we’re really translating from Spanish, in which madrina and ahijado signify more than standing up in a church to witness a baptism. Broken down, ahijado means “the child who has come to be like my son.”
Rain is approaching from Minnesota and Wisconsin. I saw the evidence out my train window: docks stranded in the middle of newly formed lakes, the Mississippi flowing hard and high over its banks, a great blue heron poised motionless in a Nature-reclaimed swamp. Nothing in Naperville until tonight. Now warm, damp wind blows from the south; the clouds scud lower and lower over the sunset. After dinner in the small rented apartment, we finally hear it falling, detect the inevitable thunder, feel the freshness of new washed air.
I write; he reads the New York Times. Linda Ronstadt sings boleros, Brazilian Ceu strums strings of bells, Los Tigres del Norte offer up corridos, ballads of the ravaged Mexican-American border. I engrave each moment in my mind: this hazy spring of long walks, rain falling and last chances.