It feels like the real truth will never be known. But I know what I believe. I believe you were trying to abandon me for a final time.
I’ll never know what it was that you took. Because you’ll never tell me. Maybe because you don’t remember. Maybe you’ve killed the part of your brain that was capable of retaining that knowledge. Murdered the last witness to your crime. Maybe it died of natural causes. A victim of time and the spongy atrophy of an aging mind.
What I do know is that you took something. They confirmed it at the hospital. They then tasked me with searching around your house to find out. The house empty, your partner and her son up north, I felt like both criminal and cop while I dug through your garbage, rifled through your drawers and picked through your medicine cabinet. I found nothing.
Not nothing though. I found some crumpled-up pieces of paper. Your signature yellow lined notepad sheet filled with your even-more-signature calligraphy handwriting. A journal piece, a letter from yourself to yourself, yet discarded. Filled with your own navel-gazing on how I’ve found someone that is to be the centre of my universe, and how much that’s affecting you.
Was it a suicide note? I never found any other journals or your personal writings but then again, I wasn’t looking for them, was I? I was looking for empty pill bottles or popped-out blister packs. Something, anything, that could account for the massive amount of propylene glycol you had in your system. They couldn’t find a meal and the amount of alcohol you had didn’t account for it either. They weren’t toxicologists, but they’d seen enough to know that you’d have to drink about 600 bottles of white wine to get that much PG in your system.
Radiator fluid, or some other household chemical, was the best guess. Though I never found evidence of anything like that. And I looked. If that’s what happened, then you drank it straight from the bottle and politely put it back, then lay down on the back patio and waited to be found.
And I did find you.
You were asleep, or so I thought. The sun was setting on a hot but beautiful Rocky Mountain day. It was shaping up to be a lovely night to view the fireworks from just about anywhere. At first I felt tender, like you’d just tuckered yourself out doing yardwork or something. That would have been quite like you. Though napping wasn’t really your thing.
Then the sun set, and it cooled quite quickly, so I went out to put a blanket on you, ostensibly to look after you but my ulterior motive was to be just noisy enough, just jostly enough, that you’d wake up and we’d have a good laugh at how much you’d sacked out. But you didn’t wake up. I put the blanket on you and went back inside.
But worry became too much. I moved quickly past the point where I worried about the awkwardness of the situation, all anxiety about social pretense fell away and I stomped back out there and tried to wake you. I called your name, louder and louder, and then took you by the shoulders and gently shook you. I got more and more scared with every passing second, my heart starting to beat painfully in my chest.
Then, you woke up. You blinked your eyes in that confused squirrel kind of way that you’ve always had and looked right at me.
“I just wanted to feel better,” you said. Calmly, clearly, simple as.
“Okay,” I’d said, “That’s fine. But it’s getting cold out and–”
“I just wanted to feel better,” you said again. Same tone, same pitch, as if you hadn’t just said it a second before.
“Yeah ma, no probs.” I knew enough to know that when you were woken up you were a bit dumb at first. I figured I just had to ride this out.
“I just wanted to feel better.” You kept saying it. Sometimes you’d blink at me as if I’d just arrived, and you’d say it again. Sometimes you’d appear to be pondering something, then I’d call out “Mom!” and you’d turn and look at me with varying expressions, and you’d say it again.
I pulled you to your feet and walked you into the house. You walked on your own strength, though I had to guide you, and when I brought you into the living room you were happy enough for me to bring you to the couch. You didn’t need to be told to lay down, but you didn’t stop repeating the phrase.
“I just wanted to feel better.”
I got the pillows situated and I tried to make you comfortable, but you kept flinching and looking at me intensely, repeating the line over and over again. Sometimes your inflection was urgent, sometimes it was regretful, sometimes surprised. Always the same line, verbatim.
I told you that you were freaking me out, and that I was going to call 911. I gave you one last chance to say something different. I think I even said that if you said something different, then I wouldn’t call them. Then I think I said that if you wanted me to call them then you’d say the line again. I’m not sure what I was saying to you at that point, to be honest. I was freaking the fuck out.
The emergency operator wasn’t great, but she wasn’t bad. When they transferred me to the locals, I described what was happening and they said that they’d better get over there quick. I didn’t argue, and I said that I’d unlock the door and wait. I sat on the stairs and looked out the front door, almost afraid to keep being in the same room with you because you kept looking at me with recognition and my heart would leap in the hopes that you were finally in there, only to have my hopes dashed when you’d repeat that same fucking line.
Then my phone rang, and I wondered if it was the 911 people calling me back. But no, my new wife, calling from her morning in Australia. Ringing several hours before our scheduled time because she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very, very wrong.
I don’t remember what I said to her other than that the emergency people were there and I had to go. She was great, very understanding, and asked that I contact her when I could.
The firefighters came in with a stretcher and didn’t bother talking to you for long before laying it out and getting you onto it. You didn’t seem to recognise them, and were maybe even a little frightened, so you didn’t open your mouth as much as you had when I was there. But when you did, you repeated that same goddam line. When they’d taken you out to the ambulance and were opening the doors, you looked up at one of them pleadingly, then repeated it again.
“I just wanted to feel better!”
Almost as if you thought that somehow you were talking sense, that you were explaining you didn’t need to be hauled away to the Emergency Room. That they shouldn’t pump your stomach and hook your veins to an IV.
I watched them go and followed in my truck, ignoring various traffic laws as I caught up to them. By the time I saw them wheeling you into the ER I couldn’t tell if you were still maddeningly repetitive, and I had to circle around for a place to park.
Time blurs in my memory at this point. Perhaps I went in and waited for some interminable amount of time to be told what was going on. Perhaps I went outside and rang my wife and spoke to her to calm myself down. Perhaps I just paced around. I don’t know.
What I do know is that they took me up to the ICU as soon as you were there, and stuck you in a room that was kind of like a huge aquarium. They must have sedated you because you were asleep when I got there and I met Joe. Quite possibly the greatest nurse in the history of nursing, he was everything I could have ever wanted. He had a rather imposing voice and boomed his name at you when you shifted and looked around with anxiety.
Blessedly, you’d stopped repeating the line, but you weren’t speaking at all now. At some point, you’d nodded at something he’d said and we both got excited that you might be nearing lucidity, but you still never uttered a word. Better than before, but still terrifying.
Joe talked you through how they were going to hook you up to all the tubes and wires and you were compliant, to a point. When he talked you through the process of inserting the catheter, you jerked roughly, trying to sit up. He held you with a firm hand, smoothly commenting that he figured you wouldn’t like that, but you still didn’t speak.
He talked to me with that same smoothness, working with me and bouncing ideas off in our search for what it was that you had done. Neither of us came up with anything but he was an enormous help in what might have happened and what I should be looking for.
When the doctor came in, a person I don’t even remember at all, Joe was noticeably deferential but when I kept speaking up and pointing out things that Joe had thought of, I remember the doctor being kind of a dick about it at first, like Ken Jeong in Knocked Up, but then settling down and agreeing with every single one of Joe’s ideas and points.
When they left, it was like they hadn’t even been, but I let Joe know anyway that he had solid ideas and was fifty times more helpful than the white-coated egotist. He gave me a look and then told me he’d stay with you while I went out for a smoke. I worked my way out to the parking lot and found a pay phone, ringing my wife back and talking with her through it all. She was, of course, amazing.
But for however great Joe was, nothing could have prepared me for that night. Joe was on a long shift and had promised me that he wasn’t going to leave me for long. And I needed him. Every 5 to 15 minutes you’d wake up and thrash, trying to either escape your bed or tear your tubes out of your arms. Joe was there for enough of them that he started just sticking by, hovering either in the hallway or in the room itself.
Then an even bigger emergency pulled him away. Some car accident had helicoptered in and it was an all-hands situation. I was left alone with you and your thrashing, fighting self. Boy, you’re strong too. I had no idea how strong you really were until I was fighting you to keep you from ripping your IV out. You were seriously dehydrated, dangerously so, and those fluids were vital. And boy, you fought.
The cadence was always the same though, almost like your repeated phrase from earlier. Wake up startled, grab for either the covers to get up or the tubes to pull them out. I’d then grab your wrists and hold your flailing arms from doing any damage. You’d fight, pushing and pulling your arms this way and that, sometimes just straight pushing and straining as hard as you could, to the point that I’d use my weight and hold you back.
Then, as quickly as the fit came on, it would go. Your strength would leave your arms and you’d lay back down. Mostly to fall immediately back to sleep, sometimes to simply go limp, staring blankly out the window. Either one of them might precede yet another thrashing fit. Sometimes minutes, sometimes a half hour, but never farther apart than that.
This went on all night. The entire night.
At first, I didn’t want to sleep, knowing I had to stay on top of things, but then I’d just get my hands in ready positions and wait. It was hours until a nurse came back and all they had to say was to tell me about what was going on with the emergency, and that Joe had sent his apologies. When I said to them that you were waking randomly and trying to rip your catheter and IV out and that I was the only thing stopping you from doing it, the nurse looked relieved and even commented the thanks that I was there.
She didn’t offer to help though. They were still so short-staffed that I was on my own. All night.
The only time I started to notice larger and larger gaps between your fits was when the sky started to brighten a bit. By the time I realised you’d gone over an hour without fitting, it was 5am and I fell asleep in the uncomfortable chair by your bed.
At about 8am, the nurse came in and was bustling about, gently waking me so I could clear out of the way of them taking your vitals and emptying your urine bag. They seemed satisfied that the fluids they’d been pumping you full of were flushing through your system. Whatever it was, whatever you’d done to yourself, you were through the worst of it.
I was cautioned that I might never know the full extent of whatever you’d done to your brain. You might have some brain damage, you might have nothing wrong with you at all. Only time, and someone that knew you, would tell.