On November 7th last year, I found out my wife was pregnant. Joy. Elation. Thrill. Love. Magic. On the way to the hospital to see my mother, I should have felt like everything was going to be okay. Of course this meant that she would make it. Pull through. But I didn’t feel that way, and I didn’t know why. And I did know why.
I parked on the first level of the hospital garage. It was still early in the day, and I felt good about nabbing a close spot. I felt good. I felt good. I walked to the elevator and pushed the button. The ICU is on floor two, after making a right down the hall out the elevator, you turn left down a longer hall. Walk all the way down. You push another button and they let you in. You walk down another hall. Hospitals are series of buttons and halls. I felt good.
But as I walked down the ICU hall, I began to feel terrible. I got to my mom’s room. I see my dad’s face. I’ve had someone tell me once that great writing comes from staring into the white hot center, without flinching. Fuck it, I flinch every time when I look here. When I reach the end of that hallway and look inside, I see my dad’s face. I look away.
On November 7th last year, I found out my mom was dying. She was in already in a coma, not breathing on her own, and not having a single organ function on its own…so to say I just “found out” would be a lie. But hope died for me that day, and my mom followed two days later.
There’s another detail from the day that sticks out. My wife went to work that day, blissfully unaware of all the hospital drama. Oh, you know, just the hourly revivals from the blood pressure bottoming out as twenty nurses storm the room in full riot gear. That was just too much information to text her. I didn’t feel like it.
So my wife had no idea how serious things had gotten. She’s a social worker and was doing home visits with her elderly clients. Her clients are seriously depressed in many cases, and one of them chose that day, of all days, to go on some kind of hunger strike. The wife freaked out and decided this could not happen. So she went to the grocery store to buy them food.
And that’s how this incredibly weird phone conversation happened:
Me: Where are you?
Her: (Describing client drama, then grocery store drama.) At first I was just going to get them a rotisserie chicken, but the grocery store was out of the freaking chicken, HOW DO THEY RUN OUT OF CHICKEN! So I got them a meatloaf — and then I was thinking it was really weird and random to give my clients a meatloaf — but I didn’t want them to starve — so I…”
Me: So you’re in the grocery store buying a meatloaf?
Her: Yeah. How are things going?
Me: She’s dying.
So in my effort to protect my wife from the horrible details, I just ended up giving her this “meatloaf guilt complex” that she was wasting time fretting in a grocery store when she could have been at the hospital. Really though, we were just sitting in the lobby area sobbing and waiting for things to get worse. I find this whole tangent of a story line kind of funny. Or at least a relief from the major story line.
Then there’s the other story line where the wife found out she was pregnant. Oh yeah, that small minor detail that happened just that morning. I’d like to tell you there are no words to describe the two feelings crashing up against each other. That there are no words for holding the beginning of life in one hand and the end of one in another. That there are no words to describe the tension of the opposites. But the truth is, we live with these tensions every single day, and there are words.
It is like being in the water on a raft, with the sensation of the water trying to pull you down, with the sensation of the raft buoying you up.
It is like being a kid on New Years Eve, excited to have permission to stay awake until the stroke of midnight, and then finding out the next morning you’d fallen asleep.
It is like rain at the beach.
It is like knowing logically there is no God. There is nothing else. Come on, you just know this. But then you refuse to believe that, because you feel something else, something opposite inside, some teeny tiny flicker of light. And that’s called faith.
It is like the day after Halloween, knowing that your favorite season, the fall, has faded away. The leaves are fallen. It’s cold. The stores already have all the Christmas stuff aggressively catcalling you, but the holiday is still so far away.
Among the things we talked about in our last conversation, my mother told me she wanted to drive out into the country to see the leaves changing. She didn’t make that drive. They changed and fell without her, and now they have changed and fallen without her again. It is like that. I don’t know how, but it is.