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two sixty-two



Damp linen, sweaty forehead

A tangle of wires

emerges from the pocket

of her worn, blue hospital johnny

A haphazard braid in her hair,

the best I could do.


The nurse at one side of the bed

and I at the other

holding her hand, squeezing it

once, tight, again, tighter,

looking for some sign of consciousness 

behind the anesthesia clouding her eyes.


“Can you feel that?” I plead.

My relentless hand squeezing,

the tug of the hairbrush on her snarled locks,

the cold washcloth on her forehead,

something. Anything.


Her hand slack as I hold it in mine

I squeeze it again - 

“You listen to me, you’re gonna make it!”

I urged her, longing for a sign

that she was not all but gone.


Suddenly, I feel a brush 

against my gloved fingers, fleetingly.

Could it be? I hesitate in my belief

and squeeze her again.

Are you in there?


And then I see it – 

A straining to lift her eyelids

as her tired eyes search for mine

and the corners of her lips 

tug at the ET tube.

In that ephemeral moment

her hand squeezed mine

It was gentle but it was real. 


Happy tears, relief, indescribable joy

pervades the room.

On the brink of her drug-induced slumber

she stirs delicately, small movements

that disturb the stiff hospital sheets.

I reach out to soothe her,

my hand caressing her arm

then her brow, tucking away

the stray hairs matted 

to her feverish forehead.


I willed her to hear my words

for them to wake something up inside of her

as they left my smiling lips and

forced themselves past my mask.

A muffled exclamation

that reverberated recklessly

around the vacuum-sealed room:

“We’re gonna kick this thing in the ass,

but you gotta fight with us.”


At 1908 I punch out at the cafeteria

breathe the fresh air, cold and wet 

on my face and my dry hands

as I cross the hospital parking lot,

near empty, to my car.

Driving home on I-91, feel-good music 

on my stereo, I feel the stirrings of hope

not laden with the burden 

of fear, tragedy, uncertainty 

that had lurked with me for days. 


Scrubs peeled off in the garage

a scalding hot shower

a late, reheated dinner

and a short night of sleep

before I do it all over again 

the next day.


When I walk into the unit, 

she is raising hell before the sun is up

Full of piss and vinegar, she is

a bull in a china shop

wrestling with all the wires and tubes

thrashing in the starchy white sheets

disoriented, confused, aggravated

but alive and awake and breathing.

We rejoice. We celebrate. We cry.


But she isn’t there to stay.

Just when we thought

we had won, it turns out

we had already lost. 


Sedate and limp she lay,

the boisterous energy gone 

no sooner than it had arrived

I squeeze her hand gently.

I do not will her to wake, 

to squeeze me back. 


A basin filled with warm water

for a bath, her last.

Freed her hair from her imperfect braid

washed, parted, and combed.

A final changing of the sheets.

Positioned her comfortably in the bed – 

No more flipping, no more rolling 

or tortuous turning.

No more fight, no more hurt.


Covered in a fresh johnny

and a soft bath blanket folded back,

a crease over her belly 

as it rises and falls, slowly, spasmodically.

Tubes and lines withdrawn,

the pumps, disconnected, fall silent.

On the monitor above her bed

the little peaks and valleys

that were the beatings of her heart

grow further and further apart still.


I hold her hand in mine, my goodbye,

a final squeeze, a soft touch 

as I place it atop her covers 

for her family to hold.

Two chairs at the bedside, a box 

of abrasive one-ply Kleenex

on the nightstand, a tray arranged

with stale coffee and cookies on a cart

The room prepared for the goodbyes  

of her loved ones 

and an invitation to 

her final visitor.

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