Yesterday, Anne woke up. I mean this in a profound way, new for me, that is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Well, not quite: I remember a few years ago when my sister woke up like this.
One moment, the eyes are there, but they are just eyes. The next, something glistens from within, and you see it: the soul has returned to the surface of life, called back from where it stood, waiting for the body to either embrace it again or let it go.
Anne’s body has embraced her soul again, and I, also, have been included in that embrace. I was the shadowy form who was always there, singing my song of hope and longing: I love you, you’re my precious, come back to me.
And so she did, travelling along the strange byways of illness and the edge of death–I see her moving lightly, touched by the wonder before her, and yet unable–quite–to ignore that voice from the past, calling and calling from the world of the living and the heart of a very deep love affair.
So she came back. Yesterday, she was confused, sometimes quiet, sometimes talking too much. But, by the end of the day, I could see her soul again, looking out at me with the perfect truth that this ordeal has taught me resides in every living eye.
When she fell down, the first thing I noticed was that a kind of absence came into her eyes. I thought it was death, it looked so cold, so empty. But there it was, in eyes so dear to me that they matter more than my own eyes, the blank abyss.
Then, just five days later, all seemed well. She was awake, with no signs of fever or sickness or the horrific side effect of brain bleeds, vasospasm, that constricting of blood vessels that removes all trace of consciousness, leaving the victim in a coma-like thrall that, to the lover at the bedside, seems woven of hell’s own eternities.
She sank away then, before my eyes, the abyss coming again while my heart broke and broke. But even at the worst moments, she still had two things: her smile and the grip of her hand. When I told her how much I loved her, how dear she was to me, that smile would rise up out of the darkness and shine forth, soft sometimes, but always there. And her hand would tighten in mine, and my prayers would sing on, wind in the wires of death.
So it went, long days and longer nights, as we skated along the farthest edges, me and my stricken dreamer. But then, on Wednesday, things changed, and this time in a fundamental way. The doctors figured out the puzzle of her fever and broke it with a smart new antibiotic.
And my girl came back. She turned around in the tide that was carrying her into memory and began to swim, and then she came up through the froth and onto the beach, where she is now, still weighted from her ordeal in the sucking ocean, but most definitely back.
You do not walk away from a catastrophe like this, any more than you walk away from being shot through the head. No, you struggle back by inches, through the confusion of your shattered mind, back to the surface of the world.
Anne is doing that now, talking and talking, exploring herself and her past and all the hidden meanings, the things dropped in the crannies of her mind, the bits of debris that make up a person’s reality.
This has its funny side. For example, her nurse said to me, “earlier your wife was, uh, talking about–ah–UFOs and aliens and we’re–well–a little concerned. She said she was, well, an expert…”
I said, “she actually IS an expert on that subject. In fact, she’s one of the leading experts in the world.” He looked at me. “Oh,” he said, “that, ah, that explains it.” Then he added, “she says she talks about them on some sort of…web radio.”
So I said, “she does. She has an internet radio program and she does talk about UFOs and aliens on it. Quite a lot, actually.”
“Oh,” he said, “oh, good. Ah, this one does have us concerned. She said that George Washington stayed at your house.”
From the bed came her voice, still hoarse from her intubation: “Robert E. Lee.”
The nurse nodded solemnly. “Robert E. Lee,” he said.
I said, “Actually, Robert E. Lee did stay at my great grandmother’s house. Before the civil war.”
He looked over at Anne. She smiled. Quiet triumph, I could see it in her eyes: see, I only SEEM confused.
But that isn’t entirely true, for she does have a level of confusion. It’s less every day, though, and it is awesome to see her ranging around through her memories, her thoughts, her ideas, reweaving the fractured universe of her inner self.
She talks and talks and talks, and I listen to the flood of memories, of ideas, to the great themes of freedom and cultural richness and the value of women that keep recurring, that are connected with Anne’s very essence, and the abiding compassion that drives it all, revealed plain by the intensity of her struggle. Lying there, helpless, her mind swimming in a suddenly murky sea, my wife’s essence is proclaiming itself, telling itself: remember who you are.
I said to her something that I said to my sister, that was deeply healing then and will be deeply healing now.
My sister had no insurance, with the result that we were not able to afford lavish rehabilitation. So I gave her rehab, the same way I am giving it to my wife. Although, because we are insured, she will also have more of the professional kind.
I theorized that a big part of the struggle after a stroke involves fear–fear that something has gone terribly wrong, that perhaps it will not come right, that one’s very essence has been thrown into free fall.
So I said this, “your mind was like a pond that you used to swim in, a little fish who knew every nook and cranny of that pond, where everything was hidden and where all the secrets were kept.
“Suddenly, somebody threw a rock into the pond. And the water got clouded with silt, and you ended up swimming blind.
“But it won’t stay like this. The silt will settle back to the bottom of the pond. And things will come clear again.”
At that moment, my sister fell asleep and slept for 24 hours, and then began to reconstruct herself. My wife listened, then looked at me for a long time. She said, “that’s exactly the metaphor I was reaching for and couldn’t find.” And she grew quiet, calmly reflective for the first time since she’d awakened.
She’s stopped running from the fear that her mind has been ruined. Now she’s ready for the next step, putting the pieces of the golden puzzle of self back together again.
And there’s this guy beside her, rejoicing now that all the medical effort and all the prayers and all the healings have gotten us to this place: the place where only the highest tide of the ocean of oblivion can reach. Here we stand, as always, hand in hand, in the privacy and universality of our suffering, praying that the danger is truly passed, and that tomorrow will be better than today.
I know that it will. I can feel it in her grip on my hand, can hear it in her voice, see it in those limitless eyes: I’ve got my girl back.
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