I’m on my way to Sydney to sit with my husband, who has suffered a massive stroke.
Though we’ve been married for some twenty-six years, a second marriage for both of us, for the last few years we’ve had little to do with one another. Ours was a ‘love of my life but we can’t live together ’ situation.
We could never bring ourselves to divorce. “I’ll never want to marry anybody else,” he said, when I once angrily advised him to expect the papers. Of course, his response disarmed me completely, and I realised I probably wouldn’t want to marry anyone else either, so we never took that final step.
I thought I saw him for several days before I heard the news of his illness. Going about my business in the little village where I live, I thought I saw him walking ahead of me, the loping gait, the baseball cap, the jeans and checked shirt.
I remember that every time he was about to make another appearance in my life, I would sense his presence in the days before he arrived in the flesh, or rang up, or emailed, or sent something in the post. So I knew these imagined sightings were precursors. He always said he also knew when I was about to make an appearance, because he started dreaming about me.
I don’t know why we couldn’t sort it out a whole lot better than we did.
He said he wanted to die before me because he didn’t want to be on this planet if I wasn’t. I said if that was the case, I wanted to lie down beside him and hold him in my arms as he left me.
He may or may not know me now.
For some reason all the planes were full today, so I’ve had to take the train. As it turns out I don’t mind at all. I don’t feel like being above the earth. I feel like being firmly upon it. The landscape is simply gorgeous at 7am on a winter’s morning, with fog rising above the rivers and paddocks, and sun on the dew. My best friend, with whom I share a house (she a widow, me still yet a wife) drove me to the station in the dark. I call her Mrs Chook. She calls me Senora. These nicknames have something to do with a trip we made to Mexico, though I’ve forgotten what. The Dog, who yesterday cost us $200 for his dental hygiene, was left sulking at home.
Yesterday Mrs Chook visited a sleep clinic in search of a remedy for her snoring. Around 6pm she walked in rigged up like a suicide bomber, with wires on her head and hard-cased things wrapped around her torso to monitor her sleep. This is because I recently refused to travel with her anymore in situations where we have to share a room. It was for her own good, I told her. I would have injured her eventually, probably fatally.
Mrs Chook has lately had to care for her ageing mother and a sick brother. We have been thrust into a world of aged care facilities and hospitals, an area both of us have been free of for some time.
At the other end of the cycle, we regularly spend time with my youngest grandchild, to whom Mrs Chook is an honorary grandma. This gives both of us a satisfying sense of connection with the beginning and ending of life, of extremes we don’t understand, but that somehow fully ground us. Without each other, neither of us would do it half as well, I suspect. It seems to be our fate, for the time being, to stand by the others as they move into life or out of it.
I think it will be hard to see him helpless, he who was always vigorous. How he will hate his present predicament, if he has any awareness of it.
I have spent today with him. It’s terribly difficult to understand him as his speech is severely compromised. “Why are you here?” I think he said. “Because I love you,” I replied. “Aaaah,” he sighed, “take me to the Opera House.” “Not today,” I said, “but I’ll sing if you want.” “No, no, no!”
His food arrives. Baby mush, the same stuff I fed to my infant grandson two weeks ago. He rails at the nurse. “Not you! She’ll feed me! Her!” All goes well till dessert. “Not fucking apple sauce! I won’t have fucking apple sauce.”
That came out quite clear.
Then he cries. And cries. His body is so small now I can scoop him in my arms. These last weeks my arms have been filled with baby Archie, and now they are filled with him.
Then five minutes ago, a message that another new grandchild is on its way, and will arrive in the autumn.
Who could have known there would be so many tears?
This is what my arms are for. The beginning of life. The end of life. I am glad beyond words, that I have them.