Sunday, September 2, 2007

Life By the Hour

My stepmother Aliki is breaking my heart. She can't leave my dad's side and has slept for days scrunched up in a little chair in his tiny intensive care room. Last night she finally went home for a bit because she was sick but then she called me and said she couldn't bear being in the house alone. I held John so close. We breathe the same, our skin feels the same (neutrogena) and I remembered how lonely I was when he was just gone for a few weeks, even though there's lots of other stuff in my life. Aliki has fully committed the last thirty five years of her life to doting on my father. Her empty condo must be terrifying. She is still full of hope and while he is on complete life support, I have done nothing to disabuse her of this. There will be plenty of time for that. My visits are brief. I have other obligations. The real truth is, I cannot bear to see my father this way and I leave her there alone in prayer for hours at a time.

My dad is in the new Saperstein Critical Care Buiding. A whole huge wing emblazoned with "critical care" seems so very harsh. Maybe "the building that’s a teensy bit worse than the other one" would be more gentle. The cliche of callow young medical residents rings true there though. The girl resident phoned me at 3:00 a.m. to tell me that while she had bad news, she would first, the exalted medical school graduate, condescend to tell lowly, baccalaureate plus scant graduate credit, me, that my dad is a "really great guy." I failed to see the relevance of this and wondered if she had found my dad to be a real asshole, would she have pulled the plug or just lumbered on with him but trying much less hard.

It was with this same young Dr. Harrington (who called us, of course, by our first names) who came into today to discuss "do not resuscitate orders". Aliki shut down completely, standing catatonic with the mention of this (or anything else that intimates he won’t be returning to lie next to her in the night). I could not help but sense, the young Dr. Harrington, who undoubtedly worked very hard to be where she is, was enjoying the unusual lack of supervision she must have, on this, the last holiday weekend of the summer, and was getting damp panties from the power she felt while holding forth to us mere frail mortals, one of us now curled in a miserable chair and the other stretched out beside a loving healthy husband, writing in my blog.


pimimond said...

Layne, our thoughts are with you, John and the boys at what I know is a very difficult time. I know how much you love Al. I can only imagine how hard it is to go through this.

FionnchĂș said...

At Saddleback, it's the new Mieredonck or some such Critical Care Wing where I spent part of this same afternoon. I guess it's the growth industry all the investors keep urging the CEOs who cut our benefits to put their bonuses into as we all progress steadily, echo boomers, into this same "brave new world, that hath such creatures in't." The Tempest showed Shakespeare's crowds a new land, and we descendants inhabit its farthest western reaches, the edge of desert heat rather than the whisper of cooler coast-- I guess that's where the CEOs lounge.

This investment we all make of time and money and heartache: is it but that which has been made for millions of years by our own ancestors each generation? Will Wayne and Mimi receive the same care from Lulu and Woody? Will we from Leo and Niall? I guess every parent assumes such when the baby looks up blinking in the maternity ward for the first time at mama and papa. Then, years pass, and we fight and bicker and bitch and hope for a happier ending.

I see my dad returning to a boyish glint in his eyes, blue beneath a shock of unruly white snowy hair. Nine decades, he and Al and Adele lived into more or less, and what images they have seen. From Model T's and horsedrawn milk deliveries, flappers and WPA murals and war bonds and Gold Stars hung from windows. Reddi Killowatt and Ronnie Reagan for GE. Seeing us as toddlers as Kruschev banged his shoe and Kennedy vowed to stand firm, what thoughts went through their suburban heads when they tucked us in during October 1962? And, by then, or soon after with the Beatles surely, our own memories kick in and overshadow their own unique ones. And we rush past Godspell and Hair and biorhythms and moodrings and beige and shag into our own youth, and where they stop and we begin blurs.

Think as you read this of our own staccato maturity, our own overlapping generations, never truly separated from the previous or the one to come that we engender. We only have around our own lifespan an aura of 150 or so years when one will remember us, at best, who remembered them back a further generation. Jews say that's our immortality, and is it but a brief flicker spanning an eyelash of some eternal, preternatural gaze?

All the pomp and titles and Picassoes on the walls of Cedars, all its donor plaques and faux-Davids, what are they against the sunsets that faded long before any creatures walked this desert?
Keep poised, my wife, and stay ready as you continue your vigil. You know I and we love you all... xxx me

harry said...

John, this post is lovely and wise. Chris and I send our thoughts to you and Layne... so odd that you both must do this at the same time. I guess it can elevate what you say and feel together. But maybe that's just another platitude that falls to earth mercifully in the face of loss.

Increasingly I think there is a god behind the created God of our fears. A god, as you say, of sun and the world's turning, and the seasons, now of falling leaves, falling in both a CEO's garden or in the wild. May the falling lift you both.