They say that after a big earthquake, the aftershocks can last for years. (There's an equation, called Omori's law, that predicts it, but I was told that when it came to grieving there would be no math.) All I know is that they are still coming--though admittedly with less frequency--and that even now I occasionally find myself walking the dog and crying in the rain because all of a sudden I remember things.
Michael never wanted to go to the Emergency Room. Who could blame him? He got stuck with needles, had too many xrays to count, and all too often found himself back on the fourth floor of the hospital for another prolonged stay. So when he said he thought he needed to go, I knew to pay attention. He'd only just finished a hospital stay for infusions not to long before that day. We'd celebrated his release with migas and Bloody Marias at our favorite brunch spot. He seemed tired, but mostly okay. Fucking chemo, it battered his poor body so badly and that once big robust boy had little left in reserve.
He said he thought he needed to go, and I bundled him into the car. It's only a five minute drive, especially at night where in a pinch one can be generous in anticipating the change of the traffic light, and so there isn't much time to talk on the way. I only remember one thing he said, "This is the last time you'll have to do this." He knew. Somehow, he knew.
He couldn't get out of the car when we arrived, he'd gotten a little garbled in his speech and he could not lift himself from the seat. In a panic I ran into the ER--like 7 minute mile pace ran--and a sweet if ancient security guard helped me lift Michael into a wheelchair. Then he brought some water. And then another oxygen tank. Michael started to lose consciousness in that bed in the ER. The room was so cold, and I was trying to sleep on two metal chairs pushed together. What did we want to do? they kept asking, and I kept thinking "We? I can't ask him. I don't know. I don't know what to do. Somebody tell me what to do."
And then it all speeds up. The Intensive Care Unit. Machines always beeping, alarms going off, is it daytime? Is it nighttime? Phone calls. Horrible phone calls. "I think you need to come here. I think you need to come now." Rush home to change clothes. Let the dog out. What time is your flight? People appearing in the room. More alarms going off. My god, the alarms. Two a.m. in the hallways, "Please, somebody help me, I don't know what the machines are saying." A familiar face appearing out of nowhere; a friend's wife on duty on the ICU floor. We can't help him. What do you want to do? "I don't know. I don't know what to do. Nobody ever told me how to make these kinds of choices. I don't know." Whispers, "I love you, help me. Please help me." "I'm taking you home." Did he understand? Did he even hear me? I don't know, I don't know.
Shift the dining table to make room for the bed. Nap in an armchair I'd dragged by his side. When was the last time I slept in the bed? Why was nobody sleeping in the bed? The funeral director, What would he want as a service? "I don't know. I don't know. We didn't have time for this talk. He didn't want to have this talk." Gasping. Thrashing. Where is the fucking nurse? It's 11 o'clock at night and I'm talking her through navigating the goddamn construction zone around our house. Get a cloth. Get a basin. It's not long. To my brother in law, Oh god, call your dad. Call your mom. Get them here, now. I love you. I love you, and it's okay to go. We'll be okay. ("Will we be okay? I don't know. I just don't know. Oh shit.") And I'm holding him. And he's gone. And they take him. And they all go. And the dog collapses. ("Fuck, the dog too? Is this happening? Tonight? Please not tonight.") And I am finally back in the bed. Alone. The machines are off, and it is so so quiet. What happens now? I don't know.
It doesn't happen so often anymore, the sudden bursting into tears. It kind of surprises me when it does, like the earth giving a shudder just to remind you how much upheaval it underwent. What am I crying about now, after so many months? Am I crying for him and all that suffering? Am I crying for the poor frightened girl I was that whole time? I am crying for the poor frightened girl I sometimes am now? Am I crying for that sweet old dog, who held on for me another three days before she, too, died in my arms? "I don't know. I just don't know." All I can do is nail the prints to the wall and bolt the bookshelves upright, remember to stand in the doorway for shelter, and hang on through the aftershocks. Maybe somebody could do that effing math for me and let me know when the earth will finally be still, because as it is I just don't know.