Andrea Nakayama always imagined her 30s would be the time in her life when everything would fall perfectly into place. And indeed, everything had - at least for a while. She had a successful career, was married to the love of her life, Isamu, and was ecstatic when she learned she was pregnant. But just weeks into Andrea's pregnancy, Isamu developed an excruciating headache. They couldn't have imagined what the doctors would soon tell them: that Isamu had stage 4 brain cancer. Isamu defied the odds long enough to see their son, Gilbert, born. But Isamu had become so sick that he couldn't care for himself, let alone their child.
Andrea and Isamu turned to a nanny named Matthew Dickman, who ended up being much more than a babysitter for Gilbert. Matthew became a friend to Isamu, as well as a pillar of stability for Andrea as she tried to care for both her growing child and dying husband. In the end, Matthew became part of the family.
Dick talks with Andrea and Matthew about their friendship.
- Read Andrea's essay "In His Memory" in a book of essays on mothers and nannies
Poems Matthew Dickman read on the show:
SHOW US THE PLEIADES
If the snow does not fall
outside the hospital window
then cherry blossom
If the body does not float
above the hospital bed
then saline drip
Your kingdom drops away
from you like your very own
face, sloped. A king
transformed into a mountain.
Show us your brain
Show us your tumor
Heaven is a cup of teeth,
it shines. What island have we
washed upon where a man
must live in the pit of his own body
to the rest of us on earth?
Christ walks down the hall. If
the snow does not fall outside
the sanatorium window
then rain drop
Christ with his fists dragging
and your name locked inside
If the body does not float above
the sanatorium bed
then electric shock-
a body coming down the wild hall forever.
And if cotton then gauze-
a young surgeon holding your brain
in his hands and chanting
the cerebral cortex
the cerebellum glowing
forever and ever amen
If not that story then this:
Lift the pillars of heaven off our tired shoulders.
If death then skyscraper.
Show us the Pleiades
Show us the Pleiades
outside the hospice window.
When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
you must count yourself lucky.
You must offer her what's left
of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
you must put aside
and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
her eyes moving from the clock
to the television and back again.
I am not afraid. She has been here before
and now I can recognize her gait
as she approaches the house.
Some nights, when I know she's coming,
I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
and count her steps
from the street to the porch.
Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
tells me to write down
everyone I have ever known
and we separate them between the living and the dead
so she can pick each name at random.
I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
because she misses Texas
but I don't ask why.
She hums a little,
the way my brother does when he gardens.
We sit for an hour
while she tells me how unreasonable I've been,
taking down the pictures of my family,
not writing, refusing to shower,
staring too hard at girls younger than my sister.
Eventually she puts one of her heavy
purple arms around me, leans
her head against mine,
and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
So I tell her,
things are feeling romantic.
She pulls another name, this time
from the dead
and turns to me in that way that parents do
so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
Romantic? She says,
reading the name out loud, slowly
so I am aware of each syllable,
each consonant resembling a swollen arm, the collapsed ear,
a mouth full of teeth, each vowel
wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
the sound of that person's body
and how reckless it is,
how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.