Monday night. Ryan came by for dinner and I retrieved a pizza from town. Carol, as usual, enjoyed a couple of slices although I reminded her this pizza was not from our beloved Papa Nick back on Long Island.
This morning at breakfast, Carol stopped chewing the piece of toast I had just given her and said quite distinctly, “Steve.”
Nothing more. Just my name.
I assured her that I was sitting right next to her as always.
She finished chewing.
What to make of this one word, said with so much emphasis.
First, she does not articulate words clearly very often. When she does it is usually because she is upset about something when she might say “Stop” or just simply “No.” Those words uttered clearly and with emphasis. Occasionally, she forms other words, such as “yes” or more rarely a whole short sentence, such as “I like that,” although that last is quite infrequent.
She does talk a fair amount by which I mean she makes sounds in which it is difficult to find recognizable words.
I recognize that losing the power to articulate words is a predictable result of her disease.
None of which brings me any closer to dealing with what she said this morning other than it was an example of a clearly articulated word.
Which happens to be my name.
When I was sitting not two feet away from her.
But to what purpose? And from what storehouse in her brain was it recovered?
I permit myself to let my spirits be raised by hearing my name coming out of her mouth. But I also recognize that it is important not to put too much weight on the event. Perhaps the word is no more than a shard of long term memory. Even so, why give it voice? It was not said in a tone that revealed its intent. I can’t say she was troubled and looking for help from that ancient source, the bit of her husband remaining in her brain.
In fact, when well she rarely if ever asked for my help in anything. She was too damned independent and self-sufficient. She was more likely to offer to help me.
Has that changed?
Does she now in the throes of her illness feel she needs help? That possibility pulls at my heart as sometimes a certain expression on her face does as well when that expression seems to indicate if not fear then maybe confusion or sadness. Or maybe frustration in the recognition of what she can no longer do, she who thought that through an exercise of her indomitable will she could do anything. She did overcome her fear of public speaking so that in law school she could perform in moot court; she overcame her fear of flying by, well, just boarding the plane.
I know I am over analyzing this one word utterance of my name.
And I haven’t even addressed the perplexing question as to whether she associates that name with present tense me. Of course, I’d like to think so, but I don’t want to be foolish about it.
And there is no certainty about any of this, just speculation.
Which I will be well-advised to understand is just that.
I don’t even know what certainty I would prefer because any conclusion that can be drawn would offer a mixture of pain and comfort.
Comfort in suggesting we are still in some fashion together, a pale echo of what once we were.
And pain in both the recognition of that paleness and the reminder of what has been lost if this crumb, this utterance, is all that is left.
Tuesday night after my usual shopping day. Tired, but I want to capture what just occurred, which is a continuation of what I wrote last session.
Carol is now asleep. I did a simple thing with her I had not done before.
I held her hand as she fell asleep.
I routinely hold her hand at various time during the day. I enjoy the physical contact, which approximates in a faint kind of way the intimacy we used to have, the comfort we enjoyed in each other’s physical closeness.
Typically, when I take Carol’s hand, she seems to squeeze mine. Sometimes, perhaps, I have tightened my grip on her hand, but other times she acts first. I do not know if this is a neurological response devoid of any conscious intention. And her grip can be quite strong in such moments so that I need to exert a little effort to free my hand.
I’d like to think, however, that there is intention in that squeeze of the hand, that she wants to feel my flesh against her, that it provides her some comfort. At other times when I clasp her hand, she brings her other hand on top of mine. Again, I cannot be sure of intention if any for often enough she holds her own hands together perhaps as a way of staying their wayward motion.
That perplexed and perplexing preface brings me to tonight.
After I had her settled in her bed, I took her hand. As so many times before she closed her fingers around mine and then added her other hand.
I did not pull my hand away after a few moments as I ordinarily would. Instead, I studied her face, which seemed to relax. Then her eyes closed. Her breathing moved into its sleeping rhythm.
I waited a bit more. Then very carefully, so as not to disturb her, I slipped my hand out of her grasp.
She did not waken.
As with her calling my name, I cannot with any certainty analyze this occurrence.
Whatever the actuality, I will assume some level of conscious intention, or if not intention awareness and contentment that I was there in physical contact with her..
Perhaps it is foolish to have such thoughts.
But if so, I don’t care.
Because whatever its source, with or without conscious intention or deliberate response, just like hearing my name in her voice, these seemingly insignificant instances are my reward, the sustenance that feeds my determination to stay the course.
If this is what my job is now, and my pay, so be it.
Note: Both halves of my two part heading to this post are literary allusions. First Shakespeare, then Melville.
I couldn’t help myself