My mother's ankles are crossed and locked into place as she sits on the white plastic shower chair. She faces the showerhead; the profile of her body is all I can see. I am bent over on my knees trying to wash her feet.
"Mamita, necesito tu pie."
She slowly unwraps her ankle, but it is still tight against her other foot.
"Ma, necestio tu pie."
She releases a little more. I scrub her legs and feet, trying not to push her off-balance. The steam in the room draws sweat from my body.
I started at her head, lathering her scalp with medicated shampoo.
"Mom, it is really important to wash your hair with this shampoo, it helps soothe your scalp."
She doesn't respond. The silhouette of her profile is contorted in such a way that I have never seen the front of her body, ever. Her left arm immediately crosses her chest as she bends at the waist. When she twists her body, I think of a diver going into a flip, transforming her long sleek body into the diameter of a radial tire. She is balled up, resisting my touch. I talk to her in a soft, playful voice, an attempt to lessen the shame and fear that deforms her body. I try to wedge my hand under her arm.
"Ma, levante las alitas, lift your wings."
She always laughs at this. Elsa, who used to bathe her, used to say this to her.
My mother's laugh is followed always by the same comment, "She was very nice to me."
"I know, Mom."
I scrub her back with the heavy, sudsy mesh ball that smells of mango. I try to shift her body in a way that keeps her head from being doused with water while still allowing the warm water to pour over her, to keep her from trembling. Her left hand and forearm shake uncontrollably as she struggles to bring her hand against her body. The stroke she suffered two years ago caused her hand to ball up in a fist. The balling up of her body I cannot explain. I work my way down her back, scrubbing hard, trying to ignore her trembling hand. I rinse the mesh ball and re-saturate it with body soap, handing it back to her.
"Mom, take care of your private parts."
I draw the shower curtain and lean up against the wall. My arms and sleeves are wet, my red hair is covered in a fine mist, my rolled up pants and t-shirt are damp and my bare feet are cold.
"Are you ready?"
A final rinse follows.
"Do you want to stay in here for a few minutes?"
"Sí, me encanta la agua."
She loves the warm water once she is in, but she makes every excuse not to shower. I leave her alone for a few minutes; I walk out of the bathroom and stretch my back. My body has absorbed the strain of her twisted form.
I return with two towels. After turning off the shower, I approach her with an open towel. As she reaches for the steel bar to pull herself up, I slip a towel under her arms. Her left arm serves as a broach, pinning the towel securely against her chest. I drape the other towel over her head. I vigorously rub the towel on her head as she leans against the counter for support, and I work my way to her feet, bypassing the trunk of her body. She carefully makes her way to the cushioned seat that serves as a dressing bench.
"Mom, do you want mango butter or this lemony smelling stuff?"
I lift each container to her nose. She chooses the mango. I am usually very sparing with lotion for myself, but I am compelled to slather her legs, arms and back with the smell of paradise.
She immediately wants her shirt on; I always forget to put her left arm through her shirt first, so, it gets stuck and I have to start all over again. "Left arm, head and right arm," I murmur to myself. I reach next for her underwear. I usually start her off, but she takes over once her underwear reach her knees.
"Dáme los pantalones."
"Mom, pull your underwear all the way up to your waist first."
"Angelica, dáme los pantalones."
I reach for her pants, kneel down and place her left foot through the pant leg then her right foot.
"Stand up, Mom."
She holds onto my head for support as I pull up her pants and underwear. I give an extra tug and send her off to the dining room table for a manicure.
"Give me a minute, Mom."
I pull out the shower chair, wipe down the counter, hang the shower mat over the bathtub and reseal the mango butter.
The manicure holds up well on her left hand; it is protected, nestled in her palm. The nail polish on her right hand is chipped and dirt has collected under the nail. I missed this in the shower. I swab the manicure set with rubbing alcohol, arrange the cotton balls and polish remover, and gently pry her hand open to remove the old polish. She places her hand on the table; I spread out her fingers and put pressure on the hand as if to suction it to the glass tabletop. I apply the iridescent pink polish. I start with her left thumb and work as quickly as I can to get the second coat on. Within seconds, her hand balls up again. I remind her to keep her hand open.
"Mom, you have to keep your hand pressed against the table or it's going to mess up the polish."
Her hand slowly creeps back into position, smudging the nail polish.
Follow Angelica V. Hernandez, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/theoryofhope