Stress, age, meds, insurance, breathing apparatus, survival. As I go up the steps to his bedroom all these things swim in my mind but above all, the one time we became more than close friends.
I hear him before I can see him. Each breath louder, drawing me closer and into a world I don’t want to accept. This belongs to the parents, I think. The older generation. Then I remember; they’re all dead.
His wife greets me, hugs me, brings me first to their kitchen where I deposit homemade banana bread and chocolates. She looks the same, this dear friend I’d wronged so long ago. I lived in their home. Slept in the next bedroom over when I’d been between houses. The first time I’d been homeless. But there are more secrets we’ve kept, more that we, with our eyes, agree to keep buried still.
He could have been laid out in his coffin; that’s how he looks in the bed. Twenty years that I’d missed, twenty years that we hadn’t shared ageing. Distance of time, distance of space, distance of choice had reassembled the past into a pleasant memory. We were forever young there. Forever strong and death was still out of reach. Suddenly close, it is a surprise.
Do you remember: the time you took in my cat overnight and he flew up your Christmas tree? The time we all dressed in black and stole apples from the orchard across the street. How we all hit the ground when we saw headlights and you tripped in a woodchuck hole. The next day we made apple butter. I still taste it.
I try not to make him laugh. He’s on oxygen. His voice a thin whisper between breaths. But that time, oh yes, that time at their wedding when in the middle of their pictures they watched me fly by in my hot yellow sportscar. I’d burned a hole in my dress with the ash from a cigarette blown in by the speed. She shows me the wedding album of their daughter. Instead I see them.
She asks if it would bother me to see her feed him. I say no. She holds a tube up that leads to someplace dark and hungry under his shirt. She tells me he’s gained back eighteen pounds with the formula. We joke about adding Jack Daniels.
Look out the window, she says. The pine tree was my housewarming gift. Now it touches their house with its branches, has filled its rain gutters with its needles. It is unbelievably tall and as threatening as the disease that threatens their life.
There are others there, their daughter, his brother and wife. VNA, OT, RT and other initials, in and out.
We jockey cars in the driveway several times. Inside, each time I go back, I hear the breathing, the struggle. Reality now. Then I must say goodbye. Take care, I say, as if he weren’t every day fighting just to take those raucous breaths that tick like a second hand on their kitchen clock. I threaten to step on his air tube that leads through the house like a thread holding onto the past. He calls me a bitch but he laughs. There is a moment caught in our eyes that flees to a time--then it is gone. There is no past, only present. There is no purpose now but to survive.
published 5 March 2011