by Jenny Pollak
She’s fighting with herself as she leaves his room, trying not to fall apart before she reaches the nurse’s station; all along the corridor gathering herself up, as if the foyer was a hurdle she had to leap—every day asking herself the same question: how can she possibly leave him here? And thinking, even as she drives off and rounds the corner and accelerates into the next street, and the street after that, and the following suburb; even as she’s parking the car and walking down the public wharf, about turning around and going back.
For eleven years she will fight with herself as she leaves him here. She is thirty eight years old, he is forty four. He needs her to help him reach for his water bottle, she needs him to reach for her hand. Their needs collide helplessly in the air as they pass each other by.
She watches it go, the life they’d planned, made impotent by circumstance, watches it drain away with the urine into the catheter bag, diminishing with every interruption of the nurses and the cleaners and the laundry ladies as they walk in and out of his room; overwhelmed by something caustic in the air.
It’s fighting as it goes, this life of theirs, refusing to be diminished in this way, resisting being made to acquiesce to the demands of this tyrannical contraction, dying slowly at being asked to become so much less than they had hoped; full of sadness at being asked to become so much more—their life together, drowning in sorrow, draining away in yellow into the catheter bag.
She doesn’t know how to stay and not be diminished, and so she goes; she leaves the nursing home because she does not find him here: not in his room, where another man sits—a man who resembles him, is surely him, who cannot be him—nor in their sad, lost conversation which stumbles over tiny insurmountable obstacles in such stubborn ambition. She leaves because he can no longer see who she is and because she’s frightened of losing herself the way that he has become lost. She leaves because she hopes she’ll find him again, when she’s alone and can search for him in the shadows of their house.
And she fights against her guilt in leaving him, in not finding the right time to leave, knowing she could stay here all day and there would never be a right time; and stays then, for the time it takes to feed him his meal, learning to let go a little more, to let feeding him be her goal.
The time passes simply and slowly, spoon by spoon, one mouthful at a time, and the idea she has of who they are steadily contracts and expands like the walls of a house contracting and expanding in the sun and the shade.