The hospital walls were the color of…
I don’t know. How does anybody ever manage to remember the color of these walls?
One of the walls appears missing entirely: Instead it is taken up by a giant window, with a hideous air-conditioning unit directly underneath it. They don’t build windows like that on the East Coast. Everything must be larger in the West: More land, wider roads; bigger closets and endless windows — windows from which we gaze upon the same vast land and highways that carry us along the coast, to and away from love, in a never-ending act of our indecisiveness about solitude.
In Vermont, there are houses with porches and hammocks; and in those houses, the window are unhinged, then flung open, into the idillic streets, best colored during Indian Summer. In Maine, the window panes collect moisture, balancing out the difference between the temperatures with precipitation and moss. In New York, one can always find a jammed window, or a broken one; and often, there is some lever one must work, in order to let in some fresh air.
I’m staring out of the giant hole in the wall, with sliding glass, into the desolate desert landscape with gray domes of industrial buildings and rare traffic. I can see the packed parking lot of the hospital on the ground floor, and judging by the way people leap out of their cars, once they find a spot, I can tell the status of their beloved’s health. The worst cases pull up directly to the curb. Others choose to ride in an ambulance.
I see the disheveled head of a woman clutching a baby blanket being helped out of the red swinging doors. She is being lifted by two men in uniforms; and once on the ground, one of them must remind her how to walk.
I look away: Dear God! I think I’m starting to run out of prayers.
On the horizon — gray mountains. They are always gray, on this side, and only in the deepest winter do their peaks adopt a different shade: of stark-white snow. I think of the East, again. The mountains aren’t mountains out there: They’re hills.
Everything must be larger, in the West. And I’m one of those travelers, speeding along its wider roads, in a never-ending act of my indecisiveness about solitude: chasing, then running away from love — then, coming back for more.
The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room. I am alone here. Well, no: She is here too. But I’m not sure if her Here is in the same vicinity as mine. The doctors have managed to bring her back from wherever that is a broken heart takes its victims: They have struggled to bring her back Here, through a series of shots and shocks and tricks of the trade.
So, now she is back Here; but I know her Here — is nowhere near. It’s a different space entirely — a different Here where I, despite my conflicts with love, do not yet wish to be.
The doctors have spoken of Hope.
“Here is still some,” they say; and because they don’t avert their eyes, I wonder how many times they’ve had to say this — just today.
And how are they going to say it again to the disheveled mother who’s forgotten how to walk?
I come up to her bed. Her skin is ashen. I’ve never seen this color on the living before: It’s yellowish-blue, sickly and wax-like. It juxtaposes against all other shades with defeated sadness. So, the fuchsia pink of her pedicured toenails peaking out from under the sheet loses all vividness. The acrylic nails on her fingers, of the same shade, now have an appearance of props.
I remember she used to snap them against each other, when laughing herself to tears while telling a joke. She was good at jokes. And in my memory, that hollow sound of snapping nails has come to mean her good moods.
The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room: Again! It reminds me of the rhythm her broken heart is forced to take on, in order to stay Here. Is this — the sound of Hope? This slow, mathematically precise beat of an intelligent machine that, despite its act of mercy, does not possess the sensitivity to understand?
Her body has left this Here: The Here of the Living! She doesn’t want to be Here, anymore! And it is a terrible thought; and I cannot bring myself to say it out loud, in front the drooping face of her mourning husband.
I stand by her bed and study her face. It’s not peaceful, as my useless novels have promised. She looks perplexed, and I find myself fixated on the faded outline of her lipstick. I want to wipe it off for her: She would have wanted dignity, while — and if — she is still Here. She is a woman with no heartbeat but perfectly manicured nails. I think of paging the nurse.
The tubes, running to and from her wrists, fascinate me with their width. I follow them with their eyes, up to the beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine. I study the monitor.
What was I looking for?
I return to her face, looking for answers. A tiny tear, that has formed at an outer corner of her right eye, begins crawling across her temple.
“Are you here?” I whisper and grab her hand.
But I have never felt that temperature on the living before.