(Note: I wrote this during the February blizzards and then didn’t post it, because I felt as if I had been maundering enough about the 2007 death of the man I divorced for the sake of my well-being and sanity, still swear at under my breath now and then, and will nonetheless love forever.
Today will be the third anniversary. I still talk to him, when I’m alone, and ask him to watch over cats in peril or ill health wherever they may be. I don’t believe he can do this in any sort of afterlife [he would have wanted to] but I do know it.)
As I was typing a comment elsewhere the sounds of chamber music from the radio in the next room kept plucking at my ear. I finally went in and turned it up. It’s the Schubert E Flat Piano Trio, still going.
The night my former husband died — septic shock was the proximal cause, and it ran through him pretty quickly — I got to the hospital just as a couple of nurses were engaging him in that device-heavy way that tells you nothing is good. You know how it goes if you have witnessed this kind of situation: sophisticated gadgets on carts with digital readouts and coiled cords. His heart rate was jumping around from forty to eighty, and I don’t think they could get a steady blood pressure. Septic shock does that. I sat down at the side of the bed and said “Dude, this is bullshit. Gimme sixty-five. A nice sixty-five. You can do that.” He was past the point where he could talk, but he was definitely conscious. They had the oxygen fork up his snoot. Pure oxygen dries the hell out of you, but it was doing him some good.
After a while they adjusted him on the pillows and cranked the oxygen up to the max, which stopped him lunging for breath, then went to work with the IV stand and a bag of Vancomycin that had just been run up. This will kill damn near anything from bubonic plague to athlete’s foot if you get it on the job soon enough, which is always the question of course. They started the antibiotic while I hooked him up to headphones. I had been rotating his favorite recordings through the hospital room for two months; I remembered him describing the last movement of the Schubert trio as the sound of the sun breaking through on a crappy day.
I phoned his idiot niece, she being the only relative in driving distance, had a confab on the subject of DNR orders with his remarkably decent doctor, and returned to hold his hand and feed him ice chips. It occurred to me that I was almost out of cell phone minutes and I let go his hand long enough to check.
Something didn’t happen, like when you wake upon an unremembered holiday and don’t hear traffic. Certain kinds of quiet can be bottomless, even when noise is only twenty feet away. I dug my knuckle into his breastbone and gouged back and forth, hard. That is an EMT move I learned from my Albino Ex, which will get a rise out of anyone who is not in at least a profound coma.
The nurses were more formal, with stethoscopes to amplify the silence. They yelled his name and then said “I’m sorry;” they were as good people as I ever hope to meet. The shift supervisor took the headphones carefully off his ears and laid them on the blanket, where they issued a tinny sound of Schubert, the sun coming out far away. It was a cheesy little disc player that I got at the warehouse store the week he went into the hospital. After that they unhooked all the other stuff and cranked the bed down, but they left the music for me to stop.
Schubert died at thirty-one. That is the age I was when my onetime husband and I met, oddly enough.
They sent a doctor around so that he could be officially dead. Because of the difference in our ages people often used to take me for his daughter, but this fellow, somewhat hurried and looking as if he had been woken from a catnap, just asked (not unkindly) what my relationship was. “Ex-wife,” I said, then amended it. “Best friend.”
I see on Amazon that the recording, which uses period instruments, is out of print and costs sixty bucks for an unopened copy. I used to keep it on the short stack in the room where I see my clients, but I don’t put it in the player any more.