By Cathy Warner
The morning you were discharged from the hospital, your son, my husband, drove behind the ambulance back to your apartment, and I, two states away, drove 150 miles alone to the beach for an overnight at a National Park Lodge where he and I were supposed to celebrate our anniversary. The reservation was nonrefundable.
That afternoon, though my signal looked weak, and though the lodge had posted no cell phone signs, I sat on a bench outside my room and dialed him. The call went through. He told me the hospice nurse said you were actively dying. Both our voices caught, emotion threatening like a riptide, but we went with it, swimming parallel to the current, saving our strength as we navigated. I hung up and walked the beach for you--as if I could offer you one last glimpse of a landscape you loved.
I watched the waves crest, crash, foam along the sand, then rush back to the sea with a gasp. Gulls flocked on giant logs of driftwood and I thought back to the house you once had at a different beach—a tiny shack that you and your children turned into a welcoming home away from home with your own hands. Your son took me to that house a month after our first date and as he unloaded groceries, my feet followed the spiraling mosaic floor until I stood in its center, looking out the kitchen window into the sea, a gray that matched the December sky. Wrapped like a nautilus in your son’s arms that night, a wave of knowing washed over me.
And you knew it, too. A few days before Christmas, you and four of your six children sat at a low table eating tempura and drinking oolong tea. Someone asked about my last name. You answered that it didn’t matter. It was going to be yours. You’d seen it in the tea leaves.
And for thirty-five years we shared that last name, a name belonging to neither of us by birth, a name we adopted by love.
On that day when you lay in a hospital bed in the middle of your living room with your kidneys failing and heart pumping too fast, you bobbed deep in the sea of the near-dead while I rolled up my pant legs and braced my feet as waves broke at the edge of the world. I photographed my submerged ankles and texted the image with the words for your mom. Earlier on that day, which was most likely going to be your last, I’d pulled off the highway and eaten lunch at Taco Bell, your favorite fast food, on my way to the lodge. I ate lunch looking out at the struggling town and remembered the day your son and I showed up unannounced on your doorstep and shared our news, and how you invited the nearest relatives to celebrate our engagement with burritos and Pepsi in your formal dining room, our paper-wrapped meal eaten over a crocheted lace tablecloth. I remembered your favorite Taco Bell on the coast in Pacifica, sporting a walkup window for surfers, and how we’d crunch our tacos, lettuce pilling into our laps, as we watched them skim the waves like angels in black neoprene.
The day you were leaving this life, before you managed to return to us for a precious month, your youngest son, my husband, sat at your bedside, having camped in your hospital room for days, having arranged for you to come home to hospice care which was supposed to last longer than hours and mere days. He kept vigil while I walked from sun-dappled afternoon into the gloaming, skirting the shore as your proxy until darkness claimed the light.
Cathy Warner is a writer, teacher, editor, home renovator, and real estate broker in Western Washington. Author of two books of poetry, Home By Another Road and Burnt Offerings, her fiction, memoir, and essays have appeared in Under the Sun, The Other Journal, So To Speak, Water~Stone, and the blogs of Ruminate, Relief, and Image, among others. Recipient of the Steinbeck and SuRaa fiction awards, Cathy has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays. Find her at cathywarner.com.
Previous Post: Feathered Hope
Comments will be approved before showing up. We don't allow comments that are disrespectful or personally attack our blog writers.