something to fight

It was a cold night in late November when it became clear that I’d need to start my leave of absence earlier than originally planned. I expected my boss to be annoyed with my sudden departure, but I didn’t expect the reaction I got.
She fired me.
“Fine,” I said with no emotion as I walked away from her. She found me cleaning out my desk a few minutes later and ushered me back into her office. The Harvard diploma had been replaced with a Princeton diploma, but other than that it looked pretty much the same as it had when Geoff had inhabited it.
“It must be hard for you,” she said as she settled into his chair.
“What?” I asked, playing dumb.
“Seeing somebody else in this office, doing his job.”
“You flatter yourself, Janice.”
“Okay, I deserved that. I’m sorry for the knee-jerk reaction. You’re not fired.”
I felt strangely disappointed. “Really?”
“Really. You can start your leave after next week, okay? I need you here until I can find a temp.”
“He might not have next week. I can’t risk being here if…I have to spend every minute I can with him now. It’s important.”
“More important than your job?” she asked.
“You’re raising a baby alone …”
“She has a father.”
“Who couldn’t be bothered to marry you.”
I decided to pretend she hadn't just spoken. “I’d prefer to be fired, if you don’t mind,” I said. “That way I can collect unemployment and my poor, fatherless baby won’t go hungry.”
“I really think you should rethink this,” Janice said.
I was suddenly furious. “I’m supposed to give a fuck what you think?” I shouted. “His lungs are filling with bacteria no drug can kill. There is a drug that can slow it down, but it makes him violently ill, so he stopped taking it. He has neuropathy in his legs…do you know what that is?”
Janice, shocked into silence by my sudden fit of temper, shook her head.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “What matters is it’s painful, and at night, when the pain is especially bad, Geoff sends us away so we won’t see him crying. Geoffrey. Crying.
I stopped talking, remembering the night before when I’d wandered into his room to find him clutching desperately at his sheets as tears rolled down his cheeks. He’d ordered me out, but I’d ignored him and climbed up onto his bed. I’d expected him to be angry, but instead he’d broken down, completely undone by the pain, and sobbed, falling asleep only after hours of writhing and cursing painkillers that didn’t work. I spent the night sitting on his bed with his head in my lap, too afraid of waking him to move.
The memory of him sobbing and grasping at the flannel of my pajama bottoms made my chest hurt and my eyes flood with tears.
“I still think you should rethink your priorities…”
I ignored her. “We take turns, Will and I, sleeping against him, propping him up so he can breathe. Will used to do it every night, but he had to stop because he wasn’t sleeping at all…it’s hard to sleep when you’re afraid he’ll stop breathing the instant you stop paying attention, sweating through the fevers with him…”
“I had no idea…”
“He is dying, Janice, and he’ll die soon, so don’t you fucking dare sit there in his chair and tell me what my priorities should be!”
My eyes never wavered from hers and she soon looked away, embarrassed. “Your job will be here when you’re ready to come back,” she said.
“Thank you.” I turned to leave. I had my hand on the doorknob when I heard my name. I turned back to look at her and was surprised to see tears in her eyes.
“I admired him, you know,” she said softly. “He was legendary here.”
“He isn’t dead yet,” I snapped. I pulled the door open and slammed it behind me.

It was easier when I had other things to fight. Battles I knew I could win. The real demon...the one battle I wanted desperately to win...couldn't be fought.
We were halfway up the stairs when I heard violent coughing. I took the rest of the stairs two at a time and raced down the hall to Geoff’s room. I skidded to a halt in front of the open door and looked in.
“Oh, my God…” I said, horrified by what I saw. Geoff was lying with his head over the side of the bed, coughing and gasping for the air he obviously wasn’t getting. There was vomit on the floor next to the bed. “Oh, my God…I’m coming, darlin’…one second…please breathe…”
I ran across the hall to my bedroom and unceremoniously deposited the baby into her crib. She immediately pulled herself up on the rail and started screaming. “I know, sweetie…I’m sorry…”
I ran back to Geoff’s room and raced to his bed. “I’m here, baby,” I murmured as I sat next to him and reached for his face.
“Gloves…” he gasped just as he threw up again.
“You’re not bleeding…”
“Get gloves,” he repeated, and even though he couldn’t breathe the annoyance in his voice was loud and clear.
I raced into the bathroom, grabbed a pair of gloves and snapped them on. I grabbed the small oxygen canister from the corner of the room and shoved the mask at Geoff’s face.
“Here…” I said.
He knocked it away from his face and threw up again. When he was done I put it back up to his nose and startlingly blue lips.
“Come on, Geoffrey,” I whispered as I pressed the mask firmly over his nose. I watched, panic-stricken, as the startling shade of blue grew darker and began to bloom across his cheeks. “Breathe."
Geoff pushed the mask away from his face and threw up twice more. His head lolled to the side and he looked up at me with glassy eyes. My panic blossomed into pure terror.
“I think you need to let me call 911…”
He opened his mouth, sucked in a gasping breath, and exhaled two words. “Fuck you.”
A second gasp followed and then he was breathing again, the words he'd spoken galvanizing him. After a few minutes he started to protest the oxygen. I forced him to use it until the color returned to his face.
“Did I say fuck you?” he said when I turned the oxygen off. His voice was raspy.
“You did. Got anything else?”
“No,” he said, sighing. “I’m a mess, baby.”
I echoed his sigh and pushed the hair back from his sweaty forehead. “You are,” I said.
To this day I don't know what was accomplished that day. We cheated death into giving us more time, but at what cost? What if he wanted to die then and I was just too selfish to see? When I wake up at night and can't breathe, it's that day that's haunting me. I should have let him go. I should have loved him enough to recognize what he wanted.
But I only knew how to fight, not how to let go.
“My baby is crying,” he said, referring to the baby, still screaming bloody murder in her crib.
“I can’t take care of both of you at the same time.”
“So don’t take care of me.”
“If you’d shut up we can take care of you then you can take care of her while I clean the floor.”
He pushed himself up to a sitting position and the little bit of color he’d recovered faded.
“I’m okay. Dizzy.”
“Take your time.”
I waited patiently, only vaguely aware of my daughter’s angry wails, until he nodded and leaned forward in an attempt to stand. I grabbed him around the back and held his arm to steady him.
“Still dizzy?” I asked.
He nodded and stood still, his eyes closed, as he waited for the wave to pass. “I hate this,” he said, disgust evident in his voice.
I said nothing as we began the slow process of walking from the bedroom to the bathroom. With a minimum of conversation and the creative use of a shower curtain and two towels, he was able to take a quick shower without being embarrassed to have me in the room. We shuffled back to the bedroom where he collapsed into the chair next to his bed. He looked utterly exhausted.
“Don’t cry,” he said.
I sniffled and shook my head. “I’m not.”
“You are.”
I turned and left him alone for just long enough to rescue my daughter. She looked at me accusingly with her puffy eyes from where she sat behind the bars of the expensive crib Geoff had personally selected for her. When I reached down to lift her out she turned her head away from me lunged out of my reach.
“I’m sorry, baby girl,” I murmured.
She protested weakly as I pulled her from the crib, but as I carried her towards Geoff’s room she settled down. When we crossed the threshold and she saw him in the chair, she broke out into a wide, toothless grin and strained with every muscle in her body towards him.
“There’s my girl,” he murmured as she dove out of my arms towards him. “Hi…”
She spent a few minutes batting at the stray curl that flopped across his forehead and slathering his cheek with her open-mouthed kisses. They giggled and cooed at each other while I put clean sheets on Geoff’s bed and cleaned the floor.
“I’m sorry, kid,” Geoff whispered as I mopped the hardwood floor.
When I was done, I took the baby from him and placed her on the floor so I could help him back into the bed. She crawled to us and pulled up on the side of the bed, whining and reaching for Geoff. I picked her up and placed her next to him. She promptly snuggled her head into his chest, and with a hiccupping sigh, fell asleep.
"Thank you for this baby,” Geoff whispered. He curled himself protectively around her and closed his eyes.
I sat next to him and brushed the hair away from his forehead. “You scared me,” I whispered.
“I know,” he whispered in reply.
“Yeah?” He was fading into sleep quickly.
“I love you.”
His eyelids twitched and I knew he heard me, but was too tired to respond. I sat with them for a few more minutes, admiring the way my daughter's little head fit perfectly in the crook of Geoff’s arm.
Tiny things come back to me now, things of no consequence, like the curl of his eyelashes on his cheeks as he slept and soft sound a sleeping baby makes when she sucks on her tongue. Why I thought those moments would matter, I don't know. But they did.
They still do.
Now it's happening again, and this time it's happening far away. There is nothing more for me to fight. There are no moments for me to hang onto and cherish. Not this time.
I don't know what to do with that, so I clutch desperately at the fragile thread that still holds us together and remember things of little consequence.
One of these days I'll get it right.
One of these days I'll let go.


Anonymous Eliz said...

So sad.

Blogger lemony said...

Lookie at what the cat dragged in...an Eliz! ;)


Blogger CDR said...

Powerful as always. {hug}

Blogger jouette said...

somehow I doubt you'll ever be able to let go...

beautiful. and somehow, it makes my heart fuller to read you. thanks for sharing all of this the way only you can.

Blogger Heather said...

Thank you. That was beautiful. I don't know you, and didn't have the chance to know him, but I'm crying, and being thankful that there are people that loving in this world. Thank you for sharing.

(I came here via Halushki, via Amalah's Mom's Daily Dose.)


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