Excerpts from August Farewell
Friday, August 7
...After the x-ray is finished and the technician thanks Bill for the new joke, she pages an orderly to deliver us to the next testing site. Bill's bed is wheeled to a distant wing in the hospital and we are placed in the corridor queue for a CAT scan. There are several patients ahead of us but the line moves pretty expeditiously and within fifteen minutes or so a technician comes into the hall and asks Bill if he is William Conklin. This time I am not allowed to go into the room with him but am directed to a nearby waiting room.
I wonder if he is telling her the dead duck joke.
For the first time today, Bill and I are separated. I have nothing to do but sit and wait. And think.
I replay the day's activities in my mind. It has been frenetic since Bill's early morning wake-up call. Because of the pace, I have not digested the implications of the activities. We are here at the hospital because Bill's doctor was concerned about the most recent tests results. We are now in the medical imaging department because the emergency room doctor was concerned about what we told her about Bill's recent history and about what she saw when she examined him.
Maybe we are finally going to get some solid answers as to what is going on with Bill.
But now as I sit here wondering what the CAT scan may show, I find myself having qualms about whether I really want to know after all..
...One way or another, we marked the major transitions in our lives. The happier ones, we invariably celebrated with parties. Over the years, Bill and I did a lot of entertaining. We enjoyed hosting people in our home. Call it the Adelle-Lillian gene. We both could recall many grand soirées organised by our mothers.
In December 2000, we gathered friends and family for a three-fold celebration: the inauguration of a new millennium, the year of my fiftieth birthday and the cusp of the year of our twenty-fifth anniversary. We began the planning early and soon realised that the scope of our ambitions would strain the physical capacity of our Stratford house as well as the energies that we could bring to the food preparation. We already had a trip to Paris scheduled for late November and didn't fancy coming home from a week of Louvre-D'Orsay-Pompidou-Garnier-Bastille and having to throw ourselves into canapé recipes.
The solution — out-source the work to a hotel. A block from our Stratford house stood the venerable Queen's Inn. The edifice may have seen better days but the dining room had a cozy atmosphere with large cantilevered windows draped in red velvet, enough tables to seat one hundred plus, a parquet section of the floor large enough for the dancing styles of a range of ages and the kitchen could assemble a grand buffet that was equal parts tasty and tasteful. The multiple groups of friends that we were inviting from Toronto could stay overnight right there at the hotel relieving us of any obligation to convert our house into a one-night bed and breakfast. With characteristic queenly fastidiousness, we worked out the minutiae of details with the hotel's catering manager and then left for Paris.
Stratford was blanketed with a fresh snowfall on the party night, not so much to cause problem for the out-of-towners making the drive but sufficient to project a charming seasonal ambiance with all the Christmas lights strung along the main street. An hour or so before the party began, Bill and I walked the block from our house carrying our tuxedo suit bags and checked into the room that we had reserved for ourselves. Of course, we needed a room of our own to allow for the changes of clothes from formal dinner wear to after-dinner-let-loose-and-party wear. As the hosts, we had to set a high standard.
It was a wonderful party. Everyone thought so. Late in the evening, Bill and I circulated around the room with a tray teeming with simple and elegant Christmas decorations that we had bought in Paris to give our guests as a memento of the evening. I treasure a photograph from the party of my parents dancing arm in arm, Mom with the Christmas corsage on her wrist that we had bought for both our mothers. It was the last dancing occasion before Mom's deteriorating mobility put an end to that post-retirement form of exercise.
The one sour note (literally) of the evening was the DJ that we had hired supposedly on good recommendation. I thought his selection of dinner and dancing music was okay. My partner didn't. At times, Bill was almost apoplectic. But sufficient wine and the effusiveness of our guests who were clearly enjoying themselves mitigated his distress, for the most part at least. When I or any friend referred to that party in subsequent years, Bill would say, "remember that bloody DJ?"...
Monday, August 17
...I'm sitting beside the bed trying to swab Bill's lips without disturbing him. His eyelids flicker. He is awake. "Hello my darling. You seem to have had a relatively tranquil day today. I think that you've been asleep most of it." I'm not expecting any response. Conversation is pretty much a thing of the past.
He surprises me with a few soft sounds that are other than his usual breathing noises. He looks directly at me, his eyes not fully open but with his pupils focused and clear and plaintive. I'm not sure that I can trust my judgment. Is he trying to communicate or am I just projecting my emotional state onto him? He moves his fingers and tightens slightly his grip on my hand. It is not my imagination.
"I know dear. You want to go. And you're ready to go. And you're at peace about going."
Almost but not quite inaudibly he says, "yeah."
I take a deep breath and hold his gaze. "I want you to go because I know we both believe that it will be to a better place than the pain-filled place where you are now."
"You're right", he says slightly more distinctly.
"I'll be a major mess for a long time but I'm strong and we've got lots of friends who will help me. I'll eventually be all right. I want you to know that. You can go without worrying about me."
"Okay" he murmurs and closes his eyes.
"Happy anniversary my darling. I love you so much," I whisper, tears streaming down my face...
Wednesday, August 19
...Bill loved learning languages. Partly, it was the musician in him, the beauty of hearing the word spoken or sung.
Spanish had a big place in his heart. He spoke Spanish to any Hispanic he met on the street. He jabbered away to a Mexican friend in Stratford. He had long gossipy conversations with the housekeeper at the guest house in Puerto Vallarta where we spent every February. He enjoyed conversations with the Spanish-speaking staff at Verve, the new condominium building we moved into in October 2008.
About ten years ago after regaling his mother with endless stories of how much at home he felt when we were travelling in Mexico and how easily the language seemed to come to him, she looked him in the eye and said, "I guess it is about time I told you something."
She hesitated. "You're grandfather is not who you think you grandfather is."
"Hardly anyone in the family knows about this. I've never told you or anyone else about this except your dad of course. Frankly, I've always been pretty embarrassed about it." Long pause. "You know that my mother, your grandmother, was not all that keen on family life." Bill had heard lots of stories over the years about the two marriages, about how she would dump off her kids at relative's homes when she tired of them, a little bit about her life in vaudeville. "Well, she had an affair and bore two children out of wedlock. I was one of them."
"Oh my God. Are you serious?"
"This is not something I would joke about," she said sternly.
"Sorry. Sure. Please go on."
"My father, your grandfather, your real grandfather, was Mexican." Bill sat dumbstruck. After a moment, she asked, "Are you upset?" He just stared at her incredulous. Bill at a loss for words. Imagine. Adelle ventured on, "I guess my mother met him through the show business. He was a trick rider with a travelling Mexican rodeo. Apparently, his stage name was Mexican Joe."
Bill exploded in laughter, jumped up and kissed his mother and started dancing around the room. "This is fantastic. Absolutely incredible. I'm part Mexican. That explains so much. Do you know anything more about him?"
"Only his name and what I've told you."
"I'm thrilled Mom."
"And I'm relieved I guess. Now we don't have to talk about it anymore."
Bill's most recent project was to teach himself Italian. He loved travelling in Italy, he loved the operas of Verdi and Puccini, he loved the films of Fellini and Visconti, he loved Italian design. He decided that he just had to speak and understand the language fluently. He took night school courses and had workbooks from which he taught himself the grammar and vocabulary. For Bill, the culmination of learning Italian was going to be to be able to read Dante's The Divine Comedy in the original. He wanted to go to Italy soon and spend a year studying Italian and art. He didn't make it...
Sunday, August 23
..I meet Mario in the hall outside our door. I need to prepare him. He and Bill have been good friends jabbering away in Italian as Bill spent the past few years in his new linguistic endeavour. But I hadn't been able to get through to Mario to tell him about Bill's diagnosis. He had been away from home. Yesterday, he picked up my messages and called me back. Now he is here to visit. And to say goodbye. I tell him that I believe Bill is very near death. Mario is in shock. I take him into the apartment. It is a very difficult visit. He holds Bill's hand and sobs. Bill's right eye is open. I detect tears rolling down his cheek...