Monday, September 25, 2023

I Always Sucked at Taking Selfies

     That's why I took very few of Barb and me. In fact, I think this is the only one that has survived into posterity. Now, I wish I'd taken more, like one a day. Yeah, I took scores of pictures of her every Christmas but they were just of her opening her presents, but they were just of her. Same with the ones I took of her when we went out to eat. Never of us.
     I never posted this one, despite it being my favorite of the selfies I took of us, however few there were. Now it's out.
     The colander, funnel and cutting board are still up, as are all the dozens of corks of the bottles of wine we'd enjoyed over the years, the little plastic animals she'd put up on the molding. But one very important thing is missing and has been missing for seven months and, now, forever.
     A friend of mine emailed me tonight to express his condolences and I wrote him a long email. But sometimes the emails I write him wind up, for one reason or another, on the pages of this blog. So I'm going to share something I never told anyone but him and my son, Adam.
     When I had my first heart attack in July last year, Barb was still living with me. I told the story about that. I went to bed with chest pains the night before and they were worse the following morning, When the cold sweats came, that's when I called 911. While they were working on me in our bedroom, I told the EMTs that my girlfriend had dementia and couldn't be left alone. "Could you please call a second ambulance and have her taken to UMass Memorial?" They said they'd take care of it and they had.
     Here's what you don't know:
     When I had my first attack, I was crying in the ambulance because I was afraid of dying. I held the nurse's hand like grim death and hoped I'd get to see my girlfriend again. But some time that day, I don't know why, I'd lost my fear of death. Until that time, I was terrified at the moment of my own extinction, especially when Barb came into my life in July 2009. But for some reason, all that was lost.
     Knowing she was at the hospital in Marlborough, I checked myself out of St. Vincent's in Worcester (because it was the closest hospital with an open cath lab) less than 24 hours later. I needed to get her out of Marlborough because I simply didn't trust them. Yesterday's post shows why.
     And that's what I did. I got her out with the help of my sons and brought her back home. We stayed in our air conditioned bedroom, took our meals in bed and relaxed.
     So, when I had my second heart attack last April (that I'd also written about here), I had less than zero fear of death. The cardiologist told me this was the one that nearly killed me. I lay there, impassively listening to him and insisted I wanted to go back home. As with the last time, they wanted to keep me for another day and I said I felt good enough to go home.
     By that time, Barb had been held prisoner in UMass Memorial since March 8th and I had nobody and nothing to come home to. But I needed to get out of that place.
     My fear of death has been completely absent since July last year. All this time, while not taking stupid risks with my life, I've been blithely going on, not caring if Death would suddenly take me. If it did, it did.
     Now that Barbara's gone forever, I actually welcome death. I have no future. My fiancee died this month. Next month as a chaser: Eviction.
     I can't be that guy living in a van down by the river, especially as my van isn't running. I can't be that guy, not at my age.
     They told me at St. V's that I'd need to be on Lipitor for the rest of my life to prevent another heart attack. Until I got the news of Barbara's death yesterday morning, I was planning on going to the local drug store to see if my cardiologist at St. V's would give me another three month regimen. Now I have no desire to do that. My supply is getting low but I now have no desire to refill the script.
     People have asked me on Facebook, "What would Barbara want you to do?" I can answer that by unhesitatingly saying, "She'd want me to go be with her." Her spirit is probably lonely, confused. Maybe she's awaiting me, waiting for me to take control like I took control of everything in our physical life.
     So I'm just going to stop taking the Lipitor. And when I have my next heart attack, I just won't call 911 and climb into bed and await the inevitable. Because that's the only future I see. And then, if the universe has any mercy and compassion, it will reunite me with the love of my life. 
     The authorities took everything from us- Each other, our home, autonomy, my identity and purpose in life, the will to live. And, eventually, Barbara's very life. What else do I have to look forward to? Homelessness?
     I am literally the only living organism in this house, Our cat died January 8th last year, now Barbara's gone. I haven't even got a potted houseplant. So, I want to go be with her and just place my trust in a universe that may or may not exist.
     Then Barbara and I will be beyond the reach of judges, lawyers, social workers, bureaucrats and evil relatives who told lies about me to justify kidnapping my fiancee from me. If I meet her waiting to transition where loved ones await us, I'll help her as I had the last 14 years.
     I used to work at the same nursing home where Barbara died. There was an elderly couple that was admitted back in 1996 named George and Mary Rice.
     Mary was plainly on the way out. She had a palsy and was in the last stages of dementia.  They didn't even bother feeding her because it was obvious she was there for hospice care. All she could do at that time was lie in bed, her legs spread, shaking and moaning constantly.
     Her husband, George, was the very picture of devotion. I remember briefly talking to him now and then and he always seemed lucid. And every day and night, he'd sit on the right side of his wife's bed and hold her shaking hand, his head down, the lights dimmed.
     A week later, Mary died. I was the freight elevator when the funeral home collected her remains. Her emaciated corpse was in a body bag on a gurney right behind me and it was probably the creepiest experience of my life.
     It was at that moment that George literally and figuratively lost his shit. The next thing anyone knew, he was jumping in the elevator, shitting his pants and trying to run out of the main entrance downstairs. I know, because I was the one they tapped to clean up his diarrhea.
     A week after Mary died, George died, too. In the final week of her life, George held it together as if keeping his own incipient dementia at bay for Mary's sake. Then, when she was gone, he lost the will to live, his purpose for being. And he simply let the levees get topped.
     It was the saddest end I ever saw to anyone's marriage and it made me realize that there's no such thing as a happy ending in marriages. No matter what, some tragedy, misfortune or another will make that relationship end badly.
     When Barbara was taken away from me and sent to live out her days in loneliness and isolation in that same nursing home (at least Mary had George by her side), I was terrified at the thought of her ending up like Mary Rice. I was just as terrified of me winding up like George Rice, lunging into elevators and losing control of my bowels.
     Well, half of that scenario has come true. So, while I'm still compos mentis, I'm going to seize control over the last thing I will have control over- Facilitating how I go out. I literally have nothing left to live for. I haven't finished or completed a novel in going on three years because as Barb's condition worsened, it absorbed more of my time and energies that subtracted from my writing time. When Barb had to go in the hospital last March, I was 93,000 words into a Scott Carson novel before I dropped it Then I started another novel that I also dropped then another.
     But it's plain that I long ago lost my identity as a writer and it evolved into caring for Barb and that was OK. As long as we were living cheek to jowl, even in her diminished capacity, that was enough. Even if I never wrote another book, I was OK with that.
     All that's gone. It's all gone.
     I was at the Marlborough Amvets Post 1980 yesterday afternoon. I met up on FB with someone whom I'd known since, ironically, 1980. We chatted, caught up on old times and in the last few days of Barbara's life, we agreed to meet up on Friday the 23rd. By the time I arrived, I'd just gotten the news of Barbara's passing and plainly wasn't there to party.
     It was a function, a 50th anniversary bash for a couple I didn't know. In fact, my friend was the only one I knew and we hadn't seen each other in 21 years. They had a country and western singer from Nashville, which automatically put me in a bad mood because I hate C&W. I plainly had no business being there but a promise is a promise. 
     There was a selfie that she took of us yesterday, likely the last picture that'll ever be taken of me. It's one of two that we had taken.
     There's none of the happiness you can see in my eyes in the first image. The wretch in that photo of is a picture of a man at the end of his rope. My downcast, hazel eyes perfectly expressed not just depression but resignation that an unjust universe is going to have its way with me and that the ending will not be happy.
     Again, I was like that turd in the punch bowl, the one thing that didn't belong. But I was there to see the girl I was sweet on 43 years ago. But then, as she did back in 80-81, she kept jumping up and running around, trying to have a good time, leaving me in her dust.
     Harsh words were spoken that shouldn't have been.
     Yeah, my heart was breaking. Yeah, I cried at the table. I'd just gotten the worst news I ever got. How can you reasonably expect someone to put on a brave face during a party? I said I was there to see her. Surely, that counts for something, right?
     I guess not.
     So, I've become George Rice- Old and in the way, my grief intolerable to people who lack empathy and have nothing to offer but, "I'm sorry."
     Ergo, perhaps it's time to shuffle off this mortal coil, as the Bard said, and make as graceful as exit as I can.
Post scriptum: She and I made up, she unblocked me and I apologized for everything I wrote to her. I don't want to go out like that. I'm even sending her a signed copy of THE RIVER NEVER SPEAKS.


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