His voice at once so familiar, so beloved, and so different in its weakness echoes in my ears. My second great love, the man I call Scott in my book, has died. I am not sure what to do with all my sadness. Sadness for his death, sadness all over again for our demise, and sadness for the world, for one hell of a man is gone.
In midlife, I expect to lose people. And my expectations are that those that make their departure will be a few generations older than I. (Aren’t our expectations a killer?) The Friday evening before Thanksgiving, my phone rang startling me out of the movie I was watching. I saw his name on the caller i.d. and immediately answered.
“How ya doing?” I asked with a wink in my voice as my hello greeting.
“Not great,” he managed to rasp out, sounding breathy, like he had severe bronchitis bordering on laryngitis.
“Oh, my god. Do you have Covid? Are you on oxygen? Are you in the hospital?” I rapid-fired, sitting bolt upright.
“No, no.” A pause and a gasp for air. “It’s my heart.” Pause and a cough bordering on a wheeze. “It isn’t pumping blood the way it should, so I’m not getting enough oxygen,” he squeezed out.
“Do you have another blood clot or blockage?” I couldn’t help myself with the questions. I could feel myself trying to fix it, whatever it was. I noticed my hand was clutching my shirt in the center of my chest.
He coughed and sputtered like he had pneumonia. “Hang on,” he gasped out.
I hung on.
“I’m back,” he got out.
That space was exactly what I needed to move from my head to my heart.
“Are you in the hospital right now?” I asked softly.
“No, they sent me home this afternoon.”
In my head I ranted at the system: who sends a man home who isn’t getting enough oxygen? Oh, right … a hospital because they want to empty said hospital every Friday.
Returning to my heart I quietly asked, “What do you need? I will bring you anything you want,” figuring his want might be my chocolate cake. I flashed on the memory of him swiping my nose with chocolate buttercream frosting, and then licking it off.
He laughed and started wheezing for about a minute. I breathed deeply, as if that would help him get more oxygen. “I know you would. No, nothing. I just need to rest,” he said.
After a few more wheezing moments, he said the word “pathetic” in relationship to himself.
After all his medical trauma of a ruptured esophagus and the arduous years-long recovery from that, the heart attack on a train from San Francisco back to Los Angeles several years later, next the mis-diagnosed blood clot in his leg as sciatica, and now no chocolate cake, I felt his Spirit’s exhaustion and his body’s weariness. I could feel it, but I couldn’t quite grasp it, didn’t want to grasp it, didn’t want it to be true.
He told me a bit more about the condition, which is basically a death sentence without a heart transplant I read later.
“Please let me come see you,” I whispered, swallowing my tears.
Another wheezing attack.
“No, I can’t.”
I told him how much I love him, and he said he loved me madly.
On Thanksgiving Day, he texted me a photo of him back in the hospital for more tests, tubes and wires everywhere. In classic Scott gallows humor, he used this emoji at the end of his text: 🤪
I now recognize he called to say goodbye. There was deep love, generosity, and care … a knowing of each other that comes from years of intimacy, inside jokes and shared experiences. I am unspeakably sad. As it should be, and how you know it matters. That they matter.
At once transient, lasting, and fragile,
Consuming, fleeting and eternal,
Physical, emotional, and etheric.
Do you still feel me on the other side?