There’s always something more you can do. That’s what I’ve always told myself. I’m not being glib here. I always have. Always. That indefatigable sense of, well, I’m just not sure. Lay persons would call it optimism. Pessimists have called it idealism. For me, it’s been more of a mathematics issue: gamblers would paraphrase me with “you’ve got to play to win”. In other words, where there’s life there is, if not hope, at least opportunity.
If you’re waiting for an “until now”, your wait is over. This time, at least, I’m predictable.
Until two days ago, by far the nastiest test of my stubborn bright side was when Allen was very close to death. So close, in fact, that his body (he wasn’t there anymore) lacked the muscle tone to keep his vocal cords out of the path of his labored breaths. Go ahead, try it yourself: take a deep breath and sigh. A long sigh. But let your voice come through that breath. Awful, isn’t it? A hollow sound, plangent and plaintive and nothing more. As if Unstoppable Time is extracting life from you with a painful billow.
Still, when Isabelle coached me that day she told me, “There are details you don’t have to pay attention to anymore, Jeff. This isn’t going to end but the one way.” And still there was some stubborn, almost autocratic, bit of me that twitched with involuntary disagreement. It’s not that I didn’t know it would end that way, it’s just that the absoluteness of her words kept ricocheting around inside my giant head and standing my ground was the first attempt to make it stop.
The beginning of the end was only a month or so prior to his death, when I came home one day and he was speaking to me but not using the right words. He’d grabbed a pen and a notepad and wrote down what he was trying to say, but his assumption that it was only his speech that was damaged turned out to be wrong. There were words on the pad, but nothing any more sensical than his speech.
Approximately fifteen hours ago minus thirteen years, Allen’s body was making that exact sound. Approximately fourteen hours ago (again, minus the thirteen years), the sound had stopped. Silence had won and I despised it even while respecting its sway over our bedroom. I spoke softly and kissed him on his cold lips, saying, “Goodbye, Yog.” No tears, certainly no wailing. I was nothing but the Utilitarian Stoic: there were things to be done, coroner to call, family to call, my voice aimed at anyone who had the ability to hear me.
But this is not about Allen, it’s about me. That’s a new thing. As you might have read, I had a slightly-more-than-a-moment first-hand experience with aphasia myself.
And my previously indomitable “where there’s life there’s opportunity” obduracy has finally met its match. Oh, it’s “probably nothing”, my little aphasic episode. The doctors at Davies’ ER said so. “Atypical migraine” they called it. Two CT scans, one with and one without contrast dye, showed all-clear, but fear is winning. Fear is the mind-killer, it’s been written, but my fear is about the potential mind-loss. The philosophical cart ahead of the paralogical horse is not a practical configuration.
The fear is so front-and-center that I’m not sure about my LA trip anymore. A strange city where I know no doctors, no hospitals. A trip that I’ve so much been looking forward to—especially in getting to meet Adam—that I haven’t been able to much think beyond July 18. And yet still, right now, I can’t imagine myself doing anything but bringing people down, much less having any fun myself.
Anyway, all of this put another way? After Allen’s death thirteen years ago today I reminded myself with authentic confidence that “I’m still here”. It was a restorative that never failed me. Now I cannot even muster those words without also adding “but for how long?”
I miss him, y’know? But right now I’m worried that I’ll miss me more.