You file memories away… thinking they are done and sorted, just tucked away with all the others. A song, a feeling, words spoken, any little thing can bring them back to the surface when you least expect it.
I flipped on the Hallmark channel today (Christmas movies from Halloween to New Year’s). I saw someone being hugged… a big, warm, lingering, embrace. My heart ached a little… I miss coming home and feeling someone envelope me in their big arms and all the stress of the day just dissolving as I melt into them.
When Robert was hospitalized before his surgery, we had to wait for his heart to get strong enough for the operation. He was having heart failure. The first five or six days my girls stayed at my house to care for my grandmother, my dog, and my business. I felt guilty putting their lives on hold because mine was turned upside down. I told them to go home. I would manage… now that there was a plan and a sort of “routine”. I could go to the hospital as soon as I gave grandma her breakfast at 8am (she was 96 and had to stick to a routine), make her lunch ahead of time for her noon lunch time, pop home to give her dinner, go back to the hospital when she was done with her 5pm dinner and be back to tuck her in at 10:30pm. I could run my business from my laptop in the hospital room and step outside to return calls.
I remember one day waking up too early. Anxious to get back to him. Watching the clock until grandma’s breakfast time arrived. I was showered, dressed, had all her meals made for the day, had already fed the dog, been through email, added chemicals to the pool, watered the flowers… it was killing me I had to wait until 8 to bring her breakfast and meds to her. As soon as she was settled and I made sure she didn’t need anything else, had her cell phone and it was indeed fully charged and once again posted my cell phone number on a large piece of paper taped to the wall next to where she would sit to read and watch TV, I headed out. I had an overwhelming need to just be held by him. I remember thinking how silly it was… he probably needed me to hold him, if anyone needed holding… but I just needed to be enveloped by his arms. Weaving the Bentley in and out of traffic, driving too fast, so completely focused on just getting there again… It seemed to take an unusually long time to get to the James Street exit.
He called to say good morning while I was driving. I told him I was on my way. He asked about grandma and the dog – Piper… I answered his questions and asked how he was feeling… but he could tell I was crumbling a little. Not my normal “manage the situation” attitude. He said, “Relax baby” “It’s all okay”. I started to cry. I told him I couldn’t talk, drive and cry at the same time and I would see him soon. He said he didn’t want to hang up and would I please just take some breaths. I explained I woke up with a need to have him hold me and I’m just feeling so anxious. Again, he said, “Everything will be okay my love”.
I took some deep breaths, regained my composure, found parking, and went to the elevators driven by a need to hurry up and see him. I greeted the nurses on my way by their station. When I got to the hospital room, I took off my coat and burst into tears again. He said “Come here sassy. Let me hug you.” After hugging me for a couple minutes, I pulled myself together again and offered to get him juice or water or something… anything… asked him how his night was and if the doctor had been in yet for morning rounds… then I said, “I know you’ve got all these monitors and IVs and stuff… but do you think I could climb into bed with you for a minute?” He said “Of course! Climb on in here.” So I did.
His body was so cold. I asked him if he was cold, needed more blankets… and did he know how cold his body was. (Normally he was a heater – nothing to fear if the power was ever out… he would keep you warm). He wrapped his arms around me like we were at home, cuddling in our bed. I kept rubbing his chest, trying to warm up his skin and trying to somehow send love through my hands into him to somehow heal his heart. I imagined sending healing energy into him… wanting to warm his body and circulate his blood with my thoughts. We turned on Naked and Afraid and watched episode after episode. Occasionally nurses came in to check vitals or give meds, many said they would just come back later… he held me and filled me up with his love again, bringing back my sense of confidence that things would be okay. As it turned out, this would be the last time we would be able to cuddle like that.
After a few hours his cell phone pinged. His brothers had arrived to visit and brought some of his friends along. I got out of his bed and told him I would take my laptop to the cafeteria and let him have “guy” time, but I secretly hoped I could climb back in with him when they left. It turned out when I got back to the room, they had bumped up his surgery. They would be taking him in at 5am. I made some calls to get coverage for grandma and the dog. All of a sudden, my calm was gone… I had to switch into efficiency mode. I made some calls he asked me to make. He had some people he wanted to see. I gave him privacy for those visits too… he didn’t ask me to, but it felt like the right thing to do. I ran home and checked on grandma and told her the plan. I would sleep at the hospital, in the fold down chair by the bed… he wanted me there. I walked the dog, locked the house, set the alarm, confirmed which of my children was on their way to stay with grandma, and drove again back to the hospital… which felt further away with every trip. We held hands while we tried to sleep. He kept staring at me. I asked why. He said “Just sleep. I will get plenty of sleep while the doctor works.” He also told me if anything were to happen, and he didn’t “make” it, that I should not allow his brothers into my life. I pushed for an explanation… I didn’t understand. We rarely saw them, but they were his family… he told me “You don’t know. I keep a distance on purpose.” “You are too sweet. They will take advantage of you.” I tried to discuss this with him, but he said, “Just promise me – I don’t want to talk about it”. I said “I promise. But when this is over, and you are okay – which I know you will be – we need to talk about this.”
At 4:30 in the morning, an overly cheerful Jamaican orderly came to prepare him for travel down the hall. Robert made jokes about how many they might wheel down the hall who don’t come back… the orderly assured us both the doctor is good, nothing to worry about. One last kiss… one last looking into each other’s eyes… Robert squeezing my hand, telling me “See you soon baby”. The nurse told me I could take my time gathering our things and when I was ready, I could go down to the first floor and wait. I felt a small sense of panic that we wouldn’t be in that room anymore – 444. I didn’t know how the day was going to go… how long the surgery would take… would they remember I am waiting to hear? I took everything to the car. Asked a stranger who was smoking if they had an “extra” one… immediately regretting how it was going to make me smell once I lit up. My kids texted they were on the way to wait with me… again making me feel guilty for disrupting their lives.
They arrived with bakery items (even though there was no way I could eat), Earl Grey tea, and smiling faces. I told them they should just go to work, and I would call them when there was an update. They emphatically told me “No”. “We are here for you. And for Robert.” The wait was so long. I met a family member of his I had never known existed and spent hours listening to this person tell me things I had never known about my partner. That was kind of surreal. At first, I acted like I knew everything he was saying… after a while it became clear I did not… I explained that early in our relationship we had decided not to dwell on ancient history – we both had lived through ugly things – all that mattered was “now” and “us” and living honestly in the now and in our future and the life we were creating together.
At 4:30pm the doctor called me. The surgery was a success. He wasn’t awake yet, but I could go into the ICU for a few minutes. Only one person could go. I looked at his brothers. They said, “You go.” They decided they would hit the road since everything was good.
I went into his new ICU room where there were two nurses very busy emptying things, tilting him up in a special bed so he was almost vertical – tubes still in his throat. His eyes were open and on me. I told him it went well, and everything was going to be okay, holding his hand. He looked into my eyes and tried to talk – which he couldn’t with tubes down his throat… he was fighting the things holding him on to the bed and looking frantically into my eyes shaking his head “No”. I was momentarily confused – telling him again it went well, he was okay, everything is good… still frantically looking into my eyes and shaking his head “No”. I tried to talk to the nurses about it, the doctor rushed in and told me to “Get out” “Get out now!” and shooed me out the door and closed it. I went to the new nurse’s station, asking what was going on and telling them he was telling me something is wrong. They told me I had to go back to the waiting room I had been in and “No, he was not communicating with me – he is still under the influence of anesthesia.”
Back in the waiting room, I told the girls what happened, and we waited. An hour later the doctor called me again. He apologized for his rudeness and explained they had to open him up again and didn’t have time to explain to me what was going on. Something had gotten pinched when they closed his rib cage and caused some internal bleeding. All the work was good though, he double checked it all – occasionally something not involved can get pinched, it happens. But everything is okay. He told me Robert would be asleep the rest of the night and I should go home and sleep. Later when we talked about it, he did not remember the exchange we had.
I didn’t mean to tell this much of the story. The memory that bubbled up for me was the being held in his hospital bed. I miss being held. I miss being loved like a partner loves you. A hug would be nice. It’s been a long time ago now, but maybe I am still not equipped to handle the Hallmark channel…
I need to stick to the science channels or the history channel, I guess. I hate being ambushed by feelings. Once I have a new partner, I suppose these memories will fade away – replaced by special memories with someone else. Universe… I have waited patiently. I’m ready. One good partner please – who is a good hugger… and holder…