Heart on Fire
The last time
I saw my brother we were getting high outside of his girlfriends funeral. Standing behind the funeral home, with its puritanically almost cheerful white trim, he leaned against the fading red bricks, away from the irritatingly blue sky. He didnt seem to care that people might come and look for us back there; I figured that today they probably wouldnt.
Twenty years later and I can still taste it. The weak church coffee Ill drink after my husbands funeral will be a disappointment compared to it.
Standing by the window I keep staring at the hill outside. Way in the distance, if I look at it hard enough the hill looks like its moving. Im in the waiting room, waiting. Not quite sure what Im waiting for. Im just stalling. Im halfway listening to the TV thats on, and halfway hating the people who are watching it. I stare out the window again, trying not to see my reflection in the glass. I dont want to see myself here; I want to be able to forget this all ever happened.
My brother hadnt spent much time with me until he met his girlfriend. She had moved there a few months earlier to go to college, but I dont remember which one. Far away from her family, she liked coming by with him to our house. I was young and awkward, she was adult and graceful. They both looked happy, her and my brother. So many nights I tried practicing my makeup in the mirror to look like hers, or copying the way she could walk in heels as easy as I could sneakers.
When my husband got sick I thought death would be easier. It would happen, and then it would be over and I would grieve. Sometimes I wish he would hurry up and die so I could grieve the person he used to be instead of caring for whats left.
I loved my husband. I loved him more than anything. But this person in the hospital is someone I resent, someone who has stolen my husbands name and is wearing a gaunt mockery of his face.
They say his heart is diseased. They say it wont keep him alive much longer. They say they cant keep him alive much longer.
I remember years ago seeing a commercial for a heartburn medication that had an outline of a man with his heart on fire. I always wondered why the blood in his body didnt put out the fire. And how he could survive with it. Could the fire-filled heart pump blood like a normal one could? I wondered if there were really people walking around with scorched hearts, and if so what would someone like this look like? Now I know.
In line at the gas station last week I overheard a woman on her cell phone whose husband had just been in a bad car accident. The cars totaled but hes fine, she spoke loudly enough for the whole line to hear, either she had bad reception or she was an exhibitionist. Oh, hes at home right now dealing with the insurance company. Since hes not going back to work today were finally going to go look for a new sofa. This could have been the worst day of her life but instead shes thinking about furniture. Is it better to have the death be fast, and get to remember the person how you loved them, and to not get to say goodbye? Or to have to watch the slow decay, and getting to say goodbye over and over?
It didnt seem any easier for my brother when his girlfriend died suddenly. Ive been preparing for months; he was just suddenly without her.
Whenever the death is fast people comment on how if something had been different it never would have happened. But how many hundreds of times can things go differently before it catches up with you and what has to eventually happen does?
Two nurses walk past me and say hello. When theyve past I hear one ask, Is that the woman whose husband just died?
The other one replied, No, shes the woman whose husband is about to die.
The woman whose husband is about to die.
I have become a bit part in a movie. I have no name, no history; I am only defined by this present moment.
Walking through the hospital I try to avoid the mirrors. Its just wrong for a hospital to have so many mirrors in the hall, its like they want to remind you of how sick this place makes you look. In the last few months Ive noticed my skin taking on that unhealthy color it gets from too many hours spent under artificial lights, from too much coffee, and from that unclean feeling hospitals always have. I want this to be over. I want to feel the sun again.
I took a hit and handed it back to him. Our fingers brushed and he looked at me like he was just then realizing I was there, like he wasnt sure if I should be there. I was fifteen and almost an adult but still so young. I stood there unsure of what to say to him, the sun making me hot and the wind making me cold. The navy dress that I was wearing and that I hated was itchy and uncomfortable, and all I could think about was changing out of it. He stepped away from the building, and in the light I could see that his borrowed suit was too tight in the shoulders, too short in the sleeves, and to big everywhere else. He looked at me for a second, and then walked past me back inside. My parents came outside a moment later and the three of us left.
Standing outside of my husbands room I open the door slowly, noiselessly. I hold my breath, listening for his. This could be the time I dont hear it.