The whole time I kept thinking, “If there were just were words, I could begin.” But there weren’t words and so instead I noticed seams.
Those thin lines between open and closed, between one thing and another, between now and later, between life, and whatever comes after.
There are seams running up the backs of the black plastic crows outside the kitchen hardware shop beside the bakery. They face each other, beaks forming a bridge, an early harbinger of the haunted holiday to come. Inside, there are old women gathered around a table with coffees and wrinkled hands and brightly colored socks. I think about their husbands now. If they have them still, if they ever did, if they are good. The women nod, lean in, sip from their cups.
The same day we get the news about T’s heart, we also get the news about a woman who many of us knew or were acquainted with, who was beaten brutally by hear husband, nearly to death. Now I’m thinking of her, as I am searching for answers for the news we newly have: a heart blockage. I can’t stop thinking of her.
The prognosis is touch and go. Really, it’s always that. A brush with grace, a brush with brutality. Life is always touch and go; just oftentimes we become enmeshed within the ordinariness of our beating hearts, our daily altercations and infractions and forget. We grow impatient at stoplights; we throw our hands in the air when someone claims our parking spot; maybe we yell fuck you, or whisper it beneath our breath. When our kids dawdle we say, hurry up, won’t you? When we want to be close, we say can you just leave me alone? instead. We are all fragile and failing and fallible in ugly colored socks.
Mine, on the night the doctor confirms that T has heart blockage, are olive green ones, cotton, of an undetermined origin. I’ve had them forever and have always hated them, yet they persist in my drawers, inexplicably paired and waiting for use.
Getting news like this means that we must begin, inevitably and unwillingly to see ourselves as the small mortals that we are; impossibly minute and dependent wholly on the ones we love make us real with their witnessing and participation in our lives. It’s this that strikes me now. Slams into my chest, taking my breath with it’s sudden force. I’ve known T since I was 20, my whole adult life, and here we are.
Whatever I’ve become, I’ve become partly because of him, and also with him. Now I imagine my future. What fifty might look like, or sixty, through the kaleidoscope of chance. With him, or without him. Touch and go. I think about the way, if I am alive, no matter what other circumstances, there will be the light that comes with morning, and days will come, one after the next, and wrinkles too.
And also this: the majestic breath of spirit.
In the dark, past midnight, past making love, past the news, past the promise of tomorrow and the impossible promise of the day after tomorrow, we hear geese calling in the dark, navigating with certainty. They are star following, and southward bound. They know their place like all wild things do. The crows and the monarchs; the cat with her tail curled over her nose in the sun; my kangaroo dog with her too-big ears, certain only of waking and sleeping and the darting of squirrels.
In the morning the leaves have begun to turn. The sky is painted white with thickening clouds. My heart is a gyroscope. Circling, circling back to what I know. To the inevitable cadence of words and to the secrets between them that surface: in the gaps, the pauses, the rare spaces when paragraphs break.
All day as we drive down to the city, and then the next day (our 9th wedding anniversary) as we wait for insurance to give the green light, and then wait the next day in the waiting room, first together, and then just me alone, there will only be fragments and run-ons.
I will not allow myself the finality of the period. I will be terrified to write that mark at the end, to mark that inevitable edge. A hard stop. An abrupt break. The pause that keeps pausing. I will write only with ellipses…
In the waiting room, he will be by far the youngest, and when he goes in, I will sit alone with the sweet apple I’ve brought with me from Vermont and a book of essays that are sort of funny, but lack the transformative quality that would truly make them shimmer. The author is my age, but without kids and, at least in the essays, without deep love. She lives solo in a Manhattan studio, and writes wryly about the death of childhood hamsters. About a trip to Lisbon in winter. About feeling lost in Paris. About expensive furniture, and dishonest boyfriends. I want tell her how much more she’ll have to write when her story isn’t solely hers, and there is everything to lose. When her heart isn’t beating just there, in her chest, but in her kids flushed cheeks, or in her lover’s tenuous arteries, or in her own, fleetingly faced with fate.
Still, the essays make me laugh and I’m grateful for their distraction, and also for the friends who, texting with the help of Siri, also make me laugh out loud into the stillness of the waiting room.
The light will grow steady with morning. More than an hour will pass, and I will want it to be over.
“It should be about an hour, maybe a bit more,” the attendant in blue will have told me beforehand, and now when it runs over the hour-mark, all I will think of is that in fact, there is something instead of nothing. That the end might arrive now. Or the beginning. I will catch myself holding my breath.
They will call my name eventually, and I will stand abruptly, embarrassingly scattering my belongings onto the floor. Then the physicians assistant will tell me about the stents, three of them running the length of his heart, and about the entire surgery done with hairline wires up through an artery in his arm. He will tell me, it’s okay, he’s doing well, and I will stand there listening and not listening, my mind whirling.
Outside the big floor-to-ceiling windows crows will fly past. They will land in the shrubbery below me, far below, and after he’s left but before I can go to T, I will go to the window and watch them. They will call, they will circle, they will whirl through the sky. Proof, certain and steadfast of the simple wild truth of this life: we begin, we begin, we begin. Only that.
When I go to him he will be sitting up and smiling.
“Hi,” he’ll say “I love you. They said I can have coffee and food.”
This is my man. Coffee always a near second. And so I will make my way around the busy blocks by the hospital to a Starbucks and return with a venti Americano and with this offering, our lives will begin again.
We are this close. Always this close. Touch and go, in an instant.
Afterwards I will crash. After I drive him the 7 hours home. After he panicked on the highway, thinking his heart was failing but really his blood sugar (and maybe blood pressure was low.) After we took wrong turns because of the panic. After the sun set the fields on fire as it fell from the sky. After the heavens turned to indigo. After we came home to boys in striped pajamas and in-laws who held us close and proffered soup. After all of this, I will fall part. I will cry hard the way I haven’t been able to cry the entire time. Cry till I have a nose bleed, my soft-eared dog pressing her face close to me, her fur stained from the blood.
I’m sick with a head cold. I’m still reeling, recovering.
So much, to have your life spit out at you this way.
So much to feel the sum-total of everything I am as a part of a constellation of boys suddenly halted for an instant. To imagine the what-ifs, the other divergent paths. To imagine what love would look like without love. To imagine fatherless boys. To imagine, this close. Our pulse, our lives, our breath. This close, we are. This close.
And then to begin again.
Go love the ones you love.