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In the immediate weeks after Mikey died, I spent a lot of time thinking about the day at the hospital. It was still so fresh and so raw, an open, sticky wound begging to be covered up while at the same time seeming strangely like it should have been even worse. I looked back often, sometimes haunted, but not always — usually feeling like I was searching for something that would make sense of it, or trying to use those memories to pinch my psyche. My mind’s way of reminding my heart that this is for real.

It’s been more than three months since we lost him, and after awhile, the hospital thoughts faded a bit. At least, I thought they had. Lately, though, I’ve found myself mentally retracing my steps during that day, and picking through the haze for other details. Like the matching coffee table and end table in the ICU waiting room. How the end table had a pointy finial on its metal base, but the one beneath the coffee table had broken off. How the backs of the chairs alternated, curving up, curving down, curving up, curving down.

I’ve grabbed on to certain images, flashes so vivid or intense that I don’t know whether to allow them to stay or try to fight them off.

Like when I held his hand in the ICU, stroked his hair, looked at his face, his arms, his hands, his legs. The first time I went in and saw him, I told him to hang on. Dig down, find one thing to hold onto, until they could make him better and help him to heal. You only have to hold on,  I told him during that first visit.

A few hours later a doctor came in and said Mikey was experiencing a “catastrophic event” and we should say our goodbyes. I went in with my parents. My mother left first, then my father. And for a short time, I was finally alone with him. I held his hand. I remember looking at his forehead. I don’t remember everything I told him, but the gist of it was go ahead.  If you have to go… then go. I’ll make sure Zoey remembers you, remembers how much you loved her. Have a good trip.

Have a good trip.  I know that one is verbatim.

Did he hear me? Did that help him? I have no idea. All I know is, I sensed him leaving. I was so cold in the hours before that Wednesday evening visit. There was a weird, sucking feeling in my chest. He was leaving and I didn’t feel right to tell him to stay, or even to tell myself he would stay. I tried to pray for a miracle, for a recovery. I tried, but it felt like praying for a snow flurry — you knew it was theoretically possible, and had in fact happened before, but was highly unlikely to happen today.

Another memory. “Mikey, Mikey, Mikey, Mikey…”  Walking down the hall, away from the waiting room, away from those fricking automatic ICU doors, hand over my mouth, face contorted, feeling that heartbreaking pain rocket through my torso, Danny at my side, his arm across my back. I don’t even remember when this was. Wednesday afternoon? Thursday morning? No idea.

Then there is the cold, vaguely irritable memory of the nurse. I walked into the ICU on Thursday morning with Lee, Mikey’s roommate, escorted by the nice, but vacant-headed, volunteer lady. A few nurses were clustered at the main desk, and as we passed, my eyes locked with one of them, a smallish blonde with glasses. Shhhhhhhh,  she quietly hissed to the others, expertly making the sound while barely moving her mouth. But I let my eyes bore right into hers. I heard you. I don’t know what you said, but it doesn’t matter. I can tell what it means.  I still try not to be angry at her. Logically, I know she was just doing her job and trying to maintain a certain level of discretion. It’s fair. But emotionally, I don’t appreciate it.

And the weather… A day or two after Mikey died, it rained. And rained. And rained. I don’t remember if it was for one day or two, but it was awful. Inside and outside, it was dark and depressing, and it felt like an insult. Right, because things aren’t already bad enough.  But good weather felt like a betrayal. How dare the sun shine? How can everything look so damn normal and pleasant?

As cruel as they can be, maybe moments like these are a blessing, reducing us to our barest state, tearing away all the things  that have complicated us over time. When you’re gathered with the people you love most, watching one of your own slipping away — looking around the room at the red-rimmed eyes and drawn faces, thinking about what it means to love and be loved and to be born and to die, wondering where we go when we leave here, hoping we can survive being the ones left behind — that’s humanity in its purest form. Spiritual beings trying to make sense of life, and death, on Earth.

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“Ouch!”
“Uh-oh, what happened?”
“Bocket.”
“Um… a bucket?”
“No! BOCK it.”
“Oh, you bonked it!”
“Yes.”
“Aw, I’m sorry.”
“No say sorry ’bout that.”
“Okay, sorry.”