July 27 1978

ansels tray

Another excerpt that got chopped from my book:



Too weak to write. I would like to die now.

Sue drops her pen onto the hard hospital mattress, the line just written reverberating. She wonders at how neutral she feels about dying now, compared to how worried she has been. There is a sense that everything is okay, and will be okay, forever. It has always been there, alongside or maybe underneath all the anxiety, but now it bubbles to the surface. She always knew it was the truth but had chosen instead to worry about things, and about time, a habit learned from her mother. Physical pain and emotional suffering were the big worries, and of course logistics. How would her husband get along? What will happen to the children’s scholarships? Her own games of fussing had provided a necessary distraction.

Sue sees herself falling in the kitchen, like a rerun on TV. Her greatest fear was being that helpless, that burdensome, and it infuriated her to have it realized. She felt like a whale, drowning on that kitchen floor. Her insistence on calling a car service was just her irrational fear of being that far gone. Then again, she couldn’t have planned it better. The fall had gotten her to the hospital, which is where she wants to be. Safe to die. She never wanted to die at home, with the kids around. Or Seth. Or anyone she loved. She feared them staring at a gray stiff body on the bed, her bloated belly taut. She wants a nurse for that scene.

She hopes she will die tonight. She lies with her eyes open, closed, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Her mind wanders off. It feels good to be rid of the anxiousness that has lived in her chest for as long as she can remember. It had grown worse over the last four years, her “battle” with cancer, which really did feel like a war of the worlds at times, obviously the culprit. Now that the fight is over the anxiety is gone. She senses it close by, wanting to get back in and have her worry about dying and what will happen after, but she’s not that weak. It’s all over now and she is ready. Her chest empty and light. The relentless pain that has been so busy eating away her life finally fading. The sun sinking into a watery horizon. The old hope for “improvement” that came to hold her life hostage finally snuffed out. The suffering that made the last weeks of living so intolerable has gradually spilled into pure exhaustion. The pen really is too heavy to hold. Her body feels something like a sponge, saturated, pure weight, absorbing the last bits of life and sinking, into the bed. Her prison home.

Her death sentence came in May when the cancer reached her liver, but it took a while for everyone, including Sue, to catch up. As her looming demise became clear to her, Seth and Jane, and even Kate, there was only the business of getting through each day. The tasks of brushing teeth and getting dressed became gargantuan chores. Two weeks ago she sat on the toilet, unable to lift up enough or bend over to wipe her self. Seth had to put on a raised toilet seat, which only worked for a few days before she needed a commode next to her bed. Sleeping pills and pain pills had to be crushed to get them down her swollen esophagus. She had blown up like a balloon.

She can hardly feel her body now. The days of worsening dysfunction just bad memories. Even the dull aches and sharp pains that have been her torture are losing their hold.

July 27th, 1978 and she is finally at death’s door. Her mind no longer grabs aimlessly for something to do. The task of working things out. What else is it good for? She notices a new kind of freedom she’s never felt. A fresh feeling beyond being untethered. Was she always tied to something before? What people thought? Ideas of the world and what it’s all about?

She is somehow floating, disengaging from the bloated weight on the bed. She is not dead. She knows that. She has no idea how to look into the abyss. Where is it? Is this her last choice?

She loves her life, her family, her friends. Already it all seems far in the past. It hasn’t been an hour since Seth left but it feels like days since she looked at his face. Goodbye in his eyes even though he said he’d be back in the morning. Sue hopes she will die tonight, but she has no more control over her death than she had over her life.

Forty-five years old. It was a decent life, short, but she’s not a child. She accomplished every goal she had. She married the man she loved, had a big family, contributed to the community, was creative in her work. What else is there?

The mind in free fall, she starts to see faces. The odd look on the doorman’s as Seth wheeled her through the lobby this morning. Jane’s teary eyes as she kissed Sue’s head. Dr. Farley and the visit with him a month ago, after which he was on vacation until today. Funny how the doctor she trusted most had disappeared in the end. His absence made her need to see him before she died. She still isn’t sure why. Maybe she wanted to see the recognition on his face that the war was over, but it didn’t happen. Farley wanted to do an X-ray. He couldn’t acknowledge her choice to face her own death. She suspected he wasn’t used to it, but that he respected it. He never came back to the room. Maybe he will, but she doubts it. She imagines him talking to Seth after she’s gone, telling Seth things he hadn’t been able to before. Or maybe Farley will brush by him like a stranger. That seems unlikely but at this point Sue is beyond guessing other people’s behavior. It might have mattered to her before, but no longer. Everything has that lovely quality to it of being supremely perfect just as it is.

She’s satisfied that she got rid of a lot of her things. Her clothes are still hanging in the closet, very few of them any use to her recently. The darkroom is all put away in case someone wants it and she’s left only a few of her files in the bedroom. Beyond her jewelry box and her books and photo albums, which she assumes the kids will want, she has nothing.

The slideshow stops. I’m ready, her mind says. Who am I talking to? She has no idea. I guess if there is a God I’ll find out soon enough. She smiles at her own joke and considers the possibility of a soul. She sees her own face, clear as a photograph in her mind. Not the round fuzzy mask with the sunken eyes and hairless scalp in the mirror. Her face. The one that disappeared slowly. Her brown hair curly and cropped close to her head, her soft blue gray eyes, her straight nose and full lips, her high cheekbones and smooth skin. That face seems to possess an image of her soul, she thinks. “That’s me,” escapes from her dry lips and gently startles her. She thought she was only thinking and yet she just spoke out loud by mistake, as if waking from a half-dream.

If she is dozing then she might also be dying. She lets that possibility sink in and feels a cool shudder course through her as she drops into the black.

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