Day 291: Telephone Line Part III
Because you would never expect anything less from me, what follows is an extremely personal account about the worst two weeks of my life and the lives of some people that I love. Even though it’s part 3, parts 1, 2 and 4 have yet to be written. I’m doing this segment first because my therapist wanted to see me write about this one specific day. I’m deep into the process of unpacking my baggage and she believes that this will help. Although I’ve told this story a million time’s before, there’s a specific detail that I’ve usually been too ashamed to include. And my therapist wants to get to the root of the shame. So this comes first, other parts will be scattered over the next 60 days or so. Also, there’s a reason why it’s called “Telephone Line”, but it’s not explained in this segment. Most importantly, thank you for being part of my healing process. Because whether you like it or not, you are, and I appreciate it.
It felt like she hit a wall. While it was still nice to hear her voice instead of groans and moo’s, none of it made any sense. She was describing plots to TV shows that she had never seen, claiming that I was people she never met and her knowledge of player uniform numbers didn’t go past 2016. Which made me suspicious about what she thought reality was. If she thought the year was 2015, then she never met me. I was, for all intents and purposes, a stranger.
And to be fair, she was also a stranger to me. I knew that the woman I loved still existed, but this body was more of a vessel. I was well past believing in her telepathy or that she would return to normal “as soon as the drugs wore off”. The cold reality was that the body laying there did not react to light, could not answer any questions and there were no answers to the questions we had about her. This was assessed one last time on a gloomy Sunday morning, as the Neuro team shook their heads while giving her yet another test. Taking his gloves off, he didn’t warn us about the incoming bad news. He didn’t ask if we were ready to hear it. He didn’t even change his voice to a softer tone. He just said, matter-of-factly:
We’ve done all we could. Let us know if anything changes.
And that was that. Too much time had passed without any progress. What we saw was what we got. This is what life is now and Rachel is who she is. I wanted to yell. I wanted to grab the doctor by the neck and demand that he bring my fucking girlfriend back. But I said nothing. I just resumed the thousand yard stare that I had perfected as an art.
Joe and Kelsey brought me coffee. It was badly burnt, but I appreciated it all the same. After telling them the news, I didn’t say much. Just kept staring out the window of the waiting room. Out at the gray water of the East River. Out at the filthy rooftops below. I wondered what it would be like to parkour out of the window and onto the roof. Not in a suicidal way, but more of in a James Bond way. Anything to distract myself from whatever the hell my life was about to become. I just. Kept. Staring.
Nobody at work bothers to ask me questions anymore. They all know that if there’s good news, my face would magically tell them so. I’ve spent the last week as a ghost. Volunteering to work during my vacation time with my foolish belief that I’d someday be able to use it. I go into work at the latest possible time, get my paperwork done with the door closed and my head down and then hide until closing time. Since it was Sunday, I had a lot of busywork to do in the office downstairs, so I had even more privacy. I flipped on the laminator and turned on the game.
The Dodgers has a tumultuous season up until that point. They couldn’t get anything done out of the gate and losing Corey Seager to elbow surgery felt like the death blow. Their only saving grace for a long period of time was Matt Kemp, the true definition of a redemption project. Once an All-Star and MVP snub, he had spent years as a has-been. The Dodgers brought him back in for peanuts as part of a huge package deal and he showed up to training camp ready to make his comeback. With only a few weeks left in the season, the Dodgers were finally at the cusp of taking control of their division. They sat a half game behind the Diamondbacks, who they just happened to be playing that day. Down by one in the bottom of the 9th, Matt Kemp came up to bat. Because of course he did.
The moment the ball bounced off the wall, I let it all out. Alone, in a soundproof room, I screamed like an animal. I screamed in joy, I screamed in anger, I screamed in sorrow, I screamed for the sake of screaming. And as I rewound it to listen to the immortal call of Joe Davis, the tears started flowing. After a week of holding it in, the levee broke. They weren’t happy tears or sad tears, they were just water. I took a lot of personal stock in that team and to see them finally back in first place felt cathartic. After such impossible misery, something good finally happened.
She was already asleep when I got back to the hospital. I wanted so badly to tell her about what her favorite Dodger just did, but in her mind, he might still be a Padre. Also, for the first time in a while, she seemed to be resting peacefully. Her latent fever had made her fidgety and over-anxious. Although the fever was still there, it definitely seemed to be having less of an effect on her. I kissed her on the forehead, laid back in the chair and tried to get some sleep.
I tried my best to line up my breathing with hers. It was a trick I used on sleepless nights, not being able to hear past the beeps and humming of the machines. It helped me feel closer to her. Somewhere, I knew that she existed. She might not ever come back, but she’s still there, buried deep in her brain. I thought of alternate universes, like I always do. In some timeline, none of this ever happened. I had just gotten back from my leg of the vacation. I’d get home while she’s still at work and quickly unpack. Willy would acknowledge my return and go back to ignoring me. I’d be playing The Show when she unlocks the door and says her usual “What’s up, baybee!” I’d take the loss, shut off the game, give her a long embrace and say that I missed her. We’d probably get pizza delivered for dinner. And then after a night of snugging, we’d go back to our regular lives. Before I knew it, we were both fast asleep. Two lost and scared souls, trying to find our way home again.
Her Mom came and tagged me out. With her brother and nephew visiting, it was going to be a full house. I took a bus and a train back to Brooklyn and wandered around for a bit. Brain in a fog, the heat wasn’t doing me any favors. Although it was Labor Day, Flatbush was unusually quiet. Or maybe my brain had drowned everything out. I grabbed some lunch, scarfed it down, napped for a half hour and made my way back into the city.
The closer I got to the hospital, the more dread engulfed me. If the doctors have given up, how long should I wait before I do the same? What is her life going to be? If the stroke made her a vegetable, there’s no way we can keep living in Brooklyn. There might not even be a way that we can live together anywhere. After chemo, she might need to go into assisted living. Or live with family, out of the city somewhere. There was no way I could take care of her. And if she doesn’t know who I am, why would I even keep trying to pretend.
A block away from the hospital, I stop and lean against a fence in the shade. I don’t know what she’s going to do, but more importantly, what am I going to do? The apartment brings too much pain. The city brings too much pain. I would need a fresh start, a clean break. With shaking hands filled with resolve, I took my phone out and wrote out a message to Joe:
If I move to Los Angeles, will you come with me?
I stared at the words for what felt like several minutes. At first, I felt empowered, but that quickly shifted to shame. “Is that really me? Did I really just write that?” Obviously, I needed to look out for myself, but I felt awful for thinking about such things. Or even considering it. And then I remembered Matt Kemp and the impossible comeback. If he didn’t give up, I shouldn’t either. Or I should at least see it out until everything was final. I deleted the words in my phone and told myself to never speak of them. I guess I broke that promise.
I walked into the hospital ready to keep riding this storm out. The visiting party had just ended, so it was just Evan and I in the room. Her fever had broke significantly. Although her chatter was much less rushed and constant, it still made no sense. But if this is life, this is life and I’m going to live it. She may never know how much I love her, but I’ll still love her all the same. Just the thought of bailing on her made me sick to my stomach, I would never be able to live with myself if I actually did it. It’s unfair for all of this to happen to her, the least I can do is be there for her. She would have done the same for me.
The doctor came in for his nightly vitals. Everything was the same as it was before. Her temperature was just about back to normal, she couldn’t answer any questions, et cetera. But then he shined his light in her eyes.
For the first time since the stroke, her pupils dilated.
Fly ball, left center field!
We didn’t know where to go from there. I felt like I hadn’t spoken in days when I suggested that we put her glasses on.
Matt Kemp has done it again!!!
She opened her eyes wide. Looked to the left and then looked to the right.
To beat the champ, you’ve gotta knock him out!
And then she uttered the most beautiful words I had ever heard in my life:
Holy fucking shit!
[To be continued and then concluded, maybe]