You’re Gonna Walk So Far (Part I)

(Part II)

(Part III)

(Part IV)

 

I have not written here in what feels like an eon. I have an unreasonable amount of guilt that I am dealing with because of this fact. It should be obvious that I love to write. I do not ever stop writing, but sometimes I put down certain projects (such as this blog) and it leaves me feeling like I’ve committed a crime or betrayed a brother. This is a life constant. The problem is, however, that I have an aversion to feeling guilty that probably has a lot to do with being manipulated as a child through guilt. I do not respond to guilt by resolving it. I respond by walking away. I would like to change this, but I am not sure how to approach it.

I don’t know if I have the wherewithal to go into the guilt factor in thoughtful, provocative detail right now. I am going to admit to you, as I rarely enjoy admitting to anyone face to face, that I am going through a difficult time emotionally right now. A lot of momentous events have occurred since last I wrote. The most glorious of them is the fact that I am now wed.

On January 5th, 2014, I married my girlfriend of four years and fiancee of a year and half, Camille. The wedding was picturesque and sadistically cold. We were married in a cabin on Mt. Baker (Koma Kulshan) and we squeezed way too many guests into the venue (I apologize to those who were uncomfortable). I have a lot of specific memories of the wedding, but there was this overwhelming feeling of excitement and worry that only departed with my clothing that night. I remember running around with my friend Kyle, one of my groomsmen, trying to make sure nothing was forgotten. I remember another groomsmen, Alex, slipping me alcohol at every opportunity. Mostly I remember how I cried when I saw my soon-to-be wife. I have always found her gorgeous and I hear plenty of others say it often enough that I don’t think I am biased. Well, I am biased—but that doesn’t change the truth. I had never seen her look so beautiful before. I like to take lyrics and twist them into my prose, and I would say she came to me “like an angel out of time,” but I know better than to call Camille an angel. My wife is an incarnation of the Goddess. She is her flesh made real that I might love her, and I do. If the ground were not frozen, I would have dropped to me knees when I saw her. I could not stop looking at her all night, and when we were permitted to kiss, I could barely let her go.

We took our honeymoon in the Yucatan and visited ruins. You could see El Caracol of Chichen Itza from outside the door of our hotel room. I was lucky enough to experience a deep and momentous connection with both my wife and the Maya peoples at the same time. On our way home we stopped at Disneyland so that Camille could experience that for the first time. My brother and I made fun of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride a lot before we went. It ended up being one of her favourite experiences.

So why, if I started the year off like this, am I in this painful place now?

My grandmother, Maryllen High, came up to Washington from California to stay the winter and help Camille and I prepare for the wedding. She had happily taken on the task of handling the flower arrangements and generally keeping order in my home while the chaos of wedding preparation ensued. She was 79 years old, active, and as healthy as you could expect someone of that age to be. About two weeks before Christmas, she fell while walking through my back door into the house. Her energy and art had already produced a beautiful bridal bouquet and six bridesmaids bouquets. But now, all of a sudden, she was turning down dinner and turning in for bed early. I was concerned, but she told me not to be. When, in the next three days, she barely left her room except to use the restroom, and then fell repeatedly, I grew terrified.

Let me also add something about me personally. I am not a very skilled caretaker. My youngest brother is autistic, and growing up, I was rarely asked by my mother to assist in tending to his needs because of the level of frustration I experienced doing so: frustration born of fear. My inability to be a caretaker does not mean that I do not love. I do not know the best way to explain how it makes me feel to take care of someone. There is a black combination of helplessness and guilt that drives me to anger, but that is a simplification of what it feels like to me. The point is, I am not good at taking care of people, and I am even worse when I love the person who needs me.

So I began by calling my aunt, whom my grandmother lived with when she was in California. I was reassured that sometimes she gets sick and everything was normal. I talked to my father and my uncle as well. She never seemed to get better. I don’t want to go into the grisly details of what Camille and I were doing to take care of her, suffice to say that it was growing worse and fast, and Camille and I were also in a heightened state of stress due to the upcoming wedding and the fact that we were hosting both of our families in our home for Christmas. My grandmother kept apologizing for the fact that we had to take care of her. She also insisted on not going to the hospital. The morning she changed her mind about seeing a doctor, I was on the road with her in minutes. It started snowing as soon as I walked outside.

We drove to one doctor’s office who refused her insurance. The snow was coming down heavily, turning Bellingham white. We found an office that took her and I was carefully navigating her in a wheelchair through snowdrifts and ice. The doctor said she had a stomach infection. I took her to the hospital for some blood tests and then home before I went to with a couple of my groomsmen to be sized for tuxedos and then picked up her medication from the pharmacy. The sky was black and the earth was white.

My aunts arrived on Christmas Eve and went to my cousin’s house for her daughter’s birthday party. When I arrived without my grandmother and explained that she was too sick to come, the concern seemed to finally come out of the rest of my family. I had been in tears over my grandmother’s health on the phone with the other members of my family. Until this night, I felt like no one was worried but me and that my grandmother was going to die in my house. I was sick with worry, guilt, fear and stress. My aunt promised me that she would take her to see the doctor again for a checkup. Meanwhile, Camille had gone to Canada to pick up my father and step mother where their vehicle had broken down. This is all on Christmas Eve.

My grandmother got dressed and put on make-up to come out and spend Christmas with both families. She felt it was very important to impress Camille’s father, Joe, and always talked him up like he was a hero or a rock star. Maybe she had a crush on him, or maybe she just respected him. I don’t know. But she cared a lot about him and about what he thought, so she refused to stay in bed and came out. She looked gravely ill. The make-up helped, and she did everything she could to put a smile on her face the whole time, but she was very obviously sick.

My aunt took her to the hospital the next day, where they informed us that she was on death’s door. I went to visit her in the hospital three or four times before the wedding, but after Christmas there was one week and I had a lot of obligations to fulfill. My other aunt stayed in the hospital with my grandmother while I attended to the wedding. The hospital staff set her a goal of making it to the wedding. She did not achieve the goal. After Camille and I left on our honeymoon, my grandmother went home with my uncle who lives about five hours away from me.

She recovered to a degree. Not to the same level of health she had just before that fall at my house. She was tired a lot and needed a walker to get around. But she was not as deathly ill and nigh incoherent as she had been at my house. But she would have sudden downturns, and have to go to the hospital what felt like every week. In April, she had a heart attack and was helicoptered to the nearest major hospital. Camille and I drove out to see her as soon as we could. My uncle had not left her side. We saw him first and it was from him that I first heard those words, “One to two years.”

 

One to two years.

 

My grandmother was a powerful and enormous soul and while I did not believe her to be immortal, I sometimes likened her to the power an immortal being would have. She was not perfect. I would not want to ever insinuate that she was, because my grandmother was the kind of person that embraced people, life, love and all the flaws that are born of them. When I heard the prognosis I became two people. I became the part of me that was afraid of how sick she was—but knew what that sickness was. I also became the part of me that looked upon this woman, this matriarch of her clan, like she would never die—and was crushed for being so foolish.

My uncle also told me that she had been sleeping and barely conscious at all the whole time she had been in the hospital. I came in with my laptop and recording equipment and told her—while trying to remain positive, cheerful, and strong—that I wanted to do an interview with her. Well, this woke her right up. My grandmother loved to tell stories, particularly her own and those of her family. It was the last Saturday of April, just before my birthday. My grandmother and I talked—or rather, she talked and I asked questions—for about thirteen hours. It was one in the morning before I said I was packing up for the night. My grandmother admitted that she was tired as well.

She left the hospital the next day and had decided she was going home—that she was going to California. She also told me that the proclamation of one to two years was garbage and she wasn’t going to believe it and that she didn’t have any plans to die. Maybe you can understand why this woman felt immortal to me. I didn’t want her to go to California, to be honest. I never told her that. I did have a talk with my father and my wife and decided that I was going to go down to California with her, accompanied by my uncle and father. She would have a grand escort home.

I stayed in California for a week, during which she had another heart attack. I remember waking up around four or five in the morning, seeing the lights outside the window—I was sleeping in her bed, in her room upstairs. She couldn’t climb the stairs anymore and my aunt had made her up a bed on the lower floor. I knew what the lights meant and held my breath as I walked down the stairs. My aunts were running frantic and informed to be calm in rushed, scared tones, that she was going to the hospital and everything was going to be okay. I went back into the room and sat there for awhile before my aunt came in and was quite obviously scared. I hugged her and she cried. “She’s my best friend,” she said.

I went to the hospital to see her. Her spirits were high. They gave her an anti-anxiety pill and she wouldn’t stop talking. One of the nurses mentioned that she couldn’t believe how much she was talking, considering the damage to her lungs. Her lungs were the real issue, you see. Her heart was given one to two years because it was pumping like she was running a marathon just to get enough air into her body. Her lungs were damaged from a lifetime of smoking, and could barely filter enough oxygen into her bloodstream to keep her alive. I remembered, when I heard this, that she had been smoking a cigarette just before she fell at my house. It was the last cigarette she ever smoked. The cup she was using for an ashtray stayed out there until just before I left for California. Her heart had one to two years. Her lungs, the doctors said, had six months at best.

 

Six months.

 

I called Camille right away and told her. I reported the information clinically and she began to cry. I let her talk to my grandmother and she began crying again. My grandmother assured her that the doctors didn’t actually believe that—it was the opinion of one doctor who they had decided was wrong. Camille felt better. I knew how to pick up my grandmother’s lies.

It was the next morning that my mother received a phone call informing her that her father, my grandfather, had died of a heart attack the night before, while my grandmother reassured my wife with promises of her longevity.

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