Ten at night, finally home from work and class and grocery store, we stand by the fridge in the kitchen. Stephen's been telling me he had a bad day, his arm hurts, he's not sleeping well, he can't get up the motivation to paint. When he can't get up the motivation to paint, that makes him feel stupid and lazy, which puts him in a bad mood, which further erodes his motivation to paint.
"I'm tired of whining," he says.
He grabs the bottle of cava from the refrigerator. "If this were Veuve Clicquot," he says, "I wouldn't have any. I wouldn't deserve it."
The face I give him is the kind that scolds, that says, "Alright, stop being so hard on yourself, you weirdo." I figure that's all I have to do, and he'll get the picture, but the face he gives me back is a kind of open-mouth huh?
"What are you doing?" he says.
I press my lips together and make my eyes wider so I know he'll get it.
"Oh," he says. "You want to have sex?"
I try again. Keep my face really nice and scoldy at him. It looks scoldy to me in my head. I mean, don't we look exactly like we think we look in our heads?
I sit in the tiny room with the curtain down the middle and the countertop covered with color-coded vials, where you give blood so they can check your cholesterol and your kidneys and your liver. The pleasant nurse with the mustache is tapping at the vulnerable underside of my elbow, looking for the best vein. I’ve just come from a different little room where I was given a tetanus shot, and I’m feeling like a badass for being brave and getting poked, even though, to tell the truth, I actually hardly felt the needle go in. Another needle’s about to go in, and I’m not great with needles, but I’m pretending I’m not anxious about this one since the tetanus was so easy.
Last week in the hospital, Noni had had so many different IVs that her arms were bruised all up and down. Masses of dark purple and bright red just below her paper-thin skin. When she got her wish and was sent home to die in peace, one of the things I was glad for was that she’d never get poked and prodded again. That for a little while, her body belonged completely to her again.
The pleasant nurse with the mustache hikes the tourniquet around my arm tight. “Happy day,” she says to me, “whatever this day is.”
I hold Noni's hand, standing by the hospital bed in her living room, where she's come home to die. It's warm, and I worry that I'm making her warmer by holding her hand, but she doesn't ask me to let go. She lies on her back, slightly propped up, eyes closed, breathing in the oxygen that comes from the small tube set just under her nose. Mostly sleeping. The hospice nurse says Noni asked for, and was given, a pill to help her sleep about an hour ago, which means my grandmother's pretty out of it for my goodbye, my maybe - probably - undoubtedly final goodbye.
It's seven-thirty on Sunday, my last morning here before I fly back to Portland. When I arrived a week ago, Noni was still in the hospital. My mom, dad, Stephen and I ran back and forth for visits, then over to her apartment to move the furniture and knicknacks around to make room for the hospital bed. We bought and fluffed sheets and pillow cases, and long, soft t-shirts we could cut down the back so she could be helped in and out of them more easily. She was brought home from the hospital mid-trip, and then it was back and forth to her apartment, just quick visits so as not to exhaust her. My sister and niece standing bedside, Noni too weak to give much response. No need for conversation. Just being near and holding her hand was enough.
Yesterday, Saturday, was Ragnarok. The Norse apocalypse. Flood, destruction, death of the gods. Apparently, somebody predicted it would take place on February 22, 2014. Midday, my brother and I took his nearly two year old daughter to the park to play. On a wide field of grass, Abby ran that way toddlers run, like a weightless, wobbling, joyful maniac, and Frank and I followed. Abby picking up sticks: "Stick!" Abby picking up pine cones: "Cone!" Abby running through clouds of bubbles, Frank with one hand working the bubble gun and one hand taking pictures with his camera.
photo courtesy of frank little
When we visited with Noni that day, she said, "It takes so long to die."
It's getting to be time to leave for the airport, now. I lean in and say, "Noni? I have to go. I just wanted to say I love you and I'm glad I had a chance to spend this time with you." Or something. I don't know what I say. Something clumsy and inadequate, but Noni, eyes closed, doesn't move. She may be asleep. I bend myself over the metal bars at the side of the bed for one more kiss.
Kisses are strange, here, at the end of things. She doesn't kiss back - too much effort to move - and you're kind of afraid you'll hurt her, and you're not sure where to kiss her, cheek, lips, forehead. Your lips find her forehead, the smooth of it, the slightly clammy, slightly cool of it, and you leave a little touch on her skin, and all it feels is not enough.