I suppose I should tell you how Remo came to accept that Claire was a terminal case. Hanging around the hospital as much as we were, we got to know some of the staff, and they got to know us. I think maybe Remo went out of his way to make sure they knew him so there wouldn’t be any issues of them stopping him at the door because he wasn’t “next of kin.”
Honestly, it’s probably a good thing he’d married Melissa or–you know him–he’d probably have married Claire in some kind of misguided white knight move.
Anyway, one day he was chatting with one of the night nurses. Flip and Chief had left so we had been going back to the bungalow to sleep every night. I only caught the tail end of the conversation but it went something like this.
“I suppose you’ll be off shift by the time we get back for visiting hours in the morning,” Remo said.
She was a tired-looking woman with the skinny, sallow demeanor of a chain-smoker. “Where you staying?”
“Little place about forty five minutes away. There’s no phone there but we’ll have our pagers on if you need us for anything overnight.”
“Aw, hun. If you’re that worried, you could just sleep here.”
“No, our RV’s gone.”
“I mean here on the ward. Visiting hours don’t apply for terminal cases, and we can set you up a room.”
“Oh, you don’t have to make an exception for us.”
“No exception, hun. Standard procedure.”
Which was when I said, “For a terminal case?”
“Yeah. End of life doesn’t always come on schedule. In fact, usually not.” Her intercom beeped and she answered it while Remo and I stepped away from her station.
Later, while Claire was asleep but before we’d left, Remo and I grabbed cups of sludgy decaf and hot chocolate from a vending machine and drank them in the cafeteria. The same nurse came in on her break.
She got a Diet Coke and stopped by our table to say, “Look, I have a little advice if you’re open to hearing it.”
We were, so she went on: “You gotta do what you feel is right, but you might want to look at pacing yourselves. Your gal’s tough. She’s going to move to longterm care next week. You don’t know how long she’ll be there but it could be months. You might want to save your energy for when she’s closer to the end. You know, if you go pedal to the metal now, you’ll have no higher gear to go to when you really need it.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“I’m serious. You can’t hover at her bedside 24-7 for months on end. You’ll want to later, though. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sleep over at the hospital if you want to, now, it’s just this isn’t the best place to get a good night’s sleep. Especially on a cot in her room.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to sleep over in her room,” Remo said quickly.
“Aw, hun.” She patted him on the shoulder and went on her way.
That was what it took to get Remo to believe it. The doctors always said something that appealed to his optimism, something that made him think there was a way to “fight.” But nurses are realists.
I told Ziggy about it that night, from the phone in the room where Remo decided to sleep, which could take incoming calls. “I think he really thought she was going to be one of the five percent or whatever who make it.”
“Does Claire think she will be?”
“I don’t think she ever believed she would.” I looked at my hand. The scar was actually starting to look better. I’d been using the cream they gave me–kind of sporadically, but I’d been doing it. “The way I figure it, we should plan for the worst, but if she rallies and beats it, then we can all be pleasantly surprised?”
“But you think she’s going to live a couple more months.”
“That’s what we should plan for, yeah. We have to vacate the bungalow in like a week, I think? Tomorrow we’re going to check out a longterm care facility and then see if we can find a place near there to rent. How’s things with you?”
“Barrett’s in LA again, shaking the tree.”
I just liked hearing his voice, you know? “Any fruit?”
“Nothing worth telling you about, yet. When are you coming home?”
“After we get her moved and we figure out where we’re going to be, I can work on my family on setting up a kind of rotation. I want to be with her at least a week in the new place before I take off. Does that work?”
“You sound like I’m asking you to schedule a dentist appointment.”
“You don’t like my tone?”
“I just… this is about… oh never mind.” He sounded peeved.
But I still wanted to listen to him talk. “Don’t say that. Tell me what a butthead I’m being, if I’m being one.”
He sighed. “You just sound very far away is all. And like you’re not that interested in coming back. I mean, I know that’s not true. But when I’m here alone it’s really hard to remember how much you love me.”
Oh, just reach right through the phone and claw my heart straight out of my chest, why don’t you? Honestly, the pain almost felt good. Maybe because I was actually feeling something?
“I’m here. Sorry. Just having a little water tower moment. I love you, Zig.”
“You’re worrying me, dear one.
“I’m sorry I’m not there.” And sorry I’m ‘not all there’ either… “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be there soon. Probably in two weeks. Can you hold out for two weeks?”
“Should I send Colin down to keep you busy?”
“Don’t joke about that.”
“I’m not joking. Well, maybe a tiny bit,” I admitted. “This is what our promises mean, though, isn’t it? That we’re willing to suffer when we’re apart?”
“It’s not the sex I miss. Not precisely.”
“I know.” It was the intimacy he missed. I was getting the feeling that when we were apart, I felt closer to him, but he felt more distant. Maybe I didn’t make any sense.
“Two weeks, you think?”
“That’s my guess.”
We said a couple more rounds of good night and I love you before we could actually hang up the phone, though. “Get in bed,” I finally told him.
“I am in bed.”
“I mean the whole deal, turn out the lights, all that, and then get back in, fluff your pillow, everything.”
I listened while he did that and then got back in bed.
“Lie down with the phone on your ear. Now I’m going to kiss you goodnight and hang up. Are you ready?”
“All right. I love you, Ziggy. Sweet dreams.” And I kissed the receiver and hung up like I said I would.