Dec 29, 2013

This happened several days earlier, he said.  He was flying in a small, low-wing, monoplane up the Nile River.  On one side, the white cliffs of Dover, and set in the chalk were huge tablets, hundreds of feet tall, each filled with Egyptian Hieroglyphs. The tablets were endless; the cliffs stretched off to the horizon. At the bottom of each tablet was a translation. Like a caption. But they were difficult to read and he had to keep circling.  The messages were like, "I come from the underworld." But then there were also crazy ones like, "Hey, tell Vinny I want the ova-and-unda."
"Is that what tipped you off?" I asked. "That it was a dream."
He shook his head and went on with this story, which was that when he woke up he was wheezing like mad. He'd been ill for several days.
"You know how sometimes when you wheeze," he said, "you hear things in the rasping. Well, I heard someone crying for help. Yes, in this squeaky little voice but it was clear as a bell.  There was no distortion. Crystal clear! And every time I took a breath there it was the same word, and so for a while I thought, 'well, it's just some kind amazing anomaly', but then I heard, 'Help me.' It was saying help me, and that's when I realized I was into something weird and some part of the exoskeleton must have come loose or God knows what. At that point I just wanted to get back in my plane and continue my journey...  But I woke up my wife and asked if she could hear it.  She got

Dec 2, 2013

Naturally, there was a question of whether to go at all, since we'd not seen her in several years. And the truth is, she was never a close friend, although my wife may have felt a distance I did not.  And so yes, we said, we'll go, we'll do it, why not. After all, it's the right thing.  And so we did, rolling up to Santa Rosa, listening to the game, the sound of the fog horn after each touchdown, and simultaneously trying to see through the nature of her struggle, and imagining what we would say to her, and how long we would stay....

At the hospital, we walked down one long corridor after another until finally we reached her room.  It was crowded, everyone moving around like communicants, coming to the rail, backing away, she, perfectly still, now completely disconnected,  save for oxygen.  She looked different of course, death was tucking her into its embrace and removing the last bit of furniture in what had been a castle of a woman.

Bones and kidneys were now baked from the chemo.  No white blood cells left.  For weeks the doctors had held out hope.  Well, we'll see, they said. We'll take it day by day and see if we can't round the corner.  But the corner was already rounded.  And still now, as we sat there, the oncologist was telling her husband that maybe tomorrow, if the white blood cell count went up, they could get back to the chemo.

Everything to keep the woman alive, at all costs, with no thought to her real condition, or to the preparations she needed to make for such a crossing.

Her husband was seething.  He'd believed the doctors for too long.  The nurses knew, of course. Now, he was ready to smite them all.  He's fired, he said to me after the oncologist left the room.  He doesn't know it, but that bastard is gone. 

The woman herself lay still, surrounded by her paintings and children, her lips chapped hideously, accepting slivers of ice, with the tranquilizing music in the background, and above her bead, photo panels in the ceiling showing the sky and leaves in autumn, the self-administering morphine in her hand. And for moments she was there and good, still with humor and clarity, to underline both the tragedy and the naturalness of it all.   And the meanness of it, we agreed later.

For a moment she recognized me and I held her hand.  She was telling me something but I couldn't hear, the sound of words was so subtle. I leaned in and still couldn't quite make it out.  "In another life," she kept saying and squeezing my hand, just barely.