I want to be very clear about this. In many ways, the last thing I wish for is your passing. There have been plenty of times when I couldn’t bear you, and plenty when you couldn’t bear me, and I’m not going to pretend for a millisecond that our life together has been one long day at the beach, but I am very well aware of how likely I am to miss you. In candour, lying in your hospital bed with all those tubes coming in and out of you, drifting in and out of consciousness, you’re hardly the very good company you were when we were at our best. But you’re some company, at least, and, as noted, I’m very ambivalent about ceasing to have you in my life.
What you have to understand is that your imminent demise has me filling as though in limbo. I was hoping that in one of your moments of lucidity, you might tell me what Julie Christie or whoever it was told her husband in that movie we watched together several years ago — that there was no point in my coming to the hospital every day to visit when I could be out…living. But maybe you don’t remember the movie, and maybe, if we’re being honest with each other, you’re not that sold on my having a good time while you’re having such a rotten one. I get that. I do. The problem is that I feel myself to be in what Irene Hepworth calls the Departure Lounge. I have no doubt that I’m going to have tubes coming in and out of me too in not very long, and six feet under shortly thereafter (though of course we both opted for cremation). Are you really happy seeing me squander what little time I may have left sitting beside the bed of one who most of the time doesn’t even realise I’m there? I’m sorry, Jeannie, but I do find that selfish.
All right. All right. You know me very well, and there is something I’m not telling you. There’s a volunteer in the gift shop downstairs. I suspect she’s our age, or maybe even a year or two older. When I first saw her, I thought what I always think about gals of her vintage — that she was too old for me. But the last few years I’ve been realising more and more that such gals are probably thinking the same thing about me! (And I pause to marvel at that exclamation point, which suggests my having become a decrepit old embarrassment is some sort of scandal or surprise. As though I, and I alone, was going to stay young and pretty forever!)
There was something about the way she smiled at me that reminded me of Sally Willsher, with whom I went to high school. Sally was that rarest of things — not only fantastically pretty (in the Cheryl Tiegs mode, if you remember Cheryl, from the early ‘70s?), but also friendly and approachable. There was an irresistible twinkle in her very pale blue eyes, and you know how much I, with my nearly-black ones, have always been a sucker for blue eyes, Jean. Maybe you remember my getting you those tinted contact lenses for Christmas that one year, and how upset I was when you pronounced them uncomfortable, and stopped wearing them?
What was I doing in the hospital gift shop? Well, what is anyone doing in a hospital gift shop? I was looking for something I hoped might cheer you up.
All right. I wasn’t. When there’s eBay, am I really going to pay hospital gift shop prices for an adorable stuffed animal? You know me better than that. I went in there because this gal — and let’s give her a name: Sue — twinkled her blue eyes at me, and because I have to be practical, Jean. I have to! What’s going to become of me in 72 hours or a week or 10 days when you finally…depart? I have to think of myself a little bit! So I’m Sue’s date to her youngest granddaughter’s graduation from university on Saturday. If that causes you pain, and I can see it does, well, I’m very sorry, OK? I don’t want to be on my own.