Which of the following seems more true: You take a piece of the places you visit with you, OR you leave a piece of yourself there from you?
This awkwardly-phrased question came to me as if I were interviewing myself after watching the sun rise on what has got to be one of the most beautiful spots on earth. People would make human sacrifices for this view—or else pay buku bucks for the right to experience it. I’ve been here for almost a month and all I had to “do” was be friends with the right amazing people; watch the world’s cutest dog; feed 2 outdoor cats; remember to water the plants—mostly cacti. Easy-peasy.
It is an Amazing of the surreal variety, this place, this view. So amazing, in fact, that it’s possible to miss it. How quickly the body and mind adapt to extremes.
I make an effort to remind myself on this beautiful morning with some mental chatter.
You are here—look out. Record this into your cells. Take it with you.
A variation on that question: What shall I take? What will I leave behind?
A silent “hmmm” is required. I move on from the inquiry for a while.
In my travels, I have found a new respect for myself—a Self which is often alone…and by “alone” I don’t mean some sad, pathetic whimper à la “Woe is me–I am all alone!” Alone–as in not in the immediate presence of others.
Out of this respect has grown a need—a need I think we all have whether we know it or not; whether we like it or not—to be with myself.
If the italics didn’t do it for you, I’ll point out that the “with” is intentional.
My late husband Dan used the word “with” specifically and more than most. “Talking with” instead of “to”, for example. He believed in conversation—in the art and science of “Co”.
We were, indeed, a Co—a pair. When one of us couldn’t, the other did. I experienced perhaps the ultimate example of this the year he underwent his cancer treatment (never the right phrase but the phrase nevertheless). For what seemed to me like the first time in our decade together, he could not.
But I could. I did. I would have always…
Record the moments, I say to myself, looking out—but even the bad ones. You will use them like fuel in the days when your soul attempts to trick you, insisting, “There is nothing left”…
Ah, but there is.
It is said—it was said to me, at least, by several ICU nurses, that many patients die at the specific hour of 4—AM or PM. They—the dying, also often wait until no one is in the room. Maybe someone steps out to make a phone call; perhaps legs require stretching; the stomach rumbles—hunger beckons. In these normal moments, death reaches out and helps us cross over to that place without form.
I almost missed The Moment because nature called.
Before, after, during…record the moments.
Dan spent his last 3 days in the ICU. Intensive Care—polite hospital code for “Game Over”. Dan would have laughed, even if you didn’t. I won’t write the harrowing story here. I could not properly explain it anyway. I can only say it was like living inside of a waking nightmare mixed with the truest, realest moments of love possible. Dan was experiencing high fevers and couldn’t breathe well on his own, so after many tries with various breathing masks, the doctors, also in denial it seemed, put Dan into an “induced coma”; he was intubated.
I will never forget the innocence with which Dan said, before it all went down, “I just need a little break.” He thought he was getting a break; I knew what was really happening.
We were saying goodbye—or else I was. Except I really wasn’t.
Even when every last bit of hope is illogical, hope persists.
Hope is a friendly cockroach—he will outlive us all, quite literally.
He died 3 days later—Dan, not the cockroach. Right after I’d told the doctors to stop the medications keeping him artificially alive, which was right after I decided it was more difficult to go into his room in that unnatural state than not, which was right after I saw him hanging out outside of Stouffer College House at the University of Pennsylvania—all 6’4” of him, his sometimes-blue eyes wanting to, but failing, to intimidate me, which was right after he held my hand at the Philadelphia Sixers game, which was right after I travelled to Berlin to visit him during that year he studied abroad, which was right after we never discussed how to “make this work” because it always would, which was right after the weekends he’d take NJ transit to visit me in New York, which is right after his parent’s got divorced his senior year, which was right after I decided to move to Dallas to be with him instead of following a different set of dreams back to New York, which was right after I had a meltdown in our room one afternoon, which is right after he asked me to marry him, which is right after we moved again and a few more times, which was right after he woke up one morning and said,
“I can’t go to work today”,
which was right after a year of poison and a closeness reserved for people in their 80s, which was right after the cancer was gone, which was right after it reared its ugliness again in full force, which was right after I said, “I have to go to the bathroom” and left that room…coming back just in time.
And that’s when the lines on the machine went flat.
During the nights to follow I’d wake up from a restless sleep–the kind that only happens to feed an exhausted body. I would panic after realizing what had happened actually had.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye.”
My mom, who slept on my couch for 14 days after That day, said just the right thing.
“Susan, you could never have said goodbye to him.” She was right. And I probably haven’t yet. Or will.
I left of piece of myself, and he took a piece of me.
Look out, notice, keep the moments in reserve…