Night Thoughts [UPDATED AGAIN]

December 1, 2010 at 1:50 am (By Amba)

“Home” from Florida.

I’ve taken to putting “home” in quotes for Chapel Hill.  Florida is home. New York, which I’d about given up on, is rapidly reacquiring its homelike magnetism.  (I had to write my address this morning and almost wrote my New York address.)

Chapel Hill never “took” for J — he always just assumed he was in New York — and it seems it hasn’t taken for me, either.  For one thing, I never got out into it and got to know it.  It has only been the place where I took care of J.  And so it only reminds me of him.  I can’t go through the parking area without seeing him sitting in his wheelchair in the sun.  Or seeing him not sitting . . . or not seeing him . . .  The place is totally defined by an absence.  It is hollow.

Not that New York won’t be strange without him.  But New York is where our hale and active life was, as well as both our lives before we knew each other.  The beginning where we part company again.  The reverse fork in the road.  The place to reclaim all that, separate, together, separate.  I need to give J back to New York, where he was something of a famous character, in his element, before I entered his life.  (His dementia taught me the humbling lesson that the best days of his life, his pride and prime, were before he met me.)  And I need to resume — immeasurably fortified — the independent discovery that he interrupted, even hijacked, the best thing that could have happened to me.  “Jacques therapy.”

*    *    *

My father asked me, “What do you think your life would have been like if you hadn’t met Jacques?”

Unanswerable question, of course, but I tried to answer it.  “I probably would’ve gotten married, had a couple of kids, and gotten divorced.  I would have been more of a typical member of my cohort — an ecofeminist, or something.   I probably would’ve written more books, but they would’ve been more like other people’s books.  I’d have been a bird of a feather.”

*    *    *

As J was dying, I chanted to him the names of some of the cats and people who would be waiting for him on the other side, if there is another side.  It was quite a while afterwards before I smacked myself in the forehead and said, “I forgot his sister!”  Who died as a prisoner in Russia, unknown to him, only 50 miles from where he was, only a few months after her capture.  Whom he rarely talked about.  Then:  “But maybe that’s because I am his sister.”  I’ve long thought that.  If there is reincarnation.  It would fit, in timing and many other ways.

*   *   *

I always thought of J as robustly physical.  So I was very surprised, after he died, to discover that more than two-thirds of that had been energy, not matter.  That’s why it doesn’t bother me that his body has been cremated.  It wasn’t him — at all.  This is true of everyone, but it seemed more true of him.  He seemed more physical and was, if anything, less so.  What do you know.

UPDATE: Well, of course this place is empty.  He wouldn’t hang around here for a second.   He’s back in New York already!

UPDATE 2: I was worried that my going to Chicago for 4 nights, and leaving J in the (supposedly excellent) hospice facility, where they had trouble taking good care of someone as big and relatively healthy as he was — someone who was just “parked,” rather than departing — was the trigger for his shingles.  I wasn’t comfortable about leaving him there, but needed respite and, having lost my job, could not afford a round-the-clock aide.  I asked my main ally the home hospice aide whether I should bring along extra-large Depends from the supply she brought me, and she said, “Oh, no, they have everything there, and if they don’t, they can get it from the warehouse right across the street.”  As it turned out, they didn’t have any extra-large Depends, and they didn’t bother to get any (though I brought him on a Thursday, so they didn’t have the weekend excuse).  So they couldn’t dress him, couldn’t sit him up straight in his wheelchair, left him parked on his bare tailbone in a hospital gown, and he got a pressure sore in 4 nights that he hadn’t gotten in 4 years.  The home hospice team was upset and angry that this had happened; but they were also on the verge of having to decertify him because he was too “stable.”

I’ll never know whether that discomfort and temporary sense of abandonment (he expressed his distress to me over the phone) contributed to his depressed immune system and the outbreak of shingles, but something else struck me.  Every time he has gotten seriously ill, it’s been in the fall.  He got a spinal staph infection in October 1975, descended into aspiration pneumonia in November-December 2006, and now this.  The dread of winter impressed on his very cells in Russia, and triggered by the cooling and shortening of the days, may have been the greater factor.

Even if I came up with this to make myself feel better, it is also true.  And as surprisingly “stable” as he seemed for how long he had been ill, the robust façade was deceptive.  He had declined, and was vulnerable.  His disease, called Lewy body dementia, had very slowly, with remorseless patience, dragged him down within death’s reach.

One more odd note:  significant events of his life tended to take place on the 19th.  He crossed into the Western zone of Germany on February 19, 1947, two days before his 19th birthday.  He fought in the Jack Dempsey tournament on September 19, 1949 or 1950.  He died November 19.


  1. realpc said,

    Don’t feel guilty about anything. You were his angel. I wonder if he will manage to contact you somehow, with some kind of sign.

  2. amba12 said,

    Not in CHapel Hill, I bet! :)

  3. realpc said,

    I know, but maybe in NYC.

  4. amba12 said,

    I wouldn’t be surprised.

  5. david said,

    If he does, ask him how the vinite [eggplant dip] over there is as good as his. Maybe they’ve already got him making it.

  6. amba12 said,

    Something like “Director of Sunsets”?

  7. Melinda said,

    When a sick loved one gets to the point where you’re saying “Maybe I shouldn’t have sneezed and then used the wrong form of the verb ‘to be,'” then they were at that point where anything could have finished them off. But it’s so common to wonder about these things. I did it when Jim died and my father’s been doing it about my mother.

    “Ecofeminist” made me LOL. I always feel like doing something incorrect around such people, like carry a non-recyclable plastic bag.

  8. amba12 said,

    Yes, of course. It was going to be something. Something in fall. Something this fall. It’s impossible not to think about but I’m not taking my own thoughts too seriously. I know they are just reflexes, like the last breaths of someone dying. The last gasps of love.

  9. Walrus said,

    I was wondering if you’d be re-evaluating Chapel Hill. Is returning to NYC a firm resolution then?

  10. amba12 said,

    Well, as firm as it can be before getting back an executed renewal lease. But the deal was, if I reclaimed the apartment before next February, my tenancy would continue. I hope I don’t have to rush back and occupy it full time in February; I’m aiming more for April.

  11. Melinda said,

    New York is looking forward to seeing you next Spring. :)

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