Year To Live Project: The Price Of Love
The Price Of Love,
March 25, 2016 – Santa Fe, NM
Skeptical is an understatement when it came to my thoughts on seeing a therapist, but I felt like I had to do something. Dating had become a nightmare.
“It says here you work as a bodyguard,” he read matter-of-factly off my intake form. “And if I’m reading this correctly, you’re here because when you see someone eat by themselves it makes the room spin around on you. Is that why you’re here?”
This was fifteen years ago and it’s still true to this day. Therapy didn’t cure me of it. I can’t be in a restaurant and see people who are there by themselves. I have to reposition myself or ask for a new table that obscures them from view. It fucks me up in some weird way, feeling the loneliness present in most people making me want to invite them to my table or hug them and tell them, “Everything’s going to be alright.”
I fell in love with my ex-wife when I saw her across the pool of her little L.A. studio eating a burrito by herself. One bite viewed and I was in her bathroom trying to keep my shit together for a number of reasons before we sat down to study together.
Last Friday I walked in to hospice to see my 93-year-old patient Jerry eating dinner in his brown recliner – by himself. The image deftly knocks the wind out of me like a well placed uppercut to the stomach. I have to breathe my way back into my body to get the room to stop spinning, and have a feeling this visit may be a doozy.
“What’s your name again?” Jerry asks as I settle into the wheelchair beside his bed.
“English, huh?” he says.
“Good call,” I say. “How are you doing today?”
Jerry is upset. I can tell he’s not his usual energetic self. Something is eating at him.
“I cried today,” he tells me. “There was a revolution in here last night, I tell you. The nurses are sick of us. They made me watch as they skinned a man alive. I can still hear him screaming. They gouged his eyes out and then cut through his throat with a pair of scissors. Click, click, click, the scissors went right through him.”
Jerry makes cutting motions with fingers to punctuate the point. “I couldn’t help myself from crying. I’m no baby though, you know.”
Maybe doozy wasn’t a strong enough word, I keep breathing.
Jerry is breathing heavily as he relives this story, stopping only to shakily feed peas into his mouth. Every second forkful leads to an explosion of coughing and sputtering that jolts me to the edge of the wheelchair, completely unsure whether I’m supposed to Heimlich someone with a “do not resuscitate” order.
“Why do you think there was a revolution last night?” I ask.
“It’s not real,” Jerry says. “I know that now. It’s my delusions. It’s my damn mind, I tell you. I see things that aren’t here, but I don’t know that until the next day. My brain. You see. My brain isn’t any good now. It’s my delusions.”
“Do your doctors know about your delusions?” I ask. “I bet there’s something they can give you to keep them at bay and give you some peace.”
He puts his fork down and looks out the window for a minute straight before returning to me.
“What’s your name again?” he asks.
“That’s right, you’re English,” he says pleased with himself for a second. “I can’t tell the doctors. I don’t want to. I just don’t.”
He continues growing visibly upset and hides his eyes from me. I lean in closer.
“Why can’t you tell your doctors, Jerry?” I ask gently. I’m supposed to be on his side and have the ability to raise a stink if Jerry’s not getting the care he needs.
“What will happen if you tell your doctors?”
“My wife, I can’t tell them because of my wife…” he starts to say, but stops and looks back out the window.
I lean in as close as I can, assuring him the conversation will not be overheard by anyone else and truth can be told.
“What will happen to your wife if you tell your doctors about your delusions?” I know from prior conversations with both Jerry and his son-in-law that his wife passed away from cancer years ago.
He looks back out the window and quietly begins to cry. I put my hand on his shoulder and wait until his gaze returns.
“On the days I have my delusions…on those days, my wife comes here to visit me,” he says. “I have her back. I love her so much and she’s back with me.”
Fuck. The room starts rotating around me again.
“She comes to visit and climbs in bed with me and sleeps next to me all night long. When I wake up in the morning, she’s still here. Then I look away and look back and she’s gone and I start to see the most horrible things. I see horrible things, but it’s worth it to have her here.”
The room picks up speed. I try to focus on him while simultaneously pushing away the image of my own wife lying in bed with me on the day she left. Even though it was over a year ago I can still hear the sound of her laughter echoing through the bedroom that morning. I can still feel her hand on my chest, and smell clearly the scent of her hair. I put myself in his shoes and understand the decision to live through a horror-film nightmare all for the chance to sleep next to a lost love. Wouldn’t you?
“Do you have any idea, Trevor, any idea what I would do? What I would do to feel her lying next to me for real for just one night? Have you ever loved a woman that much? This is what they do to you.”
“I do know, Jerry,” I say. A knife twists in my stomach and I bite down on the inside of my cheek to keep from throwing up.
“Do you know what women do if you don’t take care of them? They leave you. They leave you with only their lingering smell the faint memory of their touch.”
Jerry’s a fucking poet.
My teeth meet through the flesh of my cheek with an audible crunch. I can taste blood in the back of my throat. The room is dancing like a drunken teenager out on the town clutching her first fake ID.
“I know,” I tell him. “How bout we read some of that Lee Childs story together?”
For a man with the attention span of a goldfish and an active set of hallucinations, he’s not falling for my ruse.
“I’m afraid if I die today and she’s there in Heaven she will have found someone else. What if she’s a young woman again and I’m in this old body? She’s been up there for five years now. That’s a long time to be without me. Can I tell you something? Can I tell you my wish?” he asks.
“You know you can tell me anything,” I say, praying to God what he says next has no correlation to my own past.
“This is my dream. This is what I want. I hope when you get to Heaven, your past gets erased. Everything you’ve done to hurt someone is forgotten, everything she’s done to hurt you is erased. The times you couldn’t give her what she needed. The other men she was with, all of it.”
He looks back out the window. The thousand-mile stare. Here but not here. Neither of us are. Seeing but not seeing. Lost in a mix of memory, pain, confusion, and hopeful anticipation.
“I hope your past gets erased, but the woman you love – your wife – the one you’ve known since you were twelve years old. The one you grew up next to. The one who waited while you went to war. The one you had your children with. Her. I hope your past together gets erased and you get to spend eternity together just being in love. And that love never goes away. That’s what I hope Heaven is.”
Jerry’s hopeful wish has slapped me back into the present. The one hope of anyone and everyone who has ever loved and lost, articulated with stunning clarity by a man who can’t differentiate between murder and reality in the given moment.
His honesty and truth have stopped the room from spinning and we’re both back. Back into the four sterile walls and antiseptic smell of the nursing home. Back into the world of the living. Back to the reality that Jerry’s jovial roommate from last week is now noticeably gone and soon enough Jerry will be getting all of his questions answered first hand. Back to the world where uncertainty plagues all of us and people go to restaurants to eat by themselves just to mess with me. Back to a world filled with questions that can’t be answered from here.
“I don’t know much about Heaven,” I tell him. “But I have a feeling your wife hasn’t found any new guys. I have a feeling she likes coming and climbing in bed with you as much as you like having her here. That she comes here because she still loves you despite what happened while she was alive. I have a feeling Heaven is exactly as you’ve described, that you get to be with the one you love forever and ever and the past is forgotten.”
“I’ll see you on Monday, okay, buddy?” I tell him and pat him on the knee.
“Ok, Tommy, see you then,” he says and smiles as he looks back out the window.