Her Widow excerpt 20

Published October 21, 2018

Her Widow Excerpt 20

Continue from Excerpt 19

And then, without either of us noticing, your left eyelid drooped. Your handwriting became small and cramped. You lost your balance and fell on a photo shoot and those who were present to see your fall were alarmed, so we became alarmed. The cancer had metastasized to your brain.

Once again, we stopped work. We were back on holiday, and for a moment I was glad, until a hot fear crept up on me like a fire and backed me against a wall in a room without windows or doors for escape. I felt hopeless and I could taste the hopelessness on my tongue like bitter tea.

You went into the hospital for a brain biopsy and you came out of surgery doped up on anti-seizure drugs that gave you nightmares. My Dr. Ferro became our Dr. Ferro, your neurologist as well as mine. I wasn’t allowed in Intensive Care that first night, so I sat in the hallway outside the ICU.

At day break they let me step in to say good morning.
Your head was wrapped in white gauze. Your eyes were pale and watery. You looked tiny in the bed, as though during the night you had shrunk to half your size. It had been the worst night of your life, you said, and you made me promise never to leave your side again.

Once I had helped you cope with pain by rubbing your back. You were lying on your back, so I stroked your arm. You shut your eyes and tried to relax but your hands were clenched in fists. The thought crossed my mind that I could do a kind of Reiki on you. But what if someone came in and saw me doing that? I was too self- conscious to do such a thing until, like years before when I had felt self-conscious about getting down on my knees to pray, I found my nerve.

Stretching out my arms above your body, my right hand, palm down, over your head and my left palm down over your abdomen, I asked that healing energy flow through me to you so that you would be comforted. I don’t know how I was able to stand at your bedside, holding my arms out over you for such a long period, let alone that the muscles in my legs didn’t go into spasm. The palms of my hands became hot but didn’t tingle with pins and needles as they do in hot water or around a hot cup of coffee.

As I watched, your fists unclenched and the muscles in your cheeks and forehead relaxed. You looked serene, and I told myself I must remember how this felt for a later time when I might not want to let you go.

I left you a note, telling you I had gone to the bathroom and to get something to drink. I was gone less than half an hour, but you were awake and refreshed when I returned. “I swallowed the sun,” you said.

I will never forget looking into your watery eyes beneath that cap of white gauze and seeing them shine with life, seeing your indomitable spirit reflected in your eyes.

I have days when I’m touched by something unexpected like that, days when I laugh at something that is funny, days when I feel content.

Lightning cracks the shell of the night sky and great claps of thunder applaud.

Dear Catherine,
The dogs and I are getting walloped by a nor’easter and have hunkered down. On my way to bed I picked up Sharon Olds’ The Gold Cell and found a small drawing of yours tucked in the book. It is a colored pencil drawing of a dog curled up on the floor in the light of a lamp. It is an unexpected gift from you.

I know I promised you I wouldn’t contact my family, but yesterday it felt like a promise I could break. It was my dad’s birthday and I was feeling strong enough to handle a rejection.

Dad picked up the phone on the first ring and surprised me. He had a slight stutter when he heard it was me, but he didn’t sound unfriendly.

“This is unexpected,” he said.

I couldn’t tell if he was pleased or not.

I wished him a happy birthday, and then I said that I was sorry we were estranged and I hoped we could find a way to stay in touch.

He thanked me for the birthday wish, ignoring what else I’d said, but I wasn’t put off.

“I’m willing to hear your terms,” I said, and before I could say more, Dad jumped in.
“I’ll have to talk to your mom first.”
“Of course,” I answered.
We didn’t stay on the phone long after that. I asked him if a week would be
enough time and he gave me a cheerful,
“That would be good.”

I was relieved, even a bit hopeful although I knew what a hurdle Mom would be.
I promised I’d call the following week, and Dad and I said good-bye.

I left the house shortly after hanging up the phone to have dinner with a woman in Great Barrington.
When I got home after 1:00 am, the red light on the answer machine was blinking.
It was Dad.

“Joan, this is your father. I spoke to your mother and we have decided we want nothing more to do with you. You have been a terrible disappointment and we are too old to start up something new with you. If you want a family, why don’t you call your brother or sister and see if they are willing to renew a relationship.”

Although we hadn’t been on speaking terms for a dozen years, and I’d heard worse from Dad and Mom, his message struck a blow.

Well, that’s it, then. I need to let go and move on. For real this time.