There are exactly six ways of telling this story. They are all true. His doctors will tell you one, and his lawyers another. His daughters will say it happened in this way, but they don’t know. I will tell it to you like this: he had cancer. It was eating his brain, one morsel at a time. Daily I witnessed the success of this gloating, self-assured disease as it introduced itself to us with twisted determination. Weeks devolved into unfamiliarity, like tribal drums from deep within a distant jungle.
There is Dr. Hwu, and Dr. Weinberg, and Dr. Balo, only to mention the beginning of all this. They thought they could tell my story for me, but they can’t. Only I know. You see, I have cancer. It is eating my brain, and the only way I can keep an eye on it is to watch alertly. I must control it. I must not sleep. This is the first condition. If I don’t sleep, I will understand my plan. Even she does not understand this. It is half past four and I have been sitting up in my bed for five weeks. I haven’t slept. I obeyed my own rules. I haven’t read any of the newspapers my wife brought me, but I look at them nonetheless. I study the pictures of cars and houses for sale. The usual television programs don’t mean much. They upset me. They infuse dis-ease into an otherwise simple linear understanding.
Here’s what happened. The doctors said there was a 3-centimeter tumor in his brain, a golf ball, and it had to come out, but there were many others that couldn’t. They would simply grow to become other golf balls, or, if miracles were real, they’d disappear. His hand and foot on the left side didn’t work so well anymore, and his eyes took on a noticeable disassociation like he was looking at you and from behind you at the same time. It all began in May of last year, when he was training for a world championship bike race, and he said he couldn’t ride well anymore—his left side kept “going strange”. And then on July 15th, he collapsed at Le Peep restaurant and we had to take an ambulance to Community Hospital. It took them ten days to figure it out. By that time, on that day, ten days later, he couldn’t hold the half-and-half carton anymore, not enough to prevent all the contents from pouring onto the floor. That day, that morning, I walked into the kitchen to find his face aghast with the horror of knowing something really bad was going on and puddles of half-and-half and puddles of coffee were all over the kitchen floor, like he had been struggling with this conundrum for most of the morning.
I have no more circular conversations. I want linear order, clarity, single-mindedness. It is accurate that I know my memory. All of it. Clear. It is blue. I call it the “blue light special.” This is a fundamental truth that I know and I must share all that I know with her now. It is appropriate to do so, to sort and to arrange the disorder of warped paradigms that previously had spread themselves into masterful tentacles of misperception. She thinks we live in this cave here, but we do not. There is much to look out for, and I am the knower. She is not. Did not that little lady of hers figure it all out? Dr. Hwu. Who-Who. She may, in fact, be the culprit. I will find out. I will. There are beings here that my wife pretends not to know. I must make her aware of them. When the time is right. When she is able to understand. But she doesn’t. She feeds me and I don’t trust it—the food, I mean. It could all have to do with Hwu-Who. It could. They, you see, lurk in the high corners of this house, this cave, in the darkness. I see them. It is because of them that we will never get out of here alive. There are precisely five of them. They appear as machines that go brrrr, brrrr. She pretends not to notice. I don’t know if I can help her. Perhaps not. And there is no guarantee that she is not one of them as well. We’ll see, because all comes out the truth in the end.
He got sicker, stopped sleeping, pretended to eat his broccoli, and slipped his medication into his bathrobe pocket when he thought I wasn’t looking. Insomnia kept him staring at the television throughout the night and into the late afternoon. His hands flew to his face, covering it, whenever he attempted to explain another epiphany. “There is a problem with the machines…,” he would say. His dialogue held repetitive words no one knew. Sometimes he spelled them for me, tiny images producing mosaics like h-a-u-g-h-l-i-v-n-a-u. Then x. There are no actual treatments for brain tumors. Or there are many. They all exist in Mexico where they give you teas and herbs and tell you to meditate. My husband would never have gone for that. He had a Ph.D. in neuro-psychology and his panorama of truth was gleaned from medical periodicals and The Wall Street Journal.
First my wife is failing to exhibit even an ounce of imagination or creative discourse. Increasingly I am aware of how much she resides within the perilous hallucination of convention and the uninteresting familiar. I see the conspiracy. It is a plot that is revealing itself through intricately subtle clues. Dr. Hwu is no doctor. She has a paper to present and I am her control monkey that shall prove her thesis. “Of course…” she mews and slides a Cheshire grin in the direction of her co-conspirator, my wife. The hypocrisy is obvious. The result of a highly advantaged codified language. It remains aloof and educated, while I must unfurl its Pleistocene layers…
The disease lasted for seven months. It spread to his intestines, his rectum, and, he says, his heart. It sent him to the ICU in a troubled five-day semi-coma caused by meningitis and influenza, both of which lodged themselves in his brain. I pictured them comfortably nestled beside the tumors. He was hospitalized for “psychiatric observation” after he had called the neighbors over to explain the invisible, but persistently destructive, machines that lurked—five of them—throughout the corners of the rooms in our house and another one in the yard. You were either with him and understood how to maneuver through his complicated and risky plan for counter-attack, or you were equally a victim, never again able to dislodge yourself from the murky web of confinement the machines had produced while we all stopped looking.
The Circle of Seasons has made its first revolution, sweet girl. Please stop pretending that you don’t know who’s calling when the phone rings. It’s me, Bernie. Big B. I am well now. My brain doesn’t hurt anymore. Well, actually, it never really did. It only tortured me to death. That’s quite funny, in fact. It did torture me to death. I am here. I am white, like dove’s wings. You should know too, that I am happy. I wouldn’t even ever want to know that you think otherwise. I have learned the secret, and I will tell it to you now. Dying is not all that bad. If life was all that good, so is this. It really wasn’t dying in the way you think about it; it was death in the way I did it. I had to go, bug. I couldn’t continue inside that cesspool of stench that had enveloped me. I could not hurt you anymore.
I am proud of you. You must know that, first of all. And stop pretending. You want to act as though this is not real. It is. I am with you, and I know your pain, and I know the sadness. I want that to go away for you now. I do. I am sorry you have to feel it like that. If there is any part of this I can help you with, it is this: it just is not like you think it is, really. It is lovely where I am. No more pain, nor agony. It was excruciating, darling. That I can tell you. It was a horror. I had to go. I am sorry.
Do you know how much it sucks, Bernie? How fucking ripped off I feel? How can anyone say there is a God, when pain this bad is allowed to exist? It’s unfair. How did you get to go, and I stay? Who the fuck came up with a plan this bad? They ought to be shot. The most compassionate concession I can muster is that this god must have had brain tumors himself. He has to have been sick in the head, himself. It’s unjust and unfair, unmanageable and unimaginable. Even unimaginative. I guess that’s why we never talked about it. It was just too impossible, really, that you would die and leave me here without you.
I am Dov. It was my Hebrew name. But take liberty and take it to mean whatever you want it to mean. Doves mate for life. May I be so bold as to suggest then, for LIFE? Get that. Stop pretending you don’t hear. It’s me, flying through Dreamtime, and I know you can relate. I know you can. Confusion? Perhaps I had it for a moment, believing I landed here by accident, not of my own will. But it was my wish. I walked through the doorway of my own free will. I walked into the imagination of all these other worlds. For you, bug, I suggest that you be willing to accept whatever the future holds as it is presented, without trying to change the plan. Accept the state of grace. I am white. I am magical, long-necked and graceful. Consider the evolution of an ugly duckling to that of a swan. Did you not, I ask you sincerely now, and don’t be afraid to admit that things like this DO happen—did you not SEE Gabriel, the Angel, with wings as tall as the ceiling, appear at my shiva? Huh? Come on now, stop pretending. I am white like the dove and like angels.
I am supposed to create the last half of your death ceremony now, Bernie. It is called the unveiling. It’s that Jewish thing. I find it to be quite lovely, actually: a ceremony to put you to rest. I only understand it in the way a layperson can. It feels like I am unveiling, peeling away, layers of dis-ease that have plagued us for months and months, through two winters, stormy days and disjointed, torn-apart families. Yes, dear one. I won’t keep that from you. It wouldn’t be fair. I don’t hear much from Rachael and not at all from Naomi. In fact there is more to tell, much more that pains me, but not now. I just want to be with you now—not them. All that is just the tentacles of insanity that have been left in your wake, sweet man, your disease festering, while you rest peacefully inside that pine box under the earth.
They bathed you in sweet oils and prayed the Kadesh over your body, insuring no evil shall harm you while you were still vulnerable and helplessly unsure of where you had landed. Somehow I know this, I mean where you were then those first few days, sort of floating around, wondering if everything was really okay. It must have felt pretty weird, huh? Yeah, you did it, bug. You sure did. You died. You did that one. It didn’t seem to be all that tragic, either. You looked so angelic. I can almost say (alright, I’ll stop pretending), your smile reminded me of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Somehow I know you had peace. What a blessing for me to know that. So far all was right. So far all will be right. So far we will give you that last hurrah, and it will be all right, all of it. I wish now to “unveil” you, like a groom unveils his bride, remove the veneer, so that you may be remembered for all that you are. That then is my pleasure. You’ll say thank you, and I’ll say, it was my pleasure.
One last thing. I was quite handsome, wasn’t I? A pretty cool guy, huh? I had it going on. Say yes. I was funny too. Don’t ever forget that. That is the gift I left you with. Remember me for that. I loved to make you laugh. Don’t forget that. Stop pretending. I just thought of something. Did you know that dov rhymes with love? Think I love you still, bug?
The world turned Boulder white today, Bernie. Two feet of powder and it’s still coming down. You’d have said, wanna go up and take a few runs, and I would have said yes. This time, I would have said yes. Because I have learned now that yes is never too soon, and always too late, and I never wanted to regret anything and I still do anyway.
Isn’t it strange? I wonder how you would have handled it, had it been me. How would you be now, on this snowy day in 2007, up here in this land I call The Tundra. And what if your son now needed to undergo a life-threatening surgery, as does mine, and, god forbid, but I must say this, what if my children were as wrong to you as yours have been to me? Strangers.
Do you miss the dogs? Lucy looks for you. She does, I know. And I have to tell you that your friends are not that at all. None of them are. But we knew that. I suppose none of mine would have been yours either because that’s how we had it, you and I. We were friends to each other and no one understood that nor could know how it is, really. And that photo of you and me on the beach and we were so happy, smiles from heart to heart and life to life and will I ever see you again, sweet man?
I am living in a mountain home now. Quiet, like you liked it, and Linus and Lucy are right here. The front window tells a much different story from the one we had. I often see cyclists riding by and life has changed considerably.
You need to know something, and this something is a truth that hurts from my deepest place. But, here it is anyway—I have to let you go. I cannot hang on to the pain much longer because my hands are chafed and bloody and my bones won’t hold the agony without splintering into thousands of pieces. My insides have turned to the rawness of hamburger meat. Exposed. “Skinless” they call it at Hospice.
But then, here is something else I haven’t told you yet. I am beginning to walk again as well. It is different from how it used to go. Of that I am certain. I am softer. And I don’t look at my watch nearly as much, and I have slowed down tremendously. But I have not stopped. I am here, and I talk to you every day. Do you know that I have made many promises to you and in turn you have told me many secrets? You see, I believe we talk in the night; we walk and talk and talk and all is explained clear again. This is an ethereal knowledge that I am beginning to see, one that I must understand or I won’t know how to survive.
I lead a charmed life. That’s something you always said. I actually know that now. I wear your charm around my other finger, on the other hand. It is the ring you wore and the one you gave me, all in one and it has a new life in it. It holds all that we will become and all that is to become of my life without you.
Oh man, oh man of mine. How life can be so insane and so “white” all at once! I’ll kiss you now as never before, lover like none other, my companion in the twilight, in that life between worlds, and it could be called a total eclipse because that is what happened. There was simply a page torn out of the script that disappeared altogether, burned and its ethers rose to the Unknown. That page is the one I keep seeking in the wanderings of my dreams and cannot find. You hold it. May it not stay with you for always, though. May it not wait until my death to reappear, because I cannot wait that long. May it rekindle that which left with you when you disappeared on that serene and soft morning, February 24, 2006, at 5:35 a.m.
I shall lead the life that I promised you and within that shall be our honor. So with this I kiss you goodnight, sweet prince. Sweet peace is what I wish you now, and you in turn wish for me. This too I know. Sweet peace, whiteness, and the soft knowledge that all will be okay. You’ll see, you always say. And I always do.