They’re Playing Our Song

(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.Schubert

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.


14 thoughts on “They’re Playing Our Song

    • Some things we never do get over but they become, somehow, more remote. This is the first time this day has come back around that there has been something like a skin between me and the memory.

      The truly sad thing was that the man was gone from my life, in a sense, before our divorce was ever final because of the way he had started to disappear into the least definable mental illness I have ever encountered. I used to say it was as if Dora from David Copperfield had had an illegitimate son with Bartleby the Scrivener. He just looked at all of life outside of chess, music, reading and his daily routine of walks and said “I prefer not to.”

      But I still find myself wishing I could hear what he’d have to say about almost everything I see going by in the world.

  1. Very moving, and the music … Sometimes I think a human is like a goose in that he /she cannot forget another goose. Whether this applies to cats too I have no idea. It pains me he can’t be there with you to say about all that is going on before your eyes. And in fact, a person who looks at life outside of chess, music, reading walks cannot be shallow. Mental illness is often just bullshit, it is known …who says where’s the line between sickness and healthiness, the world having been changed more often by ‘the sick’ and less by the healthy (& conformist) I suppose.

    • You have touched a point that’s important to me. If we “cured” all the “mentally ill” people in the world, most of the creative, innovative and glorious people, and their works, would be lost to us. I’m crazy too: unsociable, reclusive and obsessive. I hope I can score some points with the creative part before I croak.

      My late and ex was lovable because of many characteristics that in another slant of light became liabilities. It would have taken very little for him to stay on the right side of the line that divides swimming from sinking… very little from our point of view, I guess. To him, he had no choice but to resist doing anything that would bring him any income (he even resisted applying for assistance to which he was entitled), or neglect health and hygiene, or hoard weird objects and debris in remote crannies of my house. Even in the later years though, he taught chess to children, if someone would give him a ride to the school.

      He just did exactly what he liked, like a cat. There is something about that you can’t help but respect.

  2. I’m crazy too: unsociable, reclusive and obsessive.

    Craziness is VERY attractive. You have a way of thinking / writing that is original, creative. Scoring points is not that necessary, in case you mean success, while, if you mean ‘reaching creative goals important to you and you only’ so that you can say: “Ah lemme croak now, I did what mattered to me”, that is different.

    Although, it is only partially a valuable observation, since success is not bad in itself, it is confrontation, confirmation of value, the only thing being the total imbecillitas of the public. When I was 17-18 I had some success as a singer and guitarist. It didn’t make me that happy because of my musically idiot audience.

    On the whole to me what counts more is doing something for others – which I rarely do tho I’m starting to do. He loved teaching chess to kids? Wonderful! And I’ve always respected cats, one can hardily help it.

    • Actually he was snarky about the kids in private and did it in part to make himself persona grata at the Washington Chess Center, but when I saw him around kids he was always talking their language with what appeared great success and pleasure. Believe me, I can’t do that; I genuinely detest children and get out of their presence as fast as humanly possible. He gave something to them, as he did to immigrants trying to learn English, another thing he coached for free (he would always teach them some rude and profane expressions, as well, just to arm them in the struggle).

      And yes, I just want to do what I came to do. I’ve stabbed at it, but it hasn’t happened yet. (Do you know, these days I almost forget that I sang and played six-string guitar in college; I wrote a couple dozen songs that make me wince now, but people would listen. I think it had something to do with what they smoked in most colleges at the time.)

  3. I think it had something to do with what they smoked in most colleges at the time.

    ah ah ah, you made me laugh.

    One example of your prose I liked: “My late and ex was lovable because of many characteristics that in another slant of light became liabilities. It would have taken very little for him to stay on the right side of the line that divides swimming from sinking…”: just an example, you wrote better passages, but it is effective.

    And, you are teaching me many words.

  4. Ah, Sledpress. I can’t think of a better tune to have in my head as I go out of this world. There are lots of good ones, of course, but this one is stately, measured and beautiful. I can see why you don’t play it in session, it is important to stay with the client and not get stuck in your own space.

    Sometimes I think that you and nursemyra are my tutors for what I will most likely have to go through when Jim dies. (Hopefully in the distant future) I hope I will be able to cope as well as you women do.

  5. I, too, subscribe wholeheartedly to the view that if we got rid of all the ‘weird’ people, the world would be a much poorer place. Quite apart from the art, music, poetry, architecture etc etc that these misfits create, think of the boundaries of science: our understanding of our world, our bodies, our minds have all been increased by people whom others no doubt regarded as strange crackpots.

    Having said that, doing only the things one wants to is admirable (and very catlike) as long as it only affects oneself, but can still be jolly hard to live with, I imagine. It becomes unacceptable when one’s behaviour and obsessions begin to impinge negatively on the lives of others, but luckily that is rare. Really, someone’s reclusiveness (or their desire to keep their lawn organic!) does not negatively impact others – they only think it does because of their own obsessions.

    Thank you (both) for introducing me to that wonderful piece of music.

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