Post Script: What you are about to read has not been edited in any way. As you will see, I woke up from a dream and began to write. Once I composed it, I closed the file because I had to wait to get to work and get connected to the Internet. I haven’t even reread what I’ve written. If I did I would probably spend a lot of time rewriting the content and trying to make it “just right.” In the process, I would lose any authenticity and immediacy. Therefore, there are probably incomplete ideas, garbles sentences and a variety of grammatical errors. So be it. I want to preserve those thoughts that arose one year after my left was altered forever. I may not ever read the below missive. I haven’t yet seen the video made of Ellen’s Memorial, last June. I’m still not ready to go back to that day. I may feel that way about what I’ve written below. Somethings are just too painful at this point.
I just awoke. It’s just before 6am this morning and I am in tears. I was startled awake by a dream about Ellen. It’s the only dream I recall having about Ellen since she died. What’s even more noteworthy is that today, April 26 is the one year anniversary of that most dreadful day in all our lives.
This post won’t have anything to do with Beijing. It’s a missive I’ve been thinking about for some time, dreading it but as I mentioned in my Prologue, writing about Ellen is a form of therapy (and self-flagellation) that I feel compelled to talk about. So, unless you care to read the plaintive wails of a deeply wounded individual, feel free to stop reading. I’m stunned, quite frankly that I dreamed of Ellen on this day but I suppose it’s not too surprising given the flood of memories these last few weeks. What I remember from the dream, which I awoke from minutes ago are still very vivid and I want to record them while they’re still fresh. We were driving on a mountain road to see a show and Ellen was driving. It’s only when I woke up that I realized that would never have happened. She didn’t like driving and would have never driven on mountainous roads. As we were driving (there were others in the back seat but they weren’t people we knew in real life.) through a small town, a group of bicyclists were coming at us from the opposite direction. I could see in the distance a female rider suddenly went head-over-heels about three times. It struck me as a ghastly spill and as we passed by I remarked to everyone “That girl is definitely going to the hospital.”
Ellen started to drive too fast for the road and I remember telling her that was driving way too fast for the curvy roads but she didn’t slow down. I was getting annoyed at her driving. Still, we got to the show and she got out of the car and then stuck her body back in as I was still seated. She asked me “When did we book the tickets to the show?” And as her body crossed mine in the car (the whole thing seemed so real and normal up to that point) I realized the truth and I blurted out “Ellen, this is just a dream and you’re not alive.” I hugged her and started to wail and then I awoke. That was 15 minutes ago.
Last April 26 was a Sunday. Saturday night I took her to the ER after having taken her there the day before because the pneumonia just wasn’t going away. I will never forget that Saturday when she crawled into bed, shivering badly. She asked me to get in and cuddle her for some badly needed warmth. I tried to smoother her with the heat of my body. At that point I finally became alarmed about her condition. When she took her temperature, it was over 103 and so I bundled her into the car and we went to the hospital that should never be named. When we arrived at the ER, it was decided that she should be admitted overnight for “observation.” It was early evening. She appeared reasonably ok when I left her and as she had recovered from that dreadful bout of shivering, I felt reassured. I kissed her and left. It was the last time I would see her alive.
Sunday morning, I spoke with her daughter Jennifer who was at the hospital. She said Ellen was sleeping. Jen had to run an errand so I went there to keep Ellen company, when she awoke. Being Sunday, I brought the New York Times with me. When I got to the room, Ellen appeared to be sleeping and Jen and I briefly left the room so as not to wake her as we talked. How could either of us had known what must have been happening at that exact moment? We went back into the room and just as Jen was about to depart a nurse came in and tried to wake Ellen up and began to loudly call her name; When there was no response, the nurse opened Ellen eyes and that’s when all hell broke loose. “Code Blue” was announced over the PA, Jen and I were ejected from the room as a phalanx of people ran in with all sorts of equipment. It didn’t take long for me to realize what was going on. As Jen was pacing back and forth, a swirl of dread was building up in my head. All I could say to myself and out loud was: “I can’t believe this is happening” over and over again and at times saying “but it’s real. This is really happening.” They must have been in there for over 30 minutes and I knew from that amount of time, the worst had happened.
After some time, someone told Jen and I that they got a heartbeat back but I could tell from the way he said it as well as the demeanor of the hospital personal involved, there wasn’t much hope in a positive outcome. They have all probably seen this countless times and did their best to act as if they had just resuscitated someone. I knew then and not even deep-down, what was coming. After many hours we were given the grim assessment. She had stopped breathing for way too long. They said they put Ellen in a medically-induced coma to bring down her body temperature and they needed to do tests to determine the damage (please!) It was late in the evening but I wasn’t going to go home and wait for the inevitable outcome. I had to stay. I raced home, gathered some blankets, a pillow, lots of reading material and a bunch of Ellen’s personal belongings in the faint hope that she would wake up and need some of her things.
I hunkered down in the waiting room for what would be my most longest and painful night of my life. I couldn’t read and I couldn’t sleep. This might sound strarge and even superfluous but what follows has been a source of comfort and pain this last year, so I write. Last March, I became intrigued with Taylor Swift’s new album, “1989.” I was immediately struck by all of the catchy tunes and kept playing it, ad naseaum, determined to learn all of the lyrics. I have no idea why; I just wanted to. That night, it was the only thing I could concentrate on, in the dim lights of the waiting room as the hours ticked by. I played one passage from the song “Out of the Woods,” over and over as tears streamed down my face, just like now, as I write this: “…Are we out of the woods? I remember when you hit the brakes too soon, 20 stiches in a hospital room, when you started crying baby I did too when the sun came up, I was looking at you…but the monsters turned out to be just trees, when the sun came up you were looking at me” I kept thinking, over and over, as the sun rose, we wouldn’t be able to see each other. The songs have been imprinted down to the depths of my being. The only songs I’ve played since then are from this album. I think of Ellen whenever I hear them. She was still alive and everything was normal, when I first started to listen to them and these songs always remind me of this days as well as the days when my life came crashing down. It’s all I’ve listened to since I got to Beijing.
As Monday unfolded, it became entirely clear that everything I had dreaded was coming to pass. As more and more friends and family were alerted people started to show up at the hospital. At times I hated all of that. Evidently, I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to surround myself with loved ones during times such as that. I wanted to grieve alone but I also knew that was impossible. When I was finally allowed to see Ellen, knowing her fate, well, that was the absolute low point of my existence. I recall wailing. I pleaded with her to wake up, knowing how useless my begging would be. “Wake up, they’re going to kill you.” Over and over. It was the most horrible experience of my life.
I can’t continue writing anymore. If I write about the talk with family members with the ghoul who wanted to carve her up for her organs I will completely lose it. The talks with the doctors about what the X-rays revealed. All of it. I can’t take writing this any longer.
A few days before I departed for China, I visited Ellen to day my farewell. Those are the moments that try an atheist’s certitude about the finality of our existence. When I found her marker, I simply collapsed to the ground calling out her name. I sat there “telling” her my plans. I kept thinking that she was there listening to me. I apologized for that day when somehow I failed to save her. I left and later I even had the most ridiculous notion I think I ever had. That she was there in sprit form and if only I had kissed her marker, she would magically awaken, just like in the Snow White story. I felt guilt that I didn’t “try” that. I can see why people want to believe that death isn’t the end and that somehow, somewhere, all will be made whole, once more. It’s a pleasant, even wonderful lie that people have been telling themselves for millennia. But a natural universe-and it IS a natural universe- cares nothing about the travails of anyone or anything. None of us “gets out alive.” But why should we expect to?
All of life can be summed up thus: “We are born, we live and we die. The end.” But there can be a tremendous amount to unpack from such a simple statement. How “we live” is what defines us all. If we are lucky enough to grow to adulthood, that in itself is noteworthy. Much wiser people than I have pointed out that on average, from the day we’re born, we have about 30,000 days of life, if we’re lucky. Ellen got about 25,000 days. She was “shortchanged” but in the “grand scheme” of things (which is merely an illusion) she still packed a lot into her life. She lived it to the fullest, experiencing the best that life can offer.
Those who know me, know I’m not a boastful person. I am not wont to “toot my own horn” nor am I a braggart. But I can say that I brought much happiness to Ellen, those eight years together. We really were a good couple. I considered her my partner in life and I know she felt that way about me. We were devoted to each other. I knew there would be some very trying times ahead for us, with dealing with Barry’s Alzheimer’s. But she was still very much devoted to him as well and would be there to support him. I would be there to support her. I would never, ever consider walking out when the going got too difficult.
Ellen’s lose was not just a lose for me. Many lives have been greatly impacted and their own futures have become derailed. George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” got to see the impact on people’s lives by seeing what would happen had never been born. He saw how everything is connected and his “non-appearance” changed all of future history for many people. It was only then, he realized he really did have a wonderful life. Ellen’s demise was not just a lose for me. Many lives have been greatly impacted and their own futures have become derailed. But Ellen did live and she did wonderful things while she was alive and we all have to hold onto to those memories because that’s all we can ever have and in a natural universe, that’s really all we can expect. Ellen, too had a wonderful life. I will never, ever forget her and that brings me comfort.
The other song I play over and over and over from the above-mentioned album is, “This Love.” Its lyrics are about love and loss. I almost always tear up when I hear it.
“Clear blue water, high tides came and brought you in…skys grew darker, currents, swept you out again, and you were just gone and gone, gone, gone…This love is good, this love is bad, this love is alive, back from the dead. These hands had to let it go free and, this love came back to me.”