The Other End of Sunset

Friday, September 12, 2008

Trapped, squid-like, in a dryer

And I will try to connect
all the pieces you left.
I will carry it on,
and let you forget.
--Dixie Chicks

Have you ever watched yourself be really sick? I mean, really, watched yourself be ill. I have.

You might see yourself in a seedy, dirty-covered mirror in a bathroom in the middle of somewhere you never thought you'd be. Or you might see yourself in the words of a song, or a book, or a story.

Or you might see yourself, being very ill, in the eyes of a loved one, a friend, a fan.

Regardless, in that moment of stark clarity, you see it all. You see how you got here, you see where you are going.

And sometimes the journey isn't what you imagined.

And I'll remember the years...
when laughter and life
filled up this silent house
--Dixie Chicks

Today is the last day I will ever likely spend in this bright house in the East Bay.

The house where I met her, marking branches on the pine trees in the backyard with little red pieces of yarn. And how happy she was that I talked to her about it, with only a small amount of humor.

The house I came home to when she called me to tell me she had cancer.

The house where we sat on the back patio and argued about Elton John lyrics.

The house where she told me she loved me.

The house where she died.

And it's been a while
since I first saw you.

I've come back here to say goodbye, again, but for real this time. I am sitting in the house, alone and silent, trying to feel her presence in the walls.

The house has no noise, no movement, nothing but ghosts now. The only sound is the scrabbling of my fingernails against the keyboard. And the sound of my tears.

Why must I feel this way?
Just make this go away
Just one more peaceful day

I couldn't figure out how to say goodbye, so SL made a great suggestion -- go to each room, and sit and think about that room and the memories in that room.

So, let's walk, shall we? Do watch your step, that's fresh blood.

Let's start in the heart of a house -- the kitchen. In the kitchen, where she used her little Mac to play games and to email with me. When I bought her a new mac with a camera, she figured out how to use the camera to take a picture of herself and emailed it to me.

She was so proud of herself, in that little grey and pink button up sweater she wore, and her face so yellow with jaundice. But the smile was real, and was for me. For something she could share with me. Perhaps the last thing, she feared.

SL and I went through the kitchen stuff a few months ago -- dishes, pots, pans, and the random stuff that accumulates in your kitchen over time. I appreciated the help getting that task done. Kitchens are a part of family -- you spend your life in a kitchen with your family, either birth family or chosen one.

Moving out of the kitchen, let's move into the front hall. One time when Jeanne was in New York on business, I was out one night doing something, can't remember what. We kept our dogs in an "ex-pen" in the front hall while we were out, so that our Dalmatian wouldn't chew. Somehow, the Dal managed to turn the water on in the prep sink there in the hall, and had flooded the entire ground floor of the house. The dogs had worked together to slide the ex-pen over to the stairs, and they were huddled on the bottom stair to keep from getting wet. Tyrone was crying his little brown eyes out... in fact, as I walked up the path to the door, I heard him yelping and thought that he'd gotten hurt, they'd had a fight, something. So I came rushing in the door... to step in 3 inches of water.


OK, get dogs, send them upstairs to dry off, warm up, and generally be less annoying. Mop floor, call insurance agent... and then call Jeanne. Luckily she didn't mind me waking her up at 1 in the morning or so.

The next weekend, we noticed that all the tiles were loose in the hall, so we spent a fun day popping them off the concrete in preparation for the faux wood floor that lives there now.

Into the living room, where the parties always are.

There's a TV on the wall of this room. An old friend installed it for me -- when he bid the project for me, I told him he had to work only at certain hours, and the like, because Jeanne was ill and needed her rest. By the time he came to install it, she was dead. So I told him he could work whenever he wanted to.

He stumbled over his tongue trying to tell me he was sorry. I walked away in the middle of his sentence, and it never came up again between us.

The same living room where I told her I didn't believe in marriage anymore. The look in her eyes as she thought through it, and decided that I was worth it, even if she didn't get to marry me.

Such big mistakes made in such a small, nondescript room.

Now let's go up the stairs, perhaps starting in the master bedroom. She had a game -- the question game -- that she loved to play at night. She'd ask me random questions, to get me to talk. I never asked her any back. And, I got really annoyed at her for the game, and snapped at her, one night after months of this. I felt like I was getting the third degree, like she was looking for some failure in my past. She teared up, and never played again.

It wasn't until months later that she told me that the game was just so she could get to know every bit of me, and that she wasn't judging, at all. She just wanted to be nestled inside my skin.

That was her goal, and I yelled at her.

Down the upstairs hallway to what is now the dogs' room. Lots of great memories of SL and I putting the dogs away and playing with them there. It's also where my elliptical trainer lives... which isn't such a good memory, I guess.

When Jeanne was alive, that room was our office. It was piled high with random papers and computers and compact discs in the wrong cases. It was anarchy. She thrived on chaos, and couldn't be bothered to be organized. She was an artist who decided to be an executive, because being an artist wasn't a "real job" and she always had to be in a real job.. not for herself, but for someone else. Until she internalized that rule, and decided not to follow her artistic dreams.

There's something sad when an old gambler gives up the dice.

The year she got sick, we moved the office downstairs and made that into a guest room. I can't remember why, now, but it seemed smart at the time. We made the now ex-office into a guest room, very neat and tidy, with a clock and a bedside lamp, and grandmother's handmade quilts on the bed.

That was where her mother slept... only during the day, so she could sit at Jeanne's side all night long, every night, holding her hand, helping her do whatever needed to be done in the dark of the night.

I wonder what became of those quilts.

And, finally, we get to the end room. It's the guest room now, and the closet is filled with SL's overflow clothes. But, to me, it smells of antiseptic and liquid ativan and fear and doubt. I don't even like going in there. Every time I do, I see her lying there, on the bed, dead.

Or even worse, I see her lying there, dying, but super excited to see me and smiling as big as she could, her teeth white against her skin.

I couldn't help her. I didn't know what to do. And I still don't, so let's leave this room, quickly.

Back down to the living room, with the painting on the wall that she bought from the friend of that evil weirdo she knew in HR. The same painting that SL fell into one afternoon as we were laughing and dancing around.

The painting that reminds me of a prison cell, with some sunshine flowing through the window, and clipped out pictures of hope in the form of flowers, with a count of years scratched into the wall. The unknown criminal who scrawled the years woke up every day in that cell and realized that another day had passed in prison, and that another was to come.

I call the painting "I'm still here", because there is still hope, sunshine, and flowers, even in the darkest places.

Sooner or later it's over
I just don't want to miss you tonight.
--Goo Goo Dolls