There was a time when my mother-in-law, a psychiatrist, assumed that I was afraid to fly because I kept coming to Chicago by train.
In college or graduate school, my time was cheap and the train was romantic. One could get a little cabin and drink whiskey and have thoughts while listening to “A Love Supreme” and watching the fields, the specter of nuclear power cooling towers, silvery in the moonlight.
The first weeks of reentering life after all the time in the hospital were like my own rehab. Even though I had ideas as to who we were as a family we were really just like Wile E Coyote running through the air before he realized there was no longer a road beneath him. We thought we were still us but we actually have no idea who we are.
The Scottish Widows ads baffled us. It was 1995, which in the UK of yore was still like the ’80s, pre-New Labor, with post-war vestiges and the occasional luxury of a deep bath. And there was a lot we didn’t understand. Scotland, north of us, would be colder and more damp. Being a widow there might be more sad, especially if you could not afford to heat your castle.
At the beginning of his hospital stay, I had a sense of urgency that things at home needed to be put right because as soon as he was out there would be no time to attend to anything. Our lives would be falling apart in the rearview mirror as we embarked on the road to recovery, maybe even in another city. I would need to leave behind a manual for all of it.
I’m sitting in the hospital room, scrolling through your news. There are the sounds, the wheeze of the motion-triggered hand-sanitizer dispenser and all the different alarms that routinely go off when an IV bag is empty. The snap of the gloves. And there is the silence. There is a lot of time to sit. His eyes are closed.
And so I start to read his book, the book he had been reading at night. This is the book I stuffed into the bag because how do you pack a bag for the emergency room? Will you be home the next morning or in a week or never? The idea of reading his book to him seems both the most natural and the most forced thing to do.
We are in bed, not yet asleep, and my husband turns on the light. He is sitting up and reaching for something on the nightstand, but when I ask him what’s the matter he just looks at me and doesn’t speak.
The dispatcher tells me to lock up the dogs, to bring any medications to the hospital.
According to the state of Alabama, the Younger Daughter is now officially allowed to drive to Kale Smoothie Palace and Bendy Yogastore all by herself. And if you need anyone to go the grocery store, I’m yer man, she informs me.
Learning to drive as a teenager in Manhattan was a hypothetical situation. Like stenography and monogrammed linens, it might be of use in the future, but was not essential for my immediate life. I looked forward to driving, sort of, but I didn’t think I would be particularly good at it. The whole left/right thing was off-putting, as was the fact that you could literally kill yourself and other people if you made a mistake.