There was only one time when Allen had to go to the hospital. It was a day in May. It was in 1995. I remember such mundane details now only because it was in the middle of the Apple World Wide Developer Conference that year.
Allen had become increasingly annoyed with my increasing mother-henning, as he’d put it. Which of course was, not insignificantly, an outlet for my increasing worry over his health.
It was two mornings after the first night that there was ever a problem with his overnight IV of TPN, no coincidence. A night of no nutrition and more importantly, of no hydration, had taken its toll. Only I didn’t know that before I left that morning to drive 50 miles to San Jose to the conference. I just knew that he was annoyed with me still, and that I, in turn, was pissed at him and then appalled at my ‘selfishness’ at being pissed off at such a sick man.
I snapped at him and he stood there, silent, glaring.
So, I thought, that is his answer: silence.
For the first time in our entire relationship—and, as bitter destiny would have it, also the last time—that I ever turned away from him. I grabbed my backpack and headed out the door.
I sat in the morning’s first WWDC session, a vast, dark room filled with Mac-nerd-filled straight-backed chairs, all of us facing forward to watch a fascinating, in-depth talk on who-the-fuck-cares-about-this-stuff-when-the-man-I-love-is-dying—
I left after ten minutes and drove back to the City, back to him. Where else could I be, really?
At the end of the longest drive ever, I walk in the back door of the house and he was standing there. Just standing there. I’d already gotten used to his gaunt face—if it’s at all possible to get used to the face of the one you love so much changing so rapidly—but this was different. So different, so stressed was I, so immediately lacking wherewithal, I snapped and started crying. I dropped my bag and walked out to the front rooms of the house. I sat down on the sofa and Randee, our little black schnauzer, hopped up there with me and leaned against me.
However long had passed then, I don’t know: I was still crying. I looked up and Allen was standing in the wide doorway between the kitchen and the dining room, still staring that different stare.
It wasn’t until he turned without speaking and walked away that I realized something awful was at play.
I couldn’t get back to the bedroom quickly enough, yelling the question, “What the fuck is wrong?”
I practically landed in the bedroom, he was sitting on his side of the bed, not moving, not even to light a cigarette. I asked him again what was wrong and he turned to me and spoke.
Except it wasn’t speech, so much as a series of words that made absolutely no sense.
There is panic that you feel when something bad is about to happen. There’s despair when you know something has happened. Then there’s that in-between time, when panic foments a despair that is, in turn, short-lived because fresh panic tells you there’s going to be even more bad stuff happening.
At first I thought it was a stroke he’d suffered, my first line of defense being an attempt to isolate and label what was wrong.
He spoke again and it was no better than the first attempt. I told him I couldn’t understand him, my voice already taking on soothing tones as tears dried up: another of my defense mechanisms. He grabbed the pad next to the bed and wrote down what he was trying to say. “Good,” I thought, “it’s just something affecting his speech and not his wits.” He handed the pad to me and the words were clearly written in his not-so-clear chicken-scratch, but were still out of order and nonsensical.
I got him to lay back down. I walked out of the room and called Laura, his—I almost said ‘our’—nurse and she calmly urged me to take him to the ER.
I got him to get dressed—he didn’t have much difficulty understanding me—and got him over to Davies Medical Center.
After 9 hours there in the ER—some of which was morbidly comical—and after doing a CT scan, they officially admitted him.
He would be there for two nights.
That first night there, though, after he had gone to sleep, Dr. Lisa Capaldini came by to talk to me. She took me into a narrow, overly-lit service corridor just down the hall from Allen’s room and told me the bad news: that the MAI had caused atrophy in brain mass and that such atrophy is a strong indicator of advanced HIV disease and that he likely ‘would no longer be with us’ in two months’ time.
That was the first time in my life I’d heard AIDS referred to as “HIV Disease”, but Lisa, knowing me so well and being so beautifully compassionate and empathetic anyway, had aimed her words with frightening precision. My brain switched over into clinical mode and I absorbed the information into that framework instead of being emotionally overwhelmed by it there.
She hugged me, and held me when I tried to escape the embrace. I melted into her a little, and that, too, took its intended effect. Perhaps she had wicked off that first wave of dread.
She wrote me a script right there for Restoril. Told me to stop at the Walgrens at Castro & 18th as they were already staying open 24 hrs a day and it was on my way home. She told me to take one pill as soon as I got home.
When Lisa speaks in a certain tone, I follow without question. I trust her that much.
I got home, popped a pill and took the dog for a walk. When we got back, I unhooked the leash from Randee, locked the back door and dropped onto the bed, face down, head to the side.
I remember blinking and not breathing. I remember the Universe stopping. I remember not remembering anything other than the news about Allen.
I drew in a deep breath, turned my face into the pillow and screamed.
It terrified me that I could not stop. Literally could not. The terrified part of me sat in the back of my brain just observing, just listening, wondering if it would ever stop.
I woke up seven hours later. When I saw the little orange bottle of pills sitting next to the clock radio, I started to cry all over again.
As it turned out, Allen had beat Lisa’s prediction by about three days. On July 13, 1995, just after midnight, Allen died.
So no, today is not an anniversary, no calendar will mark today as something historically significant.
Just a little orange pill bottle I had in my hand this morning as I called in a refill.