Thank you, Renata.
Thank you, Renata.
My cat Bella had a traumatic day at the vets on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve — poked and prodded, ear drops, rabies shot, a needle the size of a harpoon plunged into her backside, but she did not utter a cry or bat an eye. To paraphrase Seamus Heaney in line 11 of his translation of Beowulf, referring to the Danish warrior Shield Sheafson, That was one good cat.*
Bella was brave, as my Susan was brave in those last days in Intensive Care. So, on this New Year’s Eve, as firecrackers exploded outside, I had this crazy 80-proof idea that Bella is now Susan or Susan is now Bella, not sure which way it goes, but she, Bella/Susan is all I have left in this lowly bungalow on County Road 9 and so she becomes my life—(obviously an over-exaggerated and melodramatic way to put it, but prithee, dear reader, permit me)—as Susan was for thirty years, and since Susan has been gone, a year now, an endless gods-torture of loss, I hang onto Bella/Susan with a crazy kind of madness and hope.
She is one good cat. Henceforth, despite the gender difference, she is now my Beowulf.
* Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf begins thusly:
So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes. This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.
SAVED BY A GREEN-EYED GIRL FROM DETROIT
When a son dies it rips your heart out. When a son kills himself it rips you all to pieces.
Grief has been joined by anger and guilt. Anger because a young man of twenty would throw away the gift of life. Guilt because you didn’t pick up that last phone call.
It was late, you were in bed with your second wife Susan. The phone was in another room.
“Do you want me to get that?” Susan asked. “It might be Will.”
Will was your son from your first disastrous marriage. He lived in Toronto with his mother. You lived in Miami with Susan.
“I just talked to him earlier for two hours, he wore me out,” you said to her.
You had talked to him several times that week, each time for one or two hours. He was confused, lonely, totally fucked up. In the last call you told him you were exhausted and that you’d call him the next day and talk about his situation some more.
You felt like you were on a not-so-merry fucking merry-go-round. His mother had said in a separate phone call that you were “coddling him,” that he’d never make it on his own in life if you kept doing that. She told you it was time to use some “tough love.”
You let that last call go to voicemail.
The next morning you checked the phone. There was no message.
You were sitting down to breakfast with Susan when the phone rang. It was your ex-wife. She said: “Prepare yourself for a shock.” She told you outright. “Will is dead.”
There was no immediate shockwave. Only a surreal numbness in the mind. You got the details. Enough barbiturates to kill himself three times over.
You hung up the phone and that’s when you cried. You wailed, you screamed. Susan held you tight.
The anguish was replaced in the next days by “arrangements.” You took a plane to Toronto. Your older brother was one of the pallbearers. A beautiful voice inside the church sang ‘Ave Maria.’ There was a lonely ceremony on a hill outside Toronto. You took a plane back to Miami.
That’s when the horror set in. You woke every morning to the same nightmare. Your son was dead. Your son killed himself. “I could have saved him,” you said over and over to Susan.
You kept hearing the phone ringing, ringing, that last call, you didn’t pick up. You didn’t pick up. You told Susan you were going to kill yourself. She held you firm and told you straight: “You can’t do that to the rest of your family, you can’t do that to me.”
The nightmare went on for a year. The only reason you survived is Susan kept you alive. She saved your life.
The two of you went on and had a life together, thirty years. You travelled—to Europe, Australia, Canada, all over America. It was a turbulent marriage, great and grisly, but always steadfast.
Now it is many years later. The rest of your family is dead. Susan is dead. The love of your life.
You live alone in a bungalow with ghosts. You drink a lot. You live the 80-proof life. You smoke purple haze.
On this night, two days before Thanksgiving, your first without Susan, a voice in your head says, “Do you know why you’re still here?”
“No, I don’t,” you answer. It’s a question you have asked yourself many times.
“To honor your son and your two brothers and your mother and your father, and most of all to honor Susan for giving you the strength to go on.”
With thanks to Renata and Outosego.