I don’t remember leaving the hospital, or getting the bags — one with Joy’s watch and jewelry and one with her shoes — but they are in my hands.
I don’t remember the cab ride home.
I come into the living room and see it in disarray, dining room table askew, coffee table at an angle far away from the couch, books on the floor along with medical wrappers and papers left behind by the paramedics, everything in glaring specificity. I crab-walk across the floor, scooping up papers and wrappers, trying hard not to look at them. I push furniture back into place.
Did Dorie come home with me? I can’t say, but she is with me now, along with her husband, Drew.
Did my sister-in-law, Kathy, and brother-in-law, Charlie, follow in their car? I have no idea, but they are here as well.
I am bleeding through time and space.
For a while I sit with Kathy and Charlie and Dorie and Drew and we talk, but about what I can’t tell you.
I keep glancing at Kathy, then away. She looks so much like Joy with her red hair and freckles, it is both reassuring and painful. I have known Kathy almost as long as Joy, and I love her. She is smart and kind, with an easy smile, though she is not smiling now. I can’t help but think of the two sisters, together since Joy’s birth, suddenly separated, but I don’t believe it. I keep waiting for Joy to make an entrance, for someone to wake me from this nightmare, the first of several clichés that will become reality.
Dorie and Drew sit close together. Drew’s arm is around Dorie’s shoulder, and I wonder if it is awkward for them — they have been separated for months, a beautiful young couple who have uncoupled in a year’s time.
Here’s what I know:
At some point, Kathy and Charlie leave. Dorie and Drew go to sleep in the guest room. I take a sleeping pill but lie in bed, awake.
In the middle of the night, I turn on the television but have no idea what I watch.
I go to the bathroom.
I go into the kitchen and get something to drink. I sit in the living room, in the dark.
I try to be quiet so I will not wake Dorie and Drew. I am happy knowing they are here, to have their company, to not be alone, though I feel completely alone.
I have lived in this loft for 30 years, but it feels alien. I stare into the dark.
For a moment, I am back in the hospital waiting room, but when I shake my head to dislodge the picture, it is as if I have simply rearranged the pixels, because now it is another hospital’s waiting room, part of an earlier rush of memory — our first date — Joy and I arriving at a party just as my roommate, John, has gotten into a fistfight with uninvited townies, beaten up while people yell and scream over blasting music, the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” a few of us trying to break it up, the townies shouting, “He started it!” and I’m sure they’re right—John can be a nasty drunk.
Then we are in a Boston hospital. John’s girlfriend, Claudia, the one who has arranged this careering-toward-disaster blind date, and Joy, who has offered to come along over my protests and apologies, all of us huddled around John in an emergency room cubicle, John sitting up now, making jokes.
I should have learned from this — that I needed comfort though said I did not. It was to become a motif.
I watch Joy out of the corner of my eye, take in the curves of her body under the tight beige jumper, so unlike the girls I have dated or been with in the past, not my usual “type,” which is dark-haired and overtly sexy. Joy is fair and freckled, quiet and sweet, patting John’s arm and chatting with Claudia to put them at ease, already the sensible girl I will get to know later. “Some date,” I whisper, and she offers an ironic smile. Later, when I take her home and say it again, she says, “I’ve had worse,” laughs and kisses my cheek and tells me to take care of John, and I watch her disappear into her dormitory, her long red hair swaying back and forth like some TV ad for shampoo, romantic and soft-focus.
I am startled back into the moment by a shrieking siren and red lights going off like firecrackers in the large dark windows of my living room, and the events of the day start to play as if someone has thrown a switch.
I go back to bed but cannot close my eyes. When I do, variations of the same images tear across my brain — the look of terror on Joy’s face, the paramedics trying to revive her, big sister stroking little sister’s cheek — all of it accompanied by a hollow, echoing silence, as though I am in the eye of a hurricane or adrift in outer space.
I stare at the ceiling, and the thought I have been trying to remember while I rode with the fire chief and sat in the emergency waiting room starts to uncoil and I can almost see it — something that happened just before or after the paramedics arrived — but when I try to hold on, it disappears.
Then it’s morning and I am writing Joy’s obituary. Kathy is there. So are Dorie and Drew.
A part of me is functioning — walking, talking, doing what’s necessary — my brain simply remembering what its former functions were, but no longer connected.
I call my friend Judd and tell him what’s happened. He says, “I’m coming over.” I tell him no, that I’m okay, but 10 minutes later he’s there and we sit in my studio for hours, just the two of us, and though I can’t remember what we talk about, it is incredibly comforting to have him there.
I should have learned from this — that I needed comfort though I said I did not. It was to become a motif, a stance I maintained for months, the strong man who needs no one.
Do women do this, push people away? Or is it easier for them to ask for help? Is it similar to the way men don’t ask for directions, as if we should always know where we are going or simply never get lost? In a way it’s funny, though at this particular moment in my life it was not, because I was so lost and needed help but could not ask for it.
Friends like Judd didn’t listen to my proclamations of well-being. He knew better and was there for me. My friend and neighbor Ben, an artist almost half my age, surprised me with his wise-beyond-years kindness, coming upstairs at midnight or two in the morning to keep me company, a bottle of whiskey tucked under his arm. Two examples of “sensitive” men, though we didn’t talk about feelings — they were simply there.
Other friends were there too. Others stayed away. Still others offered outrageous balms and provocative alternatives to grief. Some of these are well worth relating for their entertainment or shock value, and I will.
But not yet, because it is the morning after my wife has died and I am a sleepwalker, hung over from meds and searching for something, which I can’t find but I know has to be here, somewhere.