I’m so weak now. It surprised me every time I try to raise a glass or sit up in bed that I don’t have the luxury of independent movement anymore. That I need help doing the most simple tasks like holding a magazine and turning it’s pages. It’s these nurses jobs to help with me with things, but asking for the help never gets any less embarrassing. I’m a grown woman; I shouldn’t need someone to hold a sippy cup for me.
He brings the kids around to visit on Sunday afternoons. I told him long ago to stop, that I don’t want them remembering me like this, but he keeps bringing them. They’re old enough to know she’s sick, even that she is dying, but they don’t need to see what she’s become. A shadow of her old, boisterous self, skeletal and helpless. They should remember her full of life and vigor and joy, not like this. The man never did know how to take direction.
The heavy steel door opened slowly and Dara, her weekend nurse pushed through with a lunch cart.
“Are you awake, Ms. Carmichael? Feeling up for anything to eat?”
“Not really, Dara, but you’re going to make me try, aren’t you.”
“Just a little bit. It’s Sunday. You need your strength for when those gorgeous babies of yours come to see you.”
“Alright. Just a bite. Did you bring green Jell-O? The orange made me gag yesterday.”
“I brought green, blue, red, and purple. All in Technicolor shades I’ve never once seen in nature. It amazes me the fruit flavors they label these cups. Lime juice is this yellowy-cream color, not neon green. And what blueberry have you ever seen that has juice this shade of blue?”
“I don’t know. But whatever it is, it sure does taste good. Or at least it did when I had taste buds that worked for me, not against me.”
Dara sat down beside her and began spoon-feeding her the green gelatinous goo. She sighed with pleasure whenever a bite was swallowed and kept down.
“Ms. Carmichael, can I ask you something?”
“Sure. What is it? But, please, call me Jane. I’ve told you a million times.”
“Jane. I mean no disrespect, and please, you don’t have to answer, but…why have you stayed with him for so long? He doesn’t deserve you. Not the way he treats you. I mean, I’ve read the gossip magazines and would never presume to think of any of that as truth, but I see the way he is with you in here, loving and gentle, but as soon as he leaves this room, he’s all over these other nurses like you don’t even exist. And I know you can see it. I can hear it happening when I’m in here with you after he leaves. And if this is how he is when you’re so near, how does he behave when you’re nowhere in sight? On the road, or after a gig?”
“Dara, you don’t know our life. It’s not that simple. I’ve stayed with him because he loves me. We love each other. We have our kids and we have our life together. It’s not perfect, sure, but it’s what we have. It’s the hand I was dealt, we were dealt, and that’s that. It’s too late now. If he flirts with a few nurses now and again, I can live with that. Look at me. I’m in no position to be fighting with him over some minor indiscretion.”
“Pardon me, but it’s not too late. You’re not dead yet, lady. He needs to respect that. He needs to respect you.”
“Alright, let’s just eat. I don’t know what the chef has done to outdo himself, but this Jell-O is simply divine.”
They finished the Jell-O cup in silence; Dara, embarrassed that she had spoken up, Jane, concentrating on keeping the food down. She finished the cup, smiled meekly at her nurse and closed her eyes to sleep. Staying awake for any length of time was a struggle, especially when her waking hours were spent defending her life decisions to a near-stranger. Dara left quietly, pushing the cart with her and closing the door, careful not to slam it shut.
Jane opened her eyes when she heard the click and reached for the phone on her bedside table. With much effort, she dialed home.
“Hey. We were just getting ready to come down there. Do you need something?”
“Yeah. I need you not to come.”
“What? We’ve got our shoes on. The kids have been talking about it all day. We’ll be there in 20 minutes. You’ll be fine. Just freshen up or something. Make yourself pretty. Get that cute little nurse to help you. What’s her name? Dana?”
“Dara. I don’t need freshening up. I need you to not come. I need you to not bring the kids. Stay home. Be their father. Realize that they shouldn’t see me like this. Realize that you coming here, hitting on the nurses, making backhanded remarks about how I look, talking about me like I’m already dead in front of the kids, is all so messed up. I don’t need you to remind me how I look. It’s a result of this disease that’s killing me and you keep coming here, making me feel like shit, scaring the kids, and reminding me that our marriage was nothing but a publicity stunt. That without my looks, without my body and make-up and stilettos, that I mean nothing to you. We had our time and that time has passed. Don’t come here. Please don’t come here.”
The phone was silent for a moment. She breathed heavily from exhaustion and from the rush of adreneline.
“What about the kids? They want to see their mother.”
“No. It hurts to say so, but no. They’re six and four. Give them a hug for me. I’m not strong enough to do it myself.”
“Please, Jane. Let us come see you.”
Jane hung up the phone and listened to the beep, shhh of her machines. The machines keeping her alive. She couldn’t do this on her own, without wires and tubes and monitors. Physically, she was too weak to fight alone. But today, the day she decided to start saying no, she felt stronger than she had in years.