Too Quiet to Write?
Posted by Will
After a promising start on my new WiP, I haven’t written a thing in two weeks. After seven years, I no longer live in a house with three cancer survivors.
My mother-in-law Evie, came to live with us after a very bad traffic accident- the hospital where she lived was simply killing her, and my lovely wife (breast cancer, 2003) brought her back here so that she could recover under a watchful eye and some medical competence. Evie did recover, and was a fixture in our lives since then. She attended Genna’s concerts, came out to the mall, the local zoo. Evie’s preferences in television mattered- she loved tennis and game shows, but put up with my daughter’s addiction to nearly any kind of reality competition. I carried the bags, and while they nattered on about which judge was being SO unfair, I could tap out a few paragraphs about Justin, or Solemn or Feldspar.
Evie had skin cancer long before I knew her- smoked for twenty years, stopped for twenty more- and had a bout of colon cancer and lung cancer while she was with us. She also just plain got older. We brought a wheelchair in the back of the car, for times when there would be a lot of walking, and then gradually just whenever there was walking. It was a continuum to me- seems like I was pushing my daughter around age six or seven one day (recovering from leukemia, 2000), then pushing Evie the next. Wherever we went there were backpacks to heft, extra water, Genna’s flute, books to read. You’re a father, a husband, this is what you do. Kept me in shape, frankly- I get sore the day after playing Wii Golf.
But the cancer got ahead of Evie and the doctors put her on hospice care in our home. Her body became gradually incapable- wheelchair every step outside, walker every step inside. I added an oxygen tank to the load on my back (a small one, no pity). But Evie still talked brightly and happily, about tennis, about game shows, about her granddaughter’s career. The noisy bubble of human conversation didn’t abate, it grew. The house became more busy than ever- nurses, aides, therapists all trooped in for visits and checkups. I’d answer the door, point to the stairs, warn about the friendly cats, and sneak back to tap out another paragraph. It was fine, the noise.
The noise has always been fine with me. Five sisters and maybe thirty animals when I was a kid: someone drops by, we call up another, and the next thing you know it’s fourteen for dinner. Boisterous public school as a student, thirteen years teaching, summer camp showing boys how to die onstage en masse– what happened around my home these past few months seemed perfectly natural. Joyous, contentious human clamor is the white noise of my life.
Evie declined towards death last month, and finally stopped speaking. More visitors- nurses came out several times a day, Dorie’s sister arrived to assist with the final hours. I sat with Evie some of the time, listened to the TV we hoped she could still hear. And at the very end, Dorie sent me out of the house, with Genna, to get her away from the scene. I drove my daughter to competitions- Superior ratings in voice and flute. a first place the day Evie died, tears and a medal. Dorie’s brother came out to add to the mix and attend the funeral- her sister had to move into a hotel, how absurd. The pace never dimmed, for another week.
The final interment. The sister returned home. We visited the aquarium as the brother loves turtles: I realized why I was feeling so odd, just walking with my hands in my pockets. Nothing to carry, nothing to push, nothing to do. The next day, I put my brother-in-law on the bus and came back inside my house, with only my lovely wife and my miracle daughter for company.
Genna said it first- “It’s so quiet here now”.
Too quiet to write.
It’s not guilt, I think Evie lived as long as we could manage for her, and I sit here in awe of my lovely wife’s care and effort before that unthinkable gate. I would want her to be my daughter if I were in Evie’s place. But of course, I’d rather not be there: Woody Allen’s call on death is my favorite. How about I stand in my backyard, one day after my last tale of the Lands of Hope publishes (in paper, of course) and I get hit by an asteroid. From behind. A platinum-stuffed asteroid, that stays in the yard and makes my family rich through my efforts. For once. That would be fine.
But I haven’t written because, like Genna and Dorie and frankly even the cats, I’m still adjusting. Just the three of us now. I live in a house with two cancer survivors. And I’ll start writing again soon. As spring comes, and hopefully things get a little noisier.