The man steps off his ladder and folds it. He mutters something, but a nurse nods and he is gone soon after. He replaced the fluorescent light in the ceiling near the foot of my bed. I guess that’s good because the flicker from the old one made a noise I found unpleasant. It wasn’t like a hum, which you could in time find soothing and then fall asleep to.
It doesn’t matter much anyway. Each day I grow more tired; it’s a miracle if I can stay awake for longer than a couple of hours. Still, it’s nice not to hear that sound anymore. See! There are still moments in the day worthy of discussion.
Today it snowed. Can you imagine that? In May! My window faces University Avenue and I could see it blowing around. Maybe I’d like to live a little longer.
My son said to me once that there were some things about living that are good. When I really think about it I agree. Like rain on my tongue. Ice cream cake. Seeing monkeys in the trees. Riding on a Harley. Walking so much that I burn a hole into my shoe. Dirt in my hair. Once in my youth I lived in Argentina and I can still remember the crushed chalk that lined the paths in the public parks, and how it would waft in the air and settle in my hair. It used to irritate me back then but now, I think, that was living.
Mostly though, what I love most is feeling the sun shining on my face. One early evening in Buenos Aires I stood for a long time on the gazebo in Barrancas de Belgrano as the sun was setting. In those days, the 1980s, there was never a rush, especially amongst the Argentines, who after years of living through a dictatorship were enjoying life without reservation. I was impervious to reality in my youth. But I felt content, in a place where I was free to be myself, without the limitations inflicted on me back home; a culture I found to be more puritanical than it ought to be. A culture struggling to find itself. An identity not yet formed.
There was something more potent about the sun in Argentina. It penetrated my skin. As I stood there, my eyes closed, I allowed it to consume me, to wash over my face, to clean my soul. There was always, when I was younger, a feeling of immense possibility. I felt to a degree invincible, as though I could not be touched by time or mortality. As Spanish was spoken around me, as I was caught in my own sense of self-importance, there was a freedom that age cruelly stole.
Still, I remember that sun. Nothing mattered more to me in that brief moment than standing on my own two feet in what I perceived to be independence. Before responsibility, wifedom, parenthood, occupation. Rites of passag implored on me to follow. They were choices that made up life.
My niece texts me everyday. She can’t visit me on account of this damn pandemic, but it’s the thought that counts, you know? People care, they want to see me. I think about when I was her age. Middle-aged these days seems young. What was I doing on a summer day when I was 40? I would have been married for a decade.
Derrick. Dear Derrick. He’s going to be lonely. I’m all he has left. I guess on a summer day at 40 we’d be going about our routines, I’d like to think we’d be on a picnic in High Park, but we never really did anything like that.
I find that people never really live when they are healthy. It’s when life changes that they wish they had done all of the things they never had the motivation to do. When you’re married a long time you take each other for granted. It’s not that we didn’t see each other, we did. But after a while you both become furniture, a curtain adorning the window frame. You look, you notice it’s there, because it’s always there, but you don’t stop to really appreciate how it’s protected you. Shielded you.
We had a son, David, who died at 16. Leukemia. When you watch your child struggle and feel pain you would do anything to trade places. It’s not natural to watch as someone you gave birth to departs this planet before you. And then all the dumb things people say to you. He’s in a better place. Just trash sentiment. How do they know? You seethe quietly, smile, nod your head and pretend you’re okay when inside you want to throw yourself into the box along with your dead child, wrap your arms around him and never let him go.
Derrick and I never really talked about David’s death. Isn’t that strange? We were there for one another, we’d go to bed and wake, prepare for the work day and then repeat. At times we went to visit David in the cemetery. You would think we’d bring a gift with us, place it on his tombstone, but we didn’t. We never thought of it really. Two stupid old fools standing in front of a stone talking to the air, hoping somehow those words would find David in the ether and nourish him.
Come to think of it, we haven’t been to visit David in a long time. I think the last time was before I got sick. Another thing you start to take for granted. The days turn into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into years, the years into decades. Eventually so much time passes you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror anymore. You don’t feel old, but you are old. There’s this stranger in your reflection, all sunken, wrinkled skin. My eyes got old first. All those years of laughing I guess, and they crinkled and puffed. Then the rest followed.
Still, I’m here. Did I mention my niece texts me everyday? It’s nice of her. She’s getting old too. 41 now. Old! She’s not married, has no kids, but she’s happy. She gets a little choked up when we speak on the phone. My voice isn’t what it used to be, perhaps it’s on account that I don’t speak that much anymore. Or maybe it’s the sickness that’s taking me. Maybe a combination of both.
She told me that she’d like to visit. She’s angry at the state of affairs, cursing the government at their rules during this unusual time.
It’s okay, I tell her. You know sweetheart, maybe it’s best that you can’t see me. Remember how I was before this ravished my body. Remember that vibrant woman. If you saw me now, it would only make it harder for you. Death is incomprehensible sweetheart, you can never wrap your mind around it. Think of me going to sleep, waking up in some garden somewhere, my body renewed. It’s so much easier to choose to be happy.
That’s always a line I tell people when they’re upset. To be honest, I say it so I don’t have to hear about their problems! But this time I meant it. I want nothing more than for her to be happy. I’m a blip, my illness is a blip in her life. Hopefully she’ll live longer than she knew me.
This old broad is about to kick the bucket. What a lark it may be! An adventure. Where do we go when we leave this place? I don’t know. I soothe my fears with thoughts of something magical that may await me. Is it juvenile that I think of clouds? Lots of clouds. All 75 of these years will amount to something or a whole lot of nothing. Maybe I’ll disappear. Isn’t life funny? You live a whole life, and then one day, poof, no one who knew you is around to remember.
That would happen when Derrick and I said goodbye to David during one of our visits. We’d walk around the cemetery. Often we would find graves of children who died much younger than David, a hundred years before any of us were born.
That’s when I get confused. We have no choice but to live the course of this life we’re born into, but it’s hard not to ask, what was it all about? What were all those experiences and memories for if they were going to evaporate one day? I will be a name on a tombstone, and some day a young man, strolling through the cemetery will come across my epitaph. Perhaps it will say something like, ‘loving wife and mother’. But he will not know my height, the colour of my hair, that I was here once like him, breathing in the air, worried and excited, content and bored. He will not know that. We go through most of our lives ignoring those who are right in front of us anyway. It’s not a tragedy. It simply, is.
Someone, I don’t know who, maybe I read it, told me that it’s scientifically proven that energy cannot be destroyed, it just takes another form. I don’t know what energy is to be honest, but it sounded nice. Still does. Maybe there’s hope that it wasn’t all worth a damn. When I imagine energy I see a translucent ribbon that pulsates white light. I cannot figure out if it has consciousness though. What would that be like? Will I know the answer soon?
But truth be told I’m getting bored with these thoughts of mine. They cycle through my day so often that nothing entertains me anymore.
When David was dying I couldn’t quite let myself believe it. He’d never been healthy, true, and worry became my life. Somehow though, it became usual. I always wanted him to have as normal a life as he could. That’s all any parent wants for their child, ill or not.
In his fourth year he became sick and spent a lot of time in the hospital. He loved his soother. I know, he was four, ridiculous sucking on a soother, but he loved that damn thing so I let him have it. When I was at work one day my sister called to explain that the nurse had taken it from him and wouldn’t give it back. I couldn’t get to the hospital faster, and I don’t know what came over me, but I raged. I raged at that nurse unlike anything I have ever done since. All the hurt and worry consumed me. My son wasn’t going to endure another indignity. Another challenge.
The rest of the staff, and some of the patients looked at me in horror. They must have thought I was fit for the asylum, maybe that I had escaped from one. Funny thing is, I never felt more sane and more certain. I have always thought that I was perfectly normal at that moment. It was the rest of them that were nuts.
I wish I had emoted more. We’re encouraged to feel as little as possible, and not to express ourselves when those feelings become nearly impossible to control. The purpose is to make others comfortable. Now, it doesn’t seem much like anything that a few nurses thought I was a loon. I shouldn’t have felt so embarrassed. It was nothing. No one will remember.
Is the sun on the gazebo in Barrancas de Belgrano still there, waiting for me?
Well, that’s enough now. I think I’ll get some sleep. They never turn off these lights, except at night, but even then, they dim them.