“I always thought you were a bit of an ass.” Pops looked cheery, almost completely alert.
I hadn’t expected him to be so alive; he hadn’t said a word the last time I came to visit. “Just a bit of an ass.”
“You can’t mind me saying that. You’ve had it coming with all of your nonsense.”
“Well, it’s better to hear you say that than you being dead.”
“You know what my Gramps would have called you, yeah? A real son of a bitch.”
“He did call me that.”
Pops slid down in his bed and looked off to the side. “Get me that bottle, will you?”
I looked around for a bottle of rye – that was his drink of choice – but couldn’t find anything. “I don’t see it.”
“It’s right in front of you, you idiot.”
There was only a plastic pee bottle by the sink.
“I have to pee.” He shook his hand at me. “Can’t you see that?”
I gave it to him, but he just held it absently and then lay on his side.
“Want me to help?”
“A bit of an ass.” He closed his eyes. “More than a bit.”
He died a few weeks after that.
What was it you said about me? I remember that. I’m not that smart. I’m not. But I’m not that stupid. And I don’t forget.We weren’t a loving family. We did what we were supposed to do. We’re not like that anymore. I try to care, as complicated (selfish) as I know I am. I want to do what is right.I want to understand. And yet not like that. Not in the deep dark waters. Not in the room of death. How are you? How am I? I am dying. I know that. I accept that. As much as I accept anything else. As much as I accept this li(f)e.
Jean-Dominique Bauby’s tersely poetic memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, typed from the blinking of an eye, is harrowing and crystalline clear, moments chronicled by a man on the precipice of death:
I am fading away. Slowly but surely. Like the sailor who watches the home shore gradually disappear, I watch my past recede. My old life spurns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory. I went to Paris and was unmoved by it. The streets were decked out in summer finery, but for me it was still winter, and what I saw through the ambulance window was just a movie background. Filmmakers call the process a “rear-scene projection,” with the hero’s car speeding along a road that unrolls behind him on a studio wall. Hitchcock films owe much of their poetry to the use of this process in its early, unperfected stages. My own crossing of Paris left me indifferent. Yet nothing was missing – housewives in flowered dresses and youths on roller skates, revving buses, messengers cursing on their scooters. The Place de l’Opera, straight out of a Dufy canvas. The treetops foaming like surf against the glass building fronts, wisps of clouds in the sky. Nothing was missing except me. I was elsewhere.
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“As for the disposal of your bodies…”
This was an initial meeting, many years before anything would actually have to be done. They were only preparing him for the idea, the fact that this event, one day, would occur. It was a fact of life.
“The body hair is shaved…”
He considered his veins and joints and thought about how he had been the only one who knew them, that they were solely his, his intimates.
“Bodily fluids are drained…”
Once he was gone, that was it; there were no bodies, no veins and joints. They would rot. But the fact was that he could not surrender these parts of self – his very self – to this man or any other. They were his. It was as simple as that. He had to leave.
“An incision is made…”
He didn’t raise his hand. He kept that, like the rest of him, close to himself, as he made a long backward step and pushed open the door.
“Excuse me?” The man’s voice was sharp, suddenly unpleasant.
He only half turned back, still pushing open the door. “Yes?”
“Where are you going?”
“Out.” He left.
I remember when we bounced in the big chair to The Partridge Family and K-Tel’s Fantastic 22. And I remember when we threw the little metal Santa Claus too high and it smashed through the window and we all ran. There were the trips to the cottage, the puzzles, the rain, the boat trips across the lake.
I remember your pained expressions too, you not wanting to be there, anywhere but with your dumb siblings, away with the crowd, all the excitement and things like that. And I remember not liking you so much for any of that. But it’s just kid’s stuff now, right? We move on, yes? I mean, if you hold things too tight, they drive right into you and there’s nothing left, just petty agendas, seeing everything in the world, except where you came from. And that just goes on until you get to the end and then you wonder what happened.
I can’t move my head. Not even my shoulders. I am pinned, a bright side light on my face and neck.
I am flat and horrible, my eyes wide, stuck against the ground. Stuck there, panicking. I can’t even move my leg. I have no control. I am completely helpless, trapped by monsters, people I don’t know, who have left me here to die, to be tortured and think nothing of it.
I try to close my eyes to make it go away, but it is still there. I can’t move. I want to scream but I can’t even do that. I am stuck in this silence with not even myself, with nothing but my labored miserable loneliness.
(Yeah, I know. I always end with a tree.)